Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard is the Founder, chairman and owner of APO Group, the leading media relations consultancy firm and press release distribution service in Africa and the Middle East. APO Group is working with more than 300 clients, ranging from governments to international institutions, prominent personalities and companies. Nicolas was in Addis for the Africa Hotel Investment Forum and have a chance to talk to capital. Excerpts;
Capital: You have vast experience in the African media environment, tell us your most important observations about the media landscape on the continent.
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard: 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. But there are also some general observations that hold true.
African media houses face a number of challenges – including digitalization, monetization and talent management – but the biggest of them all is around the arrival of large, multinational media organizations taking market share and advertising revenue away from the local outlets.
I saw a report recently showing that the Nigerian upper middle class prefers international media to local content. In the meantime, several international media organizations are expanding into Africa. The BBC, for example, has opened its biggest office yet outside of the UK – in Kenya; The Washington Post has recently announced it is expanding into Africa, and European TV channel Euronews, has launched Africanews. CNN, The Huffington Post and Le Monde have all created African subsidiaries.
Clearly, all these international media house are investing in Africa because they see the potential for new audiences and new revenue streams – and the local African media are struggling to compete.
Capital: Some scholars argue that African media cant serve the people because it is the fourth estate, what do you think?
Nicolas: The media has a vital role to play in educating and informing local populations. A free and independent media can be instrumental in cleaning up corruption and enhancing bureaucratic accountability.
In Africa, there are huge challenges involved in ensuring the press are allowed to do their job without impediment. But they are evolving challenges. Ten years ago, there was genuine threat to life for journalists who dared to step out of line. Last year, out of 58 journalists killed on duty around the world, only six were African – and those were in the conflict zones of Somalia and the Central African Republic.
Now, the challenges are more insidious – and they are more like the ones you see all over the world. As well as arbitrary censorship in some countries, governments are able to infiltrate so-called ‘private’ media. The financial weakness of many media outlets makes them susceptible to political and financial influence that undermines their independence and diminishes their chances of providing fair and accurate reporting to the people they serve.
Capital: What are the challenges, and opportunities in this regard?
Nicolas: There is an increasing interest in Africa from the rest of the world. More multinational organizations are establishing a presence in commerce hubs such as Nigeria and South Africa – and that focus shines a light on any impropriety on the part of governments.
But the challenges are still big. With 54 unique countries and cultures spread over such a huge land mass, it is clear there will always be different rules and powers exercised over media in various parts of the continent.
Our aim at APO Group is to try to encourage as much transparency and visibility as we can. We do that by having the biggest network of media partners in Africa, and by disseminating a diversity of content across borders, driving collaboration through international initiatives and relationships in many different industries.
One of our goals is to elevate the role local journalists have to play in telling African stories – and to ensure the relationship between business and media continues to thrive.
Capital: What can be done to prevent fake news by all stakeholders (government, mainstream media and a company like APO)
Nicolas: Fake news has become a huge talking point all over the world. For news distributors, it has never been more important to ensure audiences are receiving credible, factually accurate information. Africa, in particular, has been a breeding ground for misinformation – with campaigns on social media fuelling divisive political propaganda and corruption.
But, actually, all of the noise around fake news at the moment serves to highlight how valuable an organization like APO Group is in identifying authentic stories and weeding out damaging and inaccurate ones.
These days, anyone can become a “publisher”. Vast audiences are merely a click away. Not so long ago, this was seen as a positive thing. User-generated content allowed for wider debate and engagement. But it can also be dangerous.
As a news distributor, we have a duty of care not only to our clients – but also to the media, who see us as a crucial, credible primary information provider. When we issue a story, it is not just going to one recipient – but to newsrooms all over Africa, so our reputation is on the line every time a press release goes out.
It’s why APO Group have always maintained a strong set of checks and balances to ensure the authenticity of the news we publish. Most important of all, we have made it a fundamental rule never to relinquish a human editorial presence. We will always check the validity of our news sources, and if we have any doubt whatsoever, we simply don’t publish.
I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that APO Group is a beacon for authentic content in a chaotic world of fake news and misinformation.
Capital: How did you come up with the idea of establishing a media consultancy firm? Tell us about your journey, and contribution to media in Africa so far.
Nicolas: I’d been thinking about press releases for a long time. Quite simply, there was no formal channel for organizations to open dialogues and build relationships with African media.
I was a journalist working as European correspondent for Gabonews back in 2007, and I had known for years how difficult it was to get hold of Africa-related press releases,
So I took the plunge and set up my own firm. I invested €10,000 of my own money, and I created what is now APO Group. From the start, I made it my goal to connect organizations with media audiences, and, now, 12 years later, we are the leading press release distribution firm in Africa and the Middle East.
What’s more important, though, is that we are able to launch compelling African stories on to the world stage. Through strategic partnerships with internationally renowned organizations, we now have the network to promote Africa to international audiences – and that’s something I’m really proud of.
Capital: What is APO‘s plan to magnify the image of the African continent in a way that can contribute positively to the economy.
Nicolas: We are active in lots of different industries. We try to partner with leading organizations working in all sorts of areas. In the last couple of years we have increased our focus on sports, luxury goods, fashion, tourism – you name it – and the overall goal is always to create this positive image of Africa that might help drive economical growth across the continent.
Recently, we became involved with the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) event – held in Addis Ababa last month – and that perfectly demonstrates our wider strategy for supporting African development.
Hotels are crucial in boosting the economies of developing nations. Not only do they drive tourism, encouraging foreign investment and bringing in foreign currencies, they also form the cornerstone of big business. All over Africa, international conferences like AHIF help generate huge exposure – while world-class hotels facilitate day-to-day business travel for global executives and multinational organizations.
As Africa grows, it is essential for investment to develop alongside it, and events like AHIF help to drive international investment through increased media exposure.
Capital: You were conducting a workshop for students at Addis Ababa University’s School of Journalism and Communication two weeks ago, how important is this? Is there a plan to engage with students in the future?
Nicolas: I’ve been lucky enough to visit universities all over Africa this year.
It’s long been an ambition of mine to help the next generation of African communicators in what ever way I can. By running these seminars all over Africa, I’ve seen first hand the passion and commitment of young journalism and communications students as they complete their studies.
At APO Group, we recently facilitated a work experience programme for students at Uganda’s Makerere University, giving them the chance to spend a year embedded within the communications teams at the Ugandan Rugby Union (URU) and the Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF). The live content they produce will then be distributed across our press release distribution service, giving them first-hand experience of what it is like to be a communications professional.
Through our media networks and our partnerships with businesses, NGOs and other wonderful organizations, we are very well placed to make a significant difference in the lives of journalism and communications students – and give them the best possible start to their careers.
Capital: Does APO have a plan to operate in Ethiopia?
Nicolas: We already operate in Ethiopia. APO Group has always operated all over Africa. In fact, we are the only media relations agency with significant reach into all 54 African countries – including Eritrea and Somaliland.
That is one of the reasons so many global PR Agencies use us – 57 at the last count. Our reach in Ethiopia – and all over Africa – is simply unparalleled.
Capital: There was a recent announcement about a partnership with Global Image Bank, Getty Images, what brought about the partnership and how will this partnership impact media in Africa?
Nicolas: It’s such an important and exciting partnership for APO Group. When I started the company back in 2007, my vision was to change the narrative in Africa and put it in the international spotlight. Getty Images are perfectly placed to help us do that.
As the global leader in photographic and video content, Getty Images has the potential to influence the world’s perception of Africa through its imagery and help support an African narrative that attracts more investment to the continent by providing content to major international broadcasters.
We are already the leading corporate news service dedicated to Africa, but when you combine that presence with Getty Images – and make all of that content available to 80,000 subscribers on their global platforms – what you have is a recipe to portray a more positive image of Africa all over the world.
By working together in the region, I strongly believe Getty Images and APO Group will be a force in raising the profile of Africa on an international scale.
Capital: What role has APO played in the development of sports in Africa?
Nicolas: Sport has the power to inspire millions of people and help put Africa in the global spotlight.
African footballers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane helped Liverpool to the European Champions League title last season, and the Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship for the first time under the stewardship of President Masai Ujiri, who is from Nigeria.
But APO Group’s role in raising the profile of African sport has largely focused on rugby. In November 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 highest level of sponsorship, and the partnership has recently been extended until 2024. Rugby is developing at an unprecedented pace in Africa and is now the fastest growing sport on the continent. The popularity of the game is booming all over Africa. Ten African nations are currently placed in the top-50 of the world rankings and more women and men, girls and boys, are playing than ever before.
The players are inspirational role models for the next generations of young Africans who are discovering the sport. Although few may know this, out of 105 countries playing rugby competitively, one-third are African and there are many talents in Africa who deserve more recognition by the general public. In 2017, growth in player registration in African nations (excluding South Africa) was 66%, against an overall global increase of 27%. In the female game, the number of registered players increased by 50% in 2017 alone. This phenomenal growth at grass roots level is starting to bear fruit on the international scene.
Capital: After starting the company and running it for over 10 years, you decided to let someone else lead it for you. Why did you make that decision and how have the changes been for APO under a new leader?
Nicolas: We have seen exceptional growth and are in an extremely positive place, so earlier this year I took the decision to appoint a full-time CEO – Lionel Reina – to help take us to the next level of our development.
One of the main reasons I decided to make the change was to scale our business. I was very much an accidental CEO. This company has been my passion for 12 years and I have dedicated myself to it over that time – but now we are established as the market leader, we need a professional chief executive to achieve our ambitious goals.
Lionel has extensive experience at executive level. He was a Vice President at Orange Business Services (OBS), the B2B division of French telecoms company Orange and has also worked as Middle East Director in the Gulf region for Accenture.
I think the change has been extremely positive for APO Group as a whole, and it has also allowed me to take a step back. As Chairman, I can now work on initiatives that will help build awareness of who we are – as well as building relationships with key partners so we can continue with our wider objective of placing Africa in the international spotlight.