Venturing into public relations pays big for former business journalist

Thursday March 14 2013

Cynthia Nyamai Communications founder. Photo/COURTESY

Cynthia Nyamai Communications founder. Photo/COURTESY 

By GRIFFINS OMWENGA [email protected]

When Cynthia Nyamai got a call from President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign secretariat, little did she know that it would add another feather to her cap.

Ms Nyamai, through her public relations firm, Cynthia Nyamai Communications, joined hundreds of workers, fund-raisers, think tanks and volunteers who worked overdrive to ensure that Mr Kenyatta wins the presidency in the just-concluded General Election.

Mid last year, she was part of a team that prepared Equity Bank chief executive officer James Mwangi to win the 2012 Forbes Africa Person of the Year award.

“Such engagements positioned our communications firm for our latest challenge in being part of the Uhuru team, which was even more challenging given that managing politics is quite different from managing something like a business,” says Ms Nyamai.

The former business news journalist at KTN says the world of politics is dynamic and things happen spontaneously, unlike in the corporate world where schedules are to some extent fixed and predictable.

“At one time during the campaign, we would find ourselves in Eldoret and before you realise, you are back in Nairobi,” she says.

Experience and networking

Through her firm, Ms Nyamai has also set up a business leader’s entrepreneurship club. The main aim of the club is to give small-scale businesses a chance to network, share experiences, and find solutions to the challenges of the ever-changing world of business.

Ms Nyamai, who is the founder and director of the initiative, says the club members meet every second Thursday of the month during which business leaders exchange experiences and network to move their businesses to the next level.

“The chance also allows us the opportunity to strike deals with new clients, which is vital for our growth,” she told Money.

Cynthia Nyamai Communications is now a successful firm that has outlets in Nigeria and Dubai.

Her firm has also joined hands with Gong Partners — a London-based public relations company — and the two entities step in for each other in case either of them has business to conduct in either of their host countries for a client.

Ms Nyamai specialises in working with foreign investors coming to East Africa for the first time.

For instance, she managed Gong’s local media relations when Emerging Capital Partners announced its investment in Nairobi Java House.

Some other companies which have been handled by CN Communications include Citibank, KenGen, Equity Bank, AAR Health Services, and Zuku.

Ms Nyamai left a well-paying job as an award-winning business journalist at Standard Group’s Kenya Television Network (KTN) and plunged into the deep waters of public relations, leaving the glory of being crowned the 2011 best Diageo business journalist award of the year.

Which begs the question, how did she know that she could handle PR for companies?

Ms Nyamai says she realised that she could make a successful PR practitioner during her tour of duty at KTN. She would often handle small jobs for her friends, some of whom were company owners or chief executives.

The soft-soften former journalist smiles as she talks about her one-and-a-half years foray into the world of public relations.

And for her, being part of the machinery that ran the General Election campaign which saw President-Elect Uhuru Kenyatta cruise to victory is not just gratifying, it is humbling as well.

“I was immensely gratified to be in the Team Uhuru entourage that was composed of more than 30 individuals and Team 100 that was constituted of many talented professionals who ran the campaign,” says Ms Nyamai.

She began working as a public relations practitioner officially in 2011 and says that out of the success of her work, her firm bags between Sh250,000 and Sh3 million for every single event she handles, depending on the logistics and modalities that go into preparing it.

She credits her journalism work for allowing her the rare opportunity to network and meet many business leaders who have turned out to be the key to her business growth.

Ms Nyamai says she just started managing politicians and thanks to their rivalries, it turned out to be her stepping stone into entering President-elect Uhuru’s campaign circle.

“Unlike other business models, in politics you plan but with a very big provision to make changes because many are the times you don’t get to see it coming, and that means you have to learn to be a free spirit,” says Ms Nyamai.

One day in 2009, Ms Nyamai received a call that made her believe that she could perform well in public relations.

On that day, a Nakumatt Holdings official called her after the supermarket’s store along Kenyatta Avenue burnt down.

“I was very perturbed because the call I got while still a business reporter was brief: Cynthia, our supermarket is down, but we need to tell the public that we are a safe supermarket,” said the official.

Nakumatt Downtown was razed on January 28, 2009.

Shocked, she hang up, but later returned the call with a solution to the problem and the rest is history.

Ms Nyamai was not alone in managing President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta’s public relations during the campaigns; he also hired British PR firm, BTP Advisers, to work on his public image ahead of the election that has been touted in several quarters as one of the most challenging.

The other political players also hired reputable local and foreign public relations firms to manage their campaigns.

Other PR personalities in the Uhuru campaign include Ted Kwaka — popularly known as Big Ted, the managing director of The Main Event Company. Big Ted and Ms Nyamai agree that they were just a molecule of what is otherwise a giant compound that constituted Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign.

“There was Team Uhuru and Team 100, which were managing different aspects of the campaign but of course working together as a team to deliver. Being among the teams was indeed a rare privilege,” says Ted.

Ted, whose presence is emphasised by his imposing physique, says his work was emceeing and he was the master of ceremonies for the rallies and events The National Alliance (TNA) held.

He says the political events ranged from being very official affairs to open-air gatherings that called for different moods and as such, he was tasked with ensuring that every event was in sync with its tone.

“You have to take cognisance of your crowd. Events really vary and my work at TNA was to set the tone and maintain the tempo of our public gatherings,” he says.

Although both are quite secretive of the amount of money they were paid, it is touted that being one of the best talent in town, they definitely made a killing out of the TNA campaigns.