PR ExpertSpeak: Being ‘kontan’ is not enough; today we must wow the customer
Renowned Mauritian entrepreneur Aisha Allee, the founder and chairperson of Blast Communications, who has recently taken on the mantle of CEO of The Jupiter Drawing Room in Mauritius, spoke to AfricaMoney on how women entrepreneurs must be supported through innovation hubs and expert mentorship. (Image: Blast)
Aisha Allee, Founder and Chairperson of Blast Communications as well as CEO of The Jupiter Drawing Room Mauritius, spoke to AfricaMoney on her journey as a trail-blazing woman entrepreneur over the last decade in the PR space in Mauritius. As the first lady to win the Tecoma Award last year, our entrepreneurship expert commented upon the need to break out of a patriarchal mindset, besides creating innovation hubs and getting experts to assist entrepreneurs.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Being the first lady to win the Tecoma Award, are there any specific targets that you have set yourself for 2015 as a trail blazing entrepreneur?
At Blast and the Jupiter Drawing Room (Mauritius) we certainly have some specific targets in 2015. Blast shall continue to work on its expansion in the region consolidating its Seychelles operations and beefing up its timid presence in Madagascar and Reunion. On the other hand, The Jupiter Drawing Room shall strive to service new clients in Mauritius with creative solutions. We are quite happy with what we have done so far but we need to be even more on the look out for opportunities.
As a Founder and Chairperson of Blast Communication, which is one of the few successful public relations agency to establish itself as an external PR organisation, how easy or tough your journey has been until now?
Nothing comes easy and it has been a long bumpy ride. When I started 10 years ago, PR was at its infancy stage in the island and we really needed to canvass hard to secure clients. There is no magic formula; it is about hard work, discipline, rigour and a sheer dose of luck which I attribute to destiny.
Over the years, word of mouth worked for us. Today our fortes are crisis management, media monitoring, financial communication without forgetting our bread and butter, media relations. We try very hard to ensure that we have very happy clients, not just satisfied ones. Paul Jones, CEO of LUX* has always told me ‘Clients who are Mari Kontan never leave. Being ‘kontan’ is not enough, we today have to wow the customer,’ and he is spot on, of course.
Last but not least, PR is about trust and I like to believe that we have created great bonds with our clients.
Blast Communication has a new partner, Jupiter Drawing Room Mauritius. What would be Blast’s strategic and diversification objectives for the year 2015?
The Jupiter Drawing Room Mauritius is an advertising agency and we plan to have synergies with both entities whilst keeping each one’s independence and autonomy. I am indeed humbled that the world famous Graham Warsop chose us to be his partner. We have high hopes and ambitions and we shall work hard to achieve our objectives. We have seen that campaigns involving the right dose and strategic outfit of PR and advertising were indeed powerful. And clients will benefit from our presence worldwide with these two companies that have tied up alliances throughout the world.
With a robust increase in your turnover by 64% in last 3 years, how will this partnership be beneficial from a financial perspective in the years to come?
Our main aim is to diversify our offerings so that the client has all its communication solutions under one roof. We shall reap the dividends of this investment in the 5 coming years as many projects are under way at the same time; review of our offering here in Mauritius whilst having an expansion strategy in Africa and in the region.
Do you think gender is an issue in the field of Communication and Public Relations?
It would be unfair to say that I was treated unfairly because I am a woman. One needs to understand that today the market is competitive and whoever comes with quality service coupled with competitive prices will succeed over the rest. However it is also a fact that our industry attracts many women but it is sad that they often remain at lower levels of the hierarchy. If you take a look at the big players on the international front, Fleishman Hillard, Edelman, Burson Marsteller, you will notice a high percentage of women at various levels of hierarchy but rarely at the very top. This glass ceiling seems not to exist here in Mauritius as we have some well know women leading in the PR industry. This is a major achievement.
What are the barriers, according to you, which hinder the rise and growth of female entrepreneurs?
There are many factors; we live in a patriarchal society where women are often find themselves evolving amidst a lot of prejudices. There is so much expected from women; they have be the perfect mother, the perfect spouse, the perfect in law and to top it up, bring money at home. So our society can be very tough on women. Often women are scared to venture because of fear of failure and also on the perceptions out there, or those infamous ‘what ifs’.
Secondly the facilities offered by Government may seem plenty at the outset but often, entrepreneurs are not even aware of them. Communication is key to ensure that women and entrepreneurs at large have access to facilities offered to them. All parties should play the game. For example: try securing a loan from bank can be very disheartening for someone who is starting his enterprise.
Also, we need to create innovation hubs and get experts to assist entrepreneurs. Example; I am a strong believer that Mauritius has a huge potential in terms of craftsmanship but we lack innovation there. Tourists leave the country with little spend out of the hotel. That is where we can learn from South Africa for instance.
Having said all that, I am quite comforted by the new breed of entrepreneurs like Alexandra Ng, who is the AfrAsia Tecoma Espoir and whom I have the privilege to be mentoring. She is a great example of perseverance and I am sure this hard worker will succeed. Her company Shaolin Mauritius, engaged in corporate training using Chinese martial arts, has all the good foundations of a sound enterprise.
How do you think the government should encourage and promote new female entrepreneurs in order to make relevant progress in the entrepreneurial field?
I believe in consultations and continuous improvement. Government might review the organisations such as BOI, Entreprise Mauritius, DBM and NWEC [National Women Entrepreneurs Council]. Talk to entrepreneurs, budding and confirmed, ask them what works and what can be done differently in those institutions. Consult with experts such as UoM and MRC and come up with products and services that better address entrepreneurs. Rope in the private sector. We have the expertise; we simply need the right people at the right place.
People who deal with entrepreneurs should understand the latter’s plight and should also fully appreciate that culture. If entrepreneurs face red tape and bureaucracy, they will be hampered in their venture. Every one agrees that creating an entrepreneurial spirit is key to the sustained economic growth of Mauritius as our only resources is our people. For that to happen, a strong leadership is vital.
What, according to you, makes a successful entrepreneur?
This is a tough question as I am on a journey myself. I am learning the ropes of the trade and I strongly believe that some entrepreneurs burst out of the gate and never look back; others stumble badly, learn from their mistakes and make the most out of their second chances. I am a bit of both…I have done a lot of mistakes and I am trying to learn from them all the time When I see examples of great entrepreneurship around me, I feel that a good dose of humility, having a sense of curiosity and an appetite for innovation coupled with a strong mental focus help enormously. For me, customer centricity and people skills are also key.