Like the popular Chinua Achebe proverb about the Lion and the tales of the hunt, Africa needs its own storytellers. One of them is Jessica Hope, one of Africa’s foremost tech PR gurus who has over 13 years’ experience in public relations and has carved a niche in the pan-African technology PR market. She is also the Managing Director and founder of Wimbart PR, a PR agency created in 2014 to meet the growing demand of tech start-ups and entrepreneurs looking to build their presence both locally and internationally.
It is no accident that the rise of Wimbart PR has coincided with the rise of the Nigerian, and African tech ecosystem. The need for someone to tell the story of Africa’s tech ecosystem has never been as important as it is now; between 2015 and 2018, African startups have raised almost $800 million in investments, and Wimbart has been in the thick of it all, creating media campaigns for many of these startups. Some of her clients include iROKO, Andela, Farmcrowdy, Paylater, Kobo360, and TLcom.
In recognition of her exemplary work, Jessica Hope was recently named as one of the UK’s leading communications professionals, having been recognized for her work in the African market. She is also the only professional from an Africa-focused agency to make PRWeek’s UK Powerbook 2019, the definitive list of the UK’s top PR practitioners.
In an interview with Ventures Africa, Jessica shares her hopes for the future of Africa’s PR space on the back of her recent recognition.
“We work with some of Africa’s most dynamic and innovative start-up CEOs; we take our lead, our inspiration and a sprinkling of hustle from them, and we hope to continue to be a meaningful part of the African tech narrative.”
Ventures Africa (VA): What attracted you to pursue PR in Africa, especially with your background?
JH (Jessica Hope): I left my role as Head of Press for the Jewish Museum in London to join IROKOtv as their Global Head of Comms – this was back in 2011. I was at Manchester University with the company’s founder, Jason Njoku – we had worked together on a magazine and had the same circle of friends. When he secured his series A investment of $3m, there was a lot of inbound press, but he also wanted to jump on the momentum and he needed a more structured approach to dealing with the media, so he asked me to join the company in its start-up stage. I worked with the company for 3.5 years, working in Lagos, New York, and Joburg [as well as my home town of London] for the role – so I learned a lot about the pan-African tech start-up sector and built a network of good contacts [media and businesses] during this time.
In terms of setting up on my own, it was Jason who pushed me to do it as he could see that I had a niche skill set and that the market was growing. The company – Wimbart – simply wouldn’t exist without Jason urging me to go that extra step.
VA: What Challenges have you faced in the African PR market?
JH: When we first started, the African business ecosystem was still being figured out by international media, which meant it was tough at times to get noticed. But one thing I think we’ve really carved out as a niche at Wimbart is building strong relationships with these journalists. We don’t just issue out press releases and hope for the best – we put together carefully-curated stories which take into account the current media landscape and the full backstory of our clients’ journeys. We also speak to journalists regularly and find out what sort of stories or angles they are interested in, then we work with our clients to deliver those stories.
VA: In what areas do you think African Startups need to improve regarding Public relations?
JH: Data, data, and data. Journalists are always keen for good stats because they help to frame a story but entrepreneurs willing to share their company or sector data are so rare. We’ve seen quite a few stories fall at the last hurdle because there aren’t enough numbers so it should definitely be an area of transparency for startups serious about PR.
VA: How do you plan to use your newfound global recognition to promote African Startups?
JH: I’m hoping that being listed in the Powerbook breaks down any misconceptions around the startup scene in Africa. We spend our days working with some of the most innovative minds on the continent so we get to see the true potential of the sector. But it isn’t just about me – it’s about my entire team at Wimbart; a group of smart, dedicated, hard-working communications professionals – all of whom are connected to Africa by birth, supporting the wider African tech scene by promoting the business narrative in Africa, that hasn’t typically been heard.
VA: What is your long term plan for PR in Africa?
JH: Tech startups will always be our core focus but we’ve also got our eyes on working with larger corporates operating on the continent and multinationals keen on African expansion. I think when you look at the breadth of sectors we’ve worked with in (finance, agtech, investment, logistics, entertainment, telecommunications to name a few) it gives a solid foundation of how these spaces to work and our tech specialisms show us where things are going. Our new business list is quite hefty at the moment (2018 was our busiest on record and saw 55% growth) but the hustle never stops at Wimbart.
VA: Do you currently have plans to expand outside Africa?
JH: Never say never, but given as we still have a lot further to grow within our current market, for the immediate future our strategy is narrow and deep; this has allowed us to become experts in our field, and which is why we’ve been able to grow out our client base to such an extent.