Classics, Interviews

‘Why I chose to be a journalist without formal training’ -NET newspaper publisher, Ayeni Adekunle

ON Wednesday, February 22, 2012, ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with Ayeni Adekunle, the publisher of NETng and CEO of Black House Media.  Initially, my mind was blank as per the questions to ask notwithstanding by 11 a.m, I was in his Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos office and the questions came flowing.  He told us how he started his business with zero naira and where his business would be in five years.

How has the journey in journalism been so far?

blackhouse-media-ceo-ayeni-adekunleIt depends on how you choose to look at it. I would say I am on a break from journalism, I did not even start out trying to be a journalist, I started out in 1996 wanting to be an actor.  Later, I was producing my own events, the YAFEM Awards.  I was later managing artists before I went to the university.  Journalism happened by accident. I grew up around a lot of books, my mum used to read a lot and my dad too.  He was also a music enthusiast, so I had a lot of books and music around me, music from all over the world so I had consumed those things.  I had them in me.  So, when I started writing I just realized I love to write, so I happened to come across Ayo Animashaun, Efe Omoregbe in the cause of my events and then I went to the university to study Microbiology.  By the time I was leaving school, I knew that events was no longer my number one passion, I had fallen in love with writing and I chose to become a journalist even without any formal training.  The only serious journalism training would be from the people I worked with while at Hip Hop World, and people I worked with while at ENCOMIUM Weekly magazine.

And I remember while I was in the university every time I am in the library I am reading about music, journalism, publishing and entertainment.  So, I also got a lot of education while in the University of Ibadan, though not formally but from reading.  Kenneth Dike Library in University of Ibadan has some of the best books, as at the time I left, best books you want to talk about that concern journalism, Nigerian music and literature.  So, everyone knows my story from ENCOMIUM to This Day, to The Punch and after two years at The Punch, I decided to start a newspaper of my own, to report entertainment exactly the way I think it should be reported.  I say I am on a break from journalism because right now, all I bother about from Monday to Sunday is to get the newspaper running, manage staff, deal with circulations, adverts.  I can’t remember the last time I wrote a news story or the last time I covered an assignment.  I have removed myself a bit, I have stepped back from editorial work, I see myself more as a businessman even though if you ask what my first love is I would say its journalism. I also own another company called Black House Media, which does communication publicity for a lot of brands.  So, doing all that I would be deceiving myself if I did not take time away from journalism.  So, the journey has been interesting and challenging.

I like challenges, it’s exciting, not knowing what tomorrow holds, not knowing when the next client is going to call, not knowing whether you would have adverts for your next edition or not, not knowing how many copies you would print, its challenging, its difficult. Our newspaper just went weekly, it’s been challenging but I am doing everything I have always wanted to do.  There’s nothing I am doing today that I never dreamt of doing.  It’s a blessing that I am doing everything I always wanted to do as a child, I am having fun, I am doing my hobby and I am getting paid.

How has it been running the two companies, NETng and Black House Media?

I wouldn’t say it’s been fun.  My first company was A.Y.E.N.I, it’s an acronym for All You Ever Need in Entertainment, we rebranded three years ago and became Black House Media.  BHM is fulfilling, depending on who you work for, communication can be exciting.  We have worked for MM, Hennessy Artistry, Nigerian Idol.  We have done loads of campaign for Headies, Nicklelodeon, Comedy Central, Africa Music Awards.  So many campaigns here and there, it’s challenging and interesting especially when you have the kind of team I have.  A team of fantastic young people who won’t take no for an answer, who don’t believe in impossible, who are driven and very hard working, who are like entrepreneurs on their own.  So, we have grown and we are still growing.  We are trying to learn new ways to help our clients sell better, trying to be ahead concerning publicity, initiative for NETng, it’s my childhood dream and it has grown far too.  It took two years for it to become Nigeria’s most respected soft-sell for entertainment, information, people call me all the time and once they see it on my website they believe it, people believe we are credible.  The website has done amazingly well, we first broke the news of Dagrin’s death in 2010, there’s still a lot of journey ahead, a long way to go. But by considering the little resources we have and the short time we started I think we have done very well and what is left is to see how we can build a truly global brand that can stand the test of time.

So, how do you intend to stay at the top with the competition?

I don’t think that businesses should work with the vision of trying to stay at the top, that’s not what drives us, what drives us is the vision to achieve what we set out to be, which is NET would be the number one destination for people looking for information, education and entertainment, from this part of the world, that’s where we are focused at.  What we are trying to achieve is that once you wake up in the morning you put on your phone and you want to log on to the internet, the first place you go to is the netng.com.  It’s like in London, you going to work and you are trying to find out what’s happening, you would pick up a Metro.  So, we are trying to build number one destination for everything entertainment in Nigeria.  So, all the energy we put and all the resources we put is not for competition, I think brands should understand that.  Our business model is unique in the sense that we are a 21st century newspaper, which means people can access our information not only by buying the newspaper from vendors, you can access our website through your computer.  You can access our mobile website through smart phones, you can register for SMS and get all the information.  There are at least 40 million Nigerians who consume entertainment.

What’s your five year goal for NETng and Black House Media?

Our five year goal for NETng is to be that newspaper that Nigerians cannot do without.  If you remember what Daily Times was in its days, in five years, we want NET to be a paper that as you are going to work in the morning, we want to be in your hands.  Entertainment cuts across from grandfather to father to children, it’s not age barrier, some people like KSA, some Fatai Rolling Dollar, some Lagbaja and Beautiful Nubia, some Asa and Darey, some Wizkid and Davido.  So, it cuts across age, size, religion, status and all that. So, we can reach everyone, people want to take their mind off corruption, bomb blast, fuel subsidy, they want to read entertainment.  There are challenges with human capital, finances and all that, but it looks very promising that in five years we would be there.  Black House Media is positioning to become the number one destination for brands trying to reach their public through different means of communication. Now public relations, adverts, publicity are taking very exciting and interesting dimension and changing each passing day, how people get their information today would determine your brand messages to them.  We are in the internet age, the language of the internet is different from the language of blogging, the language of social media is also different from the language of newspaper and radio.  So, we are very fortunate to be at the top of current technology, every campaign we have done you would find out that we understand what time it is, that concerns technology.  We have got the edge combining it with traditional media, newspaper, you would find out that we are better positioned to lead in our industry.

What are the things a businessman should not do?

A businessman should not squander his time, your time is one of your greatest assets, you must clearly understand the importance of networking.  The biggest businesses you are going to sell would not be from your desk at work, they are out there.  A businessman must be interested in figures, an entrepreneur must be driven absolutely, you must understand that what keeps your business is the profit you make.  The economics must make sense, you must be able to prepare profits for shareholders.  You must be able to pay and compensate your workers, you must be able to pay yourself well.  A businessman must be straightforward and honest.  The Disneys of this world, the CNNs of this world, the Virgins of this world, the KFCs and McDonalds of this world build their brands on promise.

How much did you start your business with?

I have two businesses, NET newspapers and BHM.  Both businesses were started with zero naira.  Money is not a problem, I was running around for years looking for people to finance my paper when I registered my first business. I was paying in installment until I was able to balance them.  We grew organically, we have been able to buy equipment, instruments and build website, train staffs and all that.   So, part of the reasons we are growing gradually but steadily is because we started small.  There was a time we had just two staffers, myself and Nike Fagbule, now we are over 30 of us.  There was a time we were squatting, now we have our own office.  It would be tough and difficult, it would look like it won’t work, but as long as you are doing the right thing, everything would be fine.

Are you happy with your level of achievement?

I am happy I am alive, I have a business that can pay my bill. I have clients that are happy.  I am doing what I set out to do, I would be miserable if I ended up in the laboratory or if I became a banker.  Money does not give me fulfillment, I am content, I am satisfied because I can see clearly where we are going to.  I am still working hard that we grow on time and that we don’t get carried away by our success.

A lot of people know you as Ayeni the Great, how did you come about the name?

I was in the university in Part 2 when it came to me. I dream, I read a lot. I read about people I wanted to be like for example Mahatma Ghandi, it came to me that I wouldn’t mind changing my name to Ayeni the Great.  So, the name just came one morning in University of Ibadan and people felt it was an arrogant name as if I am calling myself a great man. I am like I am not a great man, what’s great about me, there’s nothing special about me.  The name is actually an ambition, I don’t want people to remember me for stealing money, I want to be described as a great person.

TOSIN ODUMOSU

This story was first published in Encomium Weekly on Tuesday, January 28, 2012

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