Publishing comes with huge responsibility, confers enormous powers

Mariam Mohammed Maktoub is the publisher of MAKTOUB Magazine. The Kano-born public relations strategist with specialty in political communications and branding is intelligent and witty. She is also committed to issues of education for the less privileged and youth development. In this interview to commemorate her birthday on Sunday, December 8, 2019, she speaks on a range of issues especially her new youth focused programme; ‘Intelligence Is Sexy.’

Public relations is not as ‘prestigious’ as professions like law and medicine. What attracted you to public relations?

You know as a child one wanted to be so many things, all at once. There were instances I wanted to be a lawyer, actually that was what my parents wanted. Then also, there were times I thought of being a nurse, we played doctor, engineer, just name it.

However, I knew that none of these things were what I wanted. I wouldn’t say PR as a definite path, but being a writer of sorts has always held an allure for me.

So, in a sense I could say, yes, after all, PR is part of journalism just that you have to burnish the image of individuals, important ones, corporations and organisations.

Like I said from the beginning, left for my parents, it was the legal profession or nothing else.

But when the inner self knows exactly what drives you, eggs you on, except you are not perceptive or simply not attuned to what you want out of life, then parental decisions, or even societal persuasions could be the ultimate decider.

Though initially it was not easy for my parents accepting my decision when I enrolled for Media and Communications Studies, they eventually allowed me to have my way. Their accepting my choice was based on their primary goal of my happiness and passion.

The interesting thing is that I found myself drawn away from my choice of study once I was done with gaining the required certificates and certifications. I found myself into real estate for almost a decade basically in Dubai.

The good thing is that I never lost focus as to what I really wanted to do and be. I guess the allure of the media for me is the power and responsibility it confers on an individual. I know that sometimes journalists and communications practitioners fail to recognize the enormous powers they wield. I do not know if it is the fear of the constitutional and social responsibility that makes a whole lot of us shy away from exercising that power.

Well, I was not going to lose that advantage of knowing the power the media confers so I turned to being a PR strategist as it was going to serve my purpose.

You started your PR Company from scratch, how did you do it?

It was a mixed bag of hard work, determination, and sometimes, heartbreak.

Before I took up the PR mantle I was into real estate and I saw myself losing money in the 2007/2008 global financial crisis. So, when I decided I was going back to my first true passion, I knew I had to more pragmatic and consummate in this venture.

There were ups and downs in terms of human and capital resources, but that was expected.  So, once I had the consistency, passion, training, mental tools and the self- belief, I knew success was by the corner.

I will say it was with sweat, lobbying and never saying never.

How would you access the Nigeria’s PR industry?

The growth or performance of any sector is tied to the overall performance of a country’s economic growth and or indices.

While I can say that the PR industry in Nigeria is robust, it is still an emerging sector since it is yet to realize its full potential.

Imagine that the global PR industry hit over $15 billion in the last couple of years in total spending. What is Nigeria’s market share of such a huge market? There are a couple of factors you have to appreciate to know why the PR industry is not performing to its optimum; currency volatility, macro-economic shocks and policy issues of those with the financial muscle to spend.

Besides those, the idea that indigenous companies and high value individuals will rather centralise their PR accounts in South Africa and even Kenya does not engender the kind of patronage that the sector desires.

What every meaningful PR consultant in Nigeria wants is for to be given the same respect and consultancy with the foreign ones. There are instances that Nigerian PR firms are the ones that execute jobs shipped to companies abroad. We understand the peculiarities, the nuances of our environment and are better suited to drive any campaign.

It can be better, but it’s certainly nowhere near how it used to be. We’ve now got bolder, more daring and enterprising females CEOs who are doing pretty well for themselves, their clients and staff. But like I said, it can be better and I think we’re on course.

So, would you say the field is lucrative field?

I think if one were to be more driven by the lure of money rather than passion and service then one could end up being disappointed.

When you say lucrative, is it like owning an oil well or a diamond field? The opportunity of working with those who make the ultimate decisions about the economy, politics, goods, and services is priceless beyond how much one makes in the end.

But does it pay bills and aid one to live a contented life and spare for community? It certainly does and the impact of it I should say is lucrative.

Is the industry gender-friendly and what’s your advice to female entrepreneur?

I would say once you know your worth, gender becomes secondary. Few instances abound where people are chauvinistic but I have broken that barrier and demand for equal respect and accounts handling.

My advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs is that they must exude confidence. Be yourself, be properly educated in what you want to do, be open minded and stay focused on your ultimate goal; success.

You are also the publisher of a monthly business and lifestyle magazine, what has the experience been?

Being a publisher comes with a huge responsibility given the enormous power you wield. And that is my worry for today’s journalists. Most seem not to appreciate the full extent of the privilege of the power they command as people who every other Nigerian wants to listen, read and quote in their daily discourses of issues.

As a publisher I have learnt how to be circumspect, patient and ask the right questions. The danger of not being prudent with information is that you could ignite an inferno that could lead to crisis, chaos and needless loss of lives or even destroy the career of a single individual.

Also, I have come to the realization that running a business in Nigeria is a herculean task especially the media type.

Would you say female entrepreneurs in Nigeria are competing favourably with their male counterparts?

We are still moving up the perch because if you look around, how many women CEOs do we have? I think there should be a deliberate government policy to help women be at the apogee of entrepreneurship after all the bulk of those who drive the SMEs are women and they do so very well. How come when it comes to the quoted companies we find just a sprinkle?

 What’s your take on mentorship in business?

Owing to the fact that most societies are patriarchal in nature it is important that young women are given the requisite knowledge they need to navigate the pitfalls of society. Mentorship is an integral part of building the today’s woman for her pride of place tomorrow.

The young woman of today ought not to pass through the ordeal of the woman of yesterday.

You are the brain behind the ‘intelligence is sexy’ event, what is it all about and why did you initiate it?

In the years past, I use the day before my birthday to host my fans and friends from social media and on the main birthday, which is December 9, I fete family and close friends to dinner.

But this year, I said to myself, rather than wine and dine, I want to be a mentor and hope that the young people who follow me conscientiously on my various social media handles will get the opportunity to learn enduring lessons of life.

So, I came up with the ‘Intelligence is sexy’. It is something of a bother that most young people see the social media as an avenue for body gratification, get-quick schemes and disturbing indulgences; photos, fashion and those kinds of things.

Brilliance and intelligent ideas are a rarity. The social media ecosystem should be about intelligence not just about fashion, photos and false lifestyle that encourages depression. Being intelligent and legitimately smart is actually cool.

So some of my friends will be joining me to meet some of these over 25, 000 of my fan base and expound on this issue. Actually, it is aimed at being an annual event.

You are passionate about youths; do you have other programmes to engage the Nigeria youths?

Yes, there is the Mariam Mohammed Maktoub Foundation which is pro-people, pro-less privileged. It is essentially education-centred with a target to impact over 100, 000 pupils and students in the next two years. We have already started in Kano by remodelling one of the biggest secondary schools and providing furniture.

Over the next two years we intend to do more for schools especially in the North, because truth be told the highest number of out-of-school children are in the north. And if we are serious to harness these potential, then we should empower communities by offering them decent school environments.

My personal expectations is that more northern governors will leverage on what we are offering so we can deliver something tangible, worth the while for the children of the north in need of assistance.

What are the major challenges you have encountered doing business and chasing your passion?

Running a business anywhere is tough not just Nigeria. Yes, there are Nigerian peculiarities like issue of multiple taxation, even getting your business registered can be a burden. However, I’m happy that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has done well in the Ease of Doing Business in the country.

Then there is the general issue of power which has been with us like forever. If you add into the mix the issue of poor work ethics amongst most employees if you are not careful you will have migraine every other minute.

I have learnt how to adapt and ensure that situations that can be remedied are expeditiously dealt with. Then, I don’t toy with capacity building for my team. Everyone has to be up to speed because in the kind of sector we operate in, mistakes are an anathema.

Notwithstanding these challenges you are moving ahead, what drives you to do more?

Excellence. I know no matter how good something appears to me or others, it can always be improved. I always seek to find answers to existing problems, at least in my field; I explore creative solutions to deliver excellent or more satisfactory results to the recipient or client.

That keeps them loyal and coming back or referring their associates to me.

What is your passion, what drives you to do more?

To leave humanity one step better. To see that just one person is satisfied. It could be you, anybody.

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy… So, what do you do when you are not working?

Long ago I learnt that it is one step at a time. Very few things, if any, bother me. Basically I am indoors reading if not at the office.

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