He is called Ayeni the Great, and there’s a reason for that. What used to be a name only those close to him knew him by, has over the years, become a household name in social circles and Africa’s marketing and PR space.
Some know him for his work in the early days of showbiz reporting with the Punch Newspaper, ThisDay, Encomium, and Hip Hop Magazine. Others remember him for pulling some of the biggest PR stunts for Nigeria’s top brands.
Originally a Microbiologist trained at the University of Ibadan, Ayeni is one of Nigeria’s best publicists, with a career that has spanned over 20 years. Starting off at a time when all he had was his wits and the blessings of being surrounded by book lovers, he has built an excellent media group that functions as both a sophisticated PR machine and a market conversion driver.
Ayeni always had an eye on showbiz, and in 1998, a year before heading to university, he founded the Youth Awards for Excellence in Music (YAFEM), managing a full team of over twenty staff and volunteers at just 22. The experiences from that journey and many others with Nigeria’s top publishing houses helped him fine-tune his craft into what it is today. Many describe him as the go-to guy when you want to put your message out there, and there is no lie in that.
On Thursday, August 1, 2019, he was inducted as a Fellow of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria. The institute is the apex organization for marketing professionals, customer service directors, sales and marketing directors, and other marketing & communication professionals across Nigeria. The honor of a fellowship is specially reserved for individuals who have excelled in a senior management position at a marketing organization, and Ayeni sure fits the bill. He now joins a unique community of very smart and innovative people who are shaping how communication and marketing continue to evolve, and shape new conversations.
In a recent broadcast to new fellows at the Obama Foundation, President Barack Obama said; “every generation has its own opportunity to make its mark on the world”, and that is certainly true. Another truth remains, that some members of a generation make a mark that transcends their generation and inspires those before them and those coming after. Ayeni the Great speaks to this truth.
In 2006, he founded Black House Media (BHM), which started off as solely a public relations services company with a focus of telling better stories about African businesses and her people. Before starting BHM, Ayeni had worked as a columnist for showbiz magazine, Encomium and as a Features Editor for Hip Hop Magazine.
With no funding or startup capital, just a business name, a table and a desktop computer in his living room in Akute, Ogun State, Ayeni grew BHM into the best PR agency to work in Nigeria, as voted by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations in 2017.
BHM currently manages two of the biggest companies in the country – MTN, which is the second-largest company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and Nigerian Breweries. Ayeni has also served clients such as Multichoice, Interswitch, Skyy Vodka and The Headies. BHM has today transcended his earlier expertise of showbiz columns and the PR service it offers to become BHM Group which comprises BHM PR, ID Africa and Plaqad.
ID Africa and Plaqad are two organizations that showcase Ayeni’s vision clearly. In many interviews, he has spoken about the role of data-driven marketing and good storytelling in today’s world, and he is walking the talk through both outfits. Ex-Financial Times Journalist Tom Foremski was the first to opine that “every company is a media company” and Ayeni shares that opinion too.
Understanding this unique perspective, he set up ID Africa as a digital marketing firm that utilizes real data, the right tech tools, and unusual ideas to deliver value for their clients. Earlier this year, ID Africa acquired Nigerian Entertainment Today (NET), a newspaper Ayeni had founded in April 2010. Today, NET has become one of the most visited web and social media news platforms in Nigeria.
Plaqad, on the other hand, is an internet company connecting brands and individuals to bloggers, social influencers and content creators who help them amplify their messages to their desired audience. In true Ayeni fashion, he has taken a field he has excelled at, and democratized it, without losing quality. The platform functions as a social network and now, brands can easily find skilled PR professionals who clearly understand how digital media works, to help them get heard.
For all the success he has achieved, Ayeni always finds a way to dedicate those wins to his team, clients and the people around him, believing strongly in the slogan “people before profit”. He is a regular with young people and often shares his story to inspire them. For him, the drive is simple, as he once said, “I love young people and I want to spend more time with them to ensure they avoid some of the mistakes I made.”
As a group, BHM continues to be driven by the thinking of smart young people and the power of possibilities. The group launched the first PR app in Nigeria in 2014, a year after they hosted the first edition of their now very popular annual Nigerian Entertainment Conference (NEC Live). Ayeni has also found a way to institutionalize his guidance of young people by constantly putting out resources that can guide any newbie in his field.
His firm has published a guide for professionals interested in smart PR, a full report on the state of PR in Nigeria called the Nigeria PR Report, as well as a case study explaining the “Concept of Virality”. In 2018, the group was awarded PR Agency of the Year and Best PR Agency using New Media, at the NIPR LaPRIGA Awards.
On a personal level, Ayeni was named PR Practitioner of the Year in 2017 and listed on Business Day’s top 40 CEO under 40.
Today, the young native of Oka-Akoko in Ondo State, Nigeria, who grew up in Okokomaiko has stories to tell because he dared to believe he could do, and then went on to try. He once described himself as a failed microbiologist and failed musician, but failure has very little to do with his journalism, PR or marketing career.