Africa's premier newspreneur
I always maintained an interest in both media and business.
In this exclusive interview, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, Founder and Chairman, APO Group, highlights some of the biggest achievements of the organisation and the key role it is playing in driving a positive narrative to help raise the profile of Africa in the world. He spoke with Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor, Financial Nigeria.
Jide Akintunde (JA): Congratulations on the great work you have done at APO Group. What do you think has made the company so successful?
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard (NPM): Thank you. I think one of our biggest achievements – and certainly one of the things I’m most proud of – is raising the profile of Africa on the global stage. That was always my ambition; it is a philosophy that drives us in all the work we do and every new partnership we forge.
Within the African context, we have positioned ourselves between the commercial world and the media, and it is our goal to forge deep relationships on both sides. That way, we can promote African stories all over the world and help our clients reach audiences that nobody else can.
JA: Could you briefly describe what APO Group does and how it is navigating the changing African business landscape?
NPM: APO Group has built its business and reputation as Africa’s trusted press release distributor and communications consultancy. This is an achievement I’m very proud of. But it isn’t enough to simply build a business; it is imperative to grow with your customers, identify their changing needs and help them to thrive in their business development journey.
APO Group is the leading pan-African communications and business consultancy. We offer a full suite of turnkey solutions that empower companies to grow their businesses on the continent. Our services cover three main pillars. The first is APO Communications, which deals with press release distribution, media relations and monitoring solutions, among other services. The second pillar is APO Tech. This is where our specialists provide comprehensive advice and technology solutions to help our clients achieve peak performance. APO Consult is the third pillar, which involves strategic advice to support our clients as they grow and expand.
These pillars feed into our overall vision of promoting African excellence and helping enterprises and entrepreneurs to flourish and attract investment.
JA: What prepared you for the success you have made of APO Group?
NPM: Quite honestly, it has come as a very pleasant surprise. I had no grand business aspirations at all at the beginning. I was just extremely passionate about fixing a problem that no one had been able to solve before.
My background is in journalism. So, I always maintained an interest in both media and business. But the commercial side of APO Group has been a constant learning experience. At the start, I made a lot of mistakes. For starters, I was on my own, in my living room, trying to be all things to all people. I had to be the founder, CEO and sales guy. I was in charge of human resources (HR), information technology (IT), you name it.
But I soon learned that the key to making a success of any business is to surround yourself with people who are better than you are in the different areas that are not your particular expertise. I couldn’t have achieved any of the success APO Group has enjoyed without our wonderful team that is multitalented and multinational. Together, we have built the company to where it is now, with over 300 prestigious clients and an unrivalled media network spanning all the countries in Africa.
JA: APO Group itself may be seen as a disruptor in the African media industry. What do you think are the opportunities and challenges in the industry?
NPM: Firstly, it’s important to clarify that the media landscape in Africa is extremely diverse. There are 54 distinctly different countries on the continent, each with their own unique cultures and trends. As the eternal optimist that I am, I truly believe that there are many opportunities here for the African media landscape to grow in influence and thrive for many years to come.
But it is fair to say that African media houses currently face a number of major challenges. Among these challenges are digitalization, monetization and talent management. But the biggest issue is the arrival of some large international media organisations, which are eating into the market share and advertising revenue of the local outlets.
I saw a report last year showing that the Nigerian upper middle class now spends more time watching international TV channels than local contents. In the meantime, several international media organisations are building up their presence in Africa. In 2018, the BBC launched their biggest bureau outside the United Kingdom in Nairobi, Kenya, with 300 staff employed. CNN now has six programmes dedicated to Africa. Chinese media outlets like Xinhua and CGTN are establishing closer relationships with their African counterparts, while Al Jazeera just opened an office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Clearly, all these international media houses are investing in Africa because they see the potential for new audiences and new revenue streams. Meanwhile, the local media organisations are struggling to compete.
One of our main goals at APO Group is to elevate the role local journalists play in telling African stories. Our aim is to ensure the relationship between business and media continues to thrive.
JA: Between the mid-2000s and a few years ago, Africa was seen to be “rising.” That’s not very clear anymore. What is the current state of the continent as you see it from your vantage position?
NPM: ‘Africa rising’ was a label that a lot of people were using around the beginning of this century. It fitted the narrative at the time, but you can’t underpin the growth of a continent on a vague concept. Notwithstanding, if you look at the fundamentals of the African economy today, Africa is still rising. It has just, perhaps, become less fashionable to talk about it now.
However, we see it as our role to change the narrative away from some of the negative portrayals of the continent in international media. From our vantage point, we see inspiring stories across all industries and all aspects of life. You just need to look at the African contemporary art scene. All the ingredients are in place for it to flourish, from prestigious art schools to a growing number of African high-net-worth individuals. All this is happening amid rapid urbanisation. Cultural hubs are appearing in places like Accra, Lagos and Marrakech and dealers from all over the world are beginning to take notice.
It’s the same story in many other areas such as fashion, music and other forms of entertainment.
We have recently partnered with Lux Afrique – a leading luxury goods and lifestyle concierge firm. Our goal is to shine a light on African success stories and inspire a new generation of Africans who would make an impact on the international stage. We want to show the world that Africa is rich in technology, creativity and innovation – and APO Group is well-placed to deliver these stories to new audiences.
It is projected that by 2050, Africa would see its population more than double to 2.4 billion people. By 2100, 40 per cent of all humanity will be in Africa. That might have challenging connotations in terms of infrastructure and politics. It also opens up huge growth opportunities for big businesses looking for new markets and more consumers.
JA: What are the challenges that Africa needs to overcome to deliver on its potential as the key growth market of the world’s economy?
NPM: Clearly, there are challenges around attracting foreign investment and many governments have a raft of problems at the national and local levels. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was set to go into operations on July 1, 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic scuttled this timeline, is expected to create a single market of about 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion. With favourable policies, AfCFTA can potentially drive foreign investment into the continent.
But, again, Africa’s supranational political and economic institutions are weak and not well coordinated to harness cross-border investment opportunities. The success of AfCFTA in boosting investor confidence would, therefore, be dependent on the policies of individual national governments.
Also, I think one of the biggest challenges for Africa is the wrong perception of it. For instance, most of the world associates Africa with poverty and underdevelopment. This is more damaging than anything else.
That is why we talk about ‘changing the narrative’. Media organisations and influential personalities – or influencers, to use digital media lingo – wield great power to lead a new narrative on Africa. Africa’s best route to driving growth and prosperity is to deliver positive stories to audiences all over the world.
JA: What roles are you playing in your personal capacity now in support of Africa’s transformational process, especially in light of your appointment to the Advisory Boards of the African Hotel Investment Forum and the EurAfrican Forum?
NPM: I was lucky to work on a number of personal initiatives in 2019 – besides my role at APO Group where I am now Chairman and no longer the CEO.
Last year, I joined the advisory boards of the African Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) and the EurAfrican Forum. Both organisations have a big part to play in Africa’s transformational process. AHIF attracts the highest calibre of international hotel investors in Africa, connecting business leaders from international and local markets, driving investment into hotel development and other hospitality and tourism-oriented projects across the continent.
The EurAfrican Forum is doing great work in fostering stronger collaboration between Europe and Africa. Their events are attended by some of the most prominent figures on both continents. Entrepreneurs, investors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), activists, social influencers and international media join heads of state and politicians in sharing their views on how Africa and Europe can work together towards prosperity.
Outside those Board appointments, I’ve also travelled widely as part of APO Group’s education initiative. I have held a number of seminars at universities across Africa and met many journalism and communications students who represent the next generation of African storytellers. APO Group is working on a number of projects to connect students and graduates with business opportunities in prominent organisations across Africa.
JA: And, on the same theme, how do you see the role of sport in changing the African narrative?
NPM: I think sport is hugely important. We are very proud to have been appointed the official Public Relations agency of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in Africa. We are especially excited to be working on the new NBA-FIBA Basketball Africa League (BAL), which is the first pan-African professional league in any sport.
Basketball is helping to build a bridge between the United States and Africa. Several development agencies are using sport as a way of investing in Africa. As Agence Française de Développement (AFD) General Manager, Remy Rioux, said recently: “The Basketball Africa League brings together all sport has to offer in terms of social ties, access to citizenship, gender equality, and environmental and economic issues. We must invest in Africa, in its youth and in sport. This is a pan-African project led by Africans that will generate creativity and innovation, while changing the way the rest of the world views Africa.” That sums it up, for me.
APO Group also works closely with the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) as well as Getty Images, one of the largest providers of sports images in the world. In 2017, APO Group became the Main Official Sponsor of World Rugby’s African Association, Rugby Africa, the governing body of rugby in Africa. This is the association’s highest level of sponsorship, and the partnership has recently been extended until 2024.
Rugby is developing at an unprecedented pace in Africa. It is now the fastest-growing sport on the continent. More women and men, girls and boys, are playing the game than ever before. Our goal is to harness all that potential and raise the profile of African rugby on the global stage.
Ultimately, sport is about passion. African sports stars are role models for the next generation of young people who need to be inspired and given more reasons to dream.
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