Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard on building a media relations giant
By Lerato Chiyangwa - 31 July 2019
I recently had a chat with Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, Chairman of APO Group, on how 11 years ago he managed to turn an initial investment of €10,000 which were all his savings from being a journalist at Gabonews into a leading media relations firm.
APO Group now serves more than 300 clients across the world ranging from governments, international institutions, prominent personalities as well as companies doing business or planning to invest in Africa and the Middle East.
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, Chairman of APO Group
Building an African media relations giant
iAfrikan: Let’s start with who Nicolas really is. We understand you founded APO Group in your living room whilst you were a journalist. Please give us a quick recap of what that was like, up to where you are now. Stating what drives you and what was the motivation towards this move?
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, Chairman of APO Group: The idea for APO Group was born out of my frustration at how difficult it was to get hold of Africa-related press releases.
I was a European correspondent for an African news website, and I really struggled to find Africa-related content. Not only was it frustrating for me, but I soon realised it had dire consequences for all communicators with an African story to tell.
Firstly, the inability of African journalists to access original content was reinforcing their dependence on Western media and press agencies. Secondly, most of the press releases issued by African governments and African institutions never reached the international media community at all. Many even failed to reach the African media community.
I knew I had to do something about it. But what really triggered my decision to act was a series of discussions I had with the President of the African Development Bank at the time, Donald Kaberuka, who explained to me how crucial the dissemination of news about Africa’s economy was to the development of the continent. That’s how it all started.
Fast forward 12 years, and APO Group is now the leading press release distribution service and media relations consultancy in Africa and the Middle East.
How do you think APO Group contributes to Africa’s growth?
Distributing positive news about African development is an integral part of our company culture. Right from the start, back in 2007, our vision was to change the narrative about Africa. To put Africa in the international spotlight so it can thrive.
One of our biggest contributions has been in creating a network of global, best-in-class partners that have helped drive our content to new international audiences. For example, our recent collaboration with Getty Images. 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.
We are already the leading corporate news service dedicated to Africa, but when you combine that presence with Getty Images – 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.
What has the evolution of the APO Group been like from inception to where it is now?
The inception and evolution of APO Group has mirrored my development as an entrepreneur.
I was a journalist. I studied law. I really was not prepared to create, much less develop a multinational company.
As I said, the catalyst for APO Group came from identifying an opportunity – but after that, I was on my own. I started out in my living room - literally - and during the first years I had to be the IT manager, the sales consultant, the PA, HR, Finance, Marketing - everything. I had to learn it all from scratch.
But I’ve never stopped learning. The past 12 years have been a constant education.
In my experience, creating and developing a company is one of the most difficult things a human being can do. It requires a huge amount of time and energy, a lot of sacrifice, a healthy lifestyle and a lot of others ingredients too, which - even if they are all put together with love and care - do not always guarantee success.
It goes without saying, you will also need a huge slice of luck!
But we did pretty well. 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. Lionel was the former CEO for Middle East and Africa at Orange Business Services, the B2B division of French telecoms company Orange, and former Director for the Middle East at Accenture and has a track record of helping companies scale up quickly.
Having Lionel on board has 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 putting Africa in the international spotlight.
What would you say are the challenges African media is facing today and possible solutions for these challenges?
The challenges the African media are facing today is partly to do with this idea of African evolution.
Today, Africans are a better-educated, more demanding audience. Their expectations are higher, so they require more diverse, better quality content.
And - crucially – better content requires better journalists. So, a lot of it comes down to attracting the best talent.
I’ve been in touch with a lot of African journalists, and when you ask them what they need most desperately above everything else, they all say: training.
Finance, therefore, plays a big part. If you want to attract the best talent to produce the highest quality content, you have to invest in their development. Talent will always mean the difference between success and failure – this is one of the challenges facing African media houses is making sure their journalists are meeting the expectations of their audience.
Another great challenge African media is facing is the fact that several international media organizations are expanding into Africa which makes the market even more competitive.
The BBC 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 now has six programmes dedicated to Africa.
In North Africa, HuffPost has created HuffPost Morocco, Tunisia. In France, Le Monde has created Le Monde Afrique, Le Point has created Le Point Afrique, La Tribune has created La Tribune Afrique. Not to mention Ringer who has created Pulse in several African countries, as well as CNBC Africa, Forbes Africa and the Xinhua press agency in China.
Clearly, all these international media houses are investing in Africa because they see the potential. So, as I mentioned before, African media houses must make sure they are consistently producing quality content.
APO Group is a leading media relations consulting firm and press release distribution service which is clearly proving to be more with the recent partnership with Getty Images. What other services does the company provide?
APO Group manages an extensive variety of services, ranging from TV and photo production, distribution and monitoring, to communication strategy and government relations. But what really makes us unique is our ability to not only advise clients, but also to implement our clients’ plans using our own proprietary tools across the entire continent.
We believe this is what our clients really need: a single interlocutor with deep knowledge of Africa, the tools to deliver the right results and an ability to stand alongside them in whatever challenges they face in their communications strategies.
We are the only company in Africa able to offer press release, photo and video distribution to all 54 African countries, and to 250+ African news websites. We’ve built a strong social media service and also provide monitoring reports for our clients’ press releases, giving them insights into how print journalists and online sources are covering their stories.
We might have started out as a press release distribution provider back in 2007, but we are valued advisors now, too. Most of our clients now understand that the most effective way to use APO Group is as a holistic consultative partner.
57 of the biggest PR agencies in the world worked with us in 2018 because they truly understood the value of what we provide. Not only do we immerse ourselves in their clients’ communications plans, we implement them and provide monitoring data to evaluate their success and return on investment.
DAKAR, SENEGAL - 26 July 2019: Chairman of APO Group, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard and English model, actress and businesswoman, Naomi Campbell in attendance at The Hoop Forum organised by SEED Project in Senegal
What made you decide on a media relations firm that focuses on Africa and the Middle East?
Before APO Group, there simply wasn’t a formal channel for organisations to open dialogues and build relationships with African media. The big international press release distributors like PR Newswire and Business Wire left Africa largely untouched: It was too complex a region, with more than 50 countries and (so they believed) little in the way of demand from their clients.
But, as I said earlier, I was a journalist looking for information on Africa: Press releases, press briefings and official statements issued by European-based institutions, NGOs, diplomacies and governments. I needed to receive all this content in order to stay on top of everything that was happening between Europe and Africa at a diplomatic, economic – even a cultural level.
So, I knew there was a big opportunity for whoever tried to solve that problem.
The thing that excited me most was that media relations in Africa was a blank canvas. We went in and started building up our media network and now we reach hundreds of thousands of journalists all over the continent. More than that: Because we were the first, we were able to build deep relationships and extensive knowledge on the media landscape.
I’m proud to say we are now the market leader and going from strength to strength.
Lastly, what advice would you give for budding entrepreneurs in media and individuals who work in the media sector.
This is a question I am often asked – and one which I’ve devoted a lot of time to. Over the last few months I have visited several journalism schools and colleges all over Africa – and my message is always the same:
- First, it is important to understand that journalism is one of the most advantageous professions for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. Because you can ask questions to everybody and they will usually fall over themselves to you!
- Whenever you get the opportunity to travel or meet new people, you need to take it. You might gain different perspectives, learn new skills or meet somebody that can help with your development.
- You need to work harder than the rest and be ready to sacrifice a few years of your life. That means working at least 12 hours a day, including weekends, having a healthy lifestyle and committing yourself to your goals.
- You need to go big or go home. Africa is 54 countries, but with just two languages (English and French) you can cover most of the markets. Do not hesitate to take on bigger, well-established companies. 1% of the African toilet paper market is good enough for you to make a lot of money.
- If you can do it alone, then do it alone. Avoid creating with co-founders, investors and so on. Why would you allow anybody to get involved who might slow you down, contest, or even block your decisions?
- Reinvest all the money you earn in the early years. Your objective is not to buy a Ferrari the moment you can afford it, and then see your company slowly disappear because of a lack of investment. You are building something for the long run.
- Hire talents and surround yourself with people who are better than you are at what they do. Learn to pass on your knowledge and to delegate. A good entrepreneur is the one who can die today without jeopardizing the future of his company. You need to work very hard on making yourself obsolete.
- Do not fall in love with your service or product. Even if it is not perfectly ready to go to market, launch it now, before a competitor does. You will have the time to refine later. Don’t forget you are here to sell, make money, and change the world.