Did you know? …That Ayeni Adekunle, at one point in his young adult life, lived in a two bedroom flat on the backside of Lagos? Dude was dead broke, they say. There were even some months when, for him, to squeeze out N4000 to fuel his baby blue 1989 Mitsubishi Galant was to him like a moth pushing a wrecking ball.
Some people have gossiped that it was Dotun, Ayeni’s university sweetheart, the one he’d promptly married after their NYSC, who paid most of the bills in their home. But, as I said, gossips—believe them at your peril.
So, back to the question on your mind, which I must swiftly answer before you impatiently toss off this story. Your question is this: why is Ayeni a star of a story here?
Okay, let me explain by way of a quick introduction: Ayeni Adekunle runs BHM Group. He’s about 42 years old. His company is first and foremost a PR firm but they do other things as well. These things include Web publishing, social media marketing, and events.
Word from the BHM boardroom (and on the street) is that, even if it tried, the company couldn’t stop growing. Since 2010, BHM’s revenue has risen by about 50% year-on-year. That, if you ask me, is a mind-bending type of growing. Today, BHM works for such instantly recognisable names as DStv, MTN, Coca-Cola, and Nigerian Breweries. Which, as you can see, explains all the growing I was just talking about.
But all of these tremendous achievements of Mr Ayeni’s wouldn’t have materialised were it not for one chance conversation in 2005 between him and a certain Kenny Ogungbe.
See, at that time, Kenny was the undisputable Top Dog in Nigeria’s fast growing hip-hop business. With his Kennis Music, the record label carrying colossally famous acts such as Tuface Idibia and the Remedies; his AIT Jamz on… the AIT network; his weekend countdown show with his partner Dayo Adeneye (D1) on RayPower FM; and his Power Play Monday and Power Play Tuesday on the same RayPower, Kenny Ogungbe was global.
Kenny aka Keke Ogungbe was The Man. And he knew it too. You could see the relish on his face every time he flashed his toothy grin and introduced himself as “the world famous Keke Ogungbe”. If you, like many doubters at the time, thought that that appellation was hyperbolic, well, I hope for you that today, hindsight is truly 20-20. Kenny was dope, I’m certain you’d agree now.
On the other hand, Ayeni Adekunle, the other party in this movie, was a fraught reporter who had grown weary of his job at the National Encomium magazine. The journal, once the biggest celebrity weekly in Nigeria, had recently taken a turn in a tough direction.
As the journalist who consistently broke the day’s hottest showbiz stories for National Encomium, you’d expect Ayeni’s salary to match up to his ballooning eminence. But it didn’t. Which was why, to force his ends to meet, he figured he could moonlight as manager for the emerging stars he covered on the beat for National Encomium. As luck would have it, these rising stars also needed all the help they could get to navigate an unpredictable and fickle entertainment market.
And then one momentous afternoon, Sound Sultan and his elder brother, Baba Dee, took Ayeni to Kennis Music and made an introduction. As Kennis Music artistes, they wanted Mr Ogungbe to put Ayeni in charge of their management. Thankfully, Ayeni’s legend preceded him. As he later put it, “Keke was already a fan of my writing.”
“So, young man,” said Kenny, “You do know how to tell a good story. I believe you’d do better as a publicist.”
The young man who had until that moment lived on the ironclad premise that he would live and die a journalist said, “Publicist? What’s a publicist?”
At this moment, I must disclose to you that to have even arrived at journalism as a vocation, Ayeni Adekunle had had to take a tortuous route.
For his undergraduate studies at the University of Ibadan, he’d studied microbiology. While there, he was a part time artiste manager— a hustle he’d been on before he went to university.
At the end, he graduated with a third class degree — a ticket to disappointment and heartache in healthcare, banking, sales, or anything for that matter because, as you’ve probably heard, nobody employs a third-rate graduate, even if said graduate is from UI. So, for Ayeni, falling back on his showbiz inclination as a career became a no-brainer.
“We could have you do publicity for Sultan and everyone else on the label,” Kenny said.
Momentarily, Ayeni was tongue-tied. The gravity of this offer was To be the first ever publicist for Kennis Music wasn’t anything to sneer at. And although the financial end of the deal was anything but concrete, Ayeni was grateful for the halo effect. He was going to be the fellow who did PR for the top record label in the country at the time.
Later in 2005, Tuface, the man who would later release African Queen and win Nigeria’s first MTV Europe Award, pulled him aside. “He offered his own contract,” Ayeni said. “Wanted focus. Paid well and always promptly. Cash. 250K per year.” Right now, 15 years on, 2Baba (as Tuface is now known) still calls Ayeni on matters of perception.
The initial contracts with Kennis and Tuface became the key that unlocked more doors. Ayeni soon became the music industry go-to publicist and worked for the likes of Afro-groove musician Lagbaja, pop sensation Kween, Tunde and Wunmi Obe (TWO), 9ice, and Nigeria’s preeminent female rapper Weird MC.
A year after his little chat with Keke, Ayeni, with his wife, registered a company that he naively named A.Y.E.N.I. Entertainment. He would retroactively explain that the acronym stood for All You Ever Need In Entertainment. Well, Mr Ayeni, you don’t say!
And three years later, thank God, A.Y.E.N.I. Entertainment morphed into the more corporately christened Black House Media, a full-blown PR agency that has since evolved into the BHM Group.
In 2015, Ayeni Adekunle caused a stir among fellow public relations practitioners when he launched a campaign with the hook: PR Is Dead.
But excuse me, if PR were dead, how come you were still making a living off it? That was the spontaneous community reaction. But what Ayeni intended to do was to shock the industry into action.
In a blog post on his company’s site, he wrote this, quoting former Edelman CEO Robert Phillips: “It is time we shamed those who believe ‘PR will never take its long-coveted seat at the boardroom table, where it will be recognized as an essential component of strategic business rather than a bolt-on’.”
Whoa. Thank goodness. I’m grateful you broke it all down for us. For a second there, you triggered heart palpitations in some of us.
Moral of the story: when you earn a reputation for doing something you’re great at, no matter how small you may think you are, all it takes is another person with sway to back you and you’re on your way. Who knows, you may even one day raise hell in your industry and summon everyone else to stand up and pay attention to you.
So thanks, Keke Ogungbe.