Publicis One: The PR agency struggling to attract and retain both clients and staff 

The Rabar duo of Myke and John have for sure experienced success (or been successful) in the country’s entertainment and media industry. Myke and John Rabar are the co-founders and directors of HomeBoyz Entertainment (the sound and DJ’ying unit) and HomeBoyz Radio (or HBR), all household names to many people in media and entertainment industries.

In 2016, HomeBoyz Entertainment (or HBE) entered into a deal with Publicis Groupe –  a global PR, digital communication and media buying firm – which saw it change the name of its PR unit from Aktivate PR to Publicis One East Africa.,

The partnership with Publicis Groupe was expected to enable Homeboyz to tap Publicis Groupe’s “global footprint, knowledge base and best practices as one of the industry’s most powerful agency networks.”

“We are not only scaling up our operations; this symbiotic partnership offers Homeboyz an opportunity to be the agency that will trigger a paradigm shift in the delivery of integrated marketing and communication services in the region,” said Myke Rabar, Homeboyz Entertainment CEO in a statement announcing the deal.

“Our choice of Homeboyz as a partner is because we see great opportunity in holistic, multi-disciplinary activities to build brands in Africa. The Homeboyz team bring a strong entrepreneurial and non-traditional approach to their creative endeavors, which will allow our clients to engage with their customers in a broader and deeper fashion, which goes beyond traditional advertising alone” said Kevin Tromp, the Publics Africa Group CEO while expressing his confidence in the partnership.

Of course the Publicis Africa boss had every reason to be not just hopeful but confident about their new-found partner.

By this time Aktivate, Homeboyz’s then PR unit (which would later be renamed Publicis One East Africa), had managed to sign up various high-end clients – including the Kenya ICT Authority (which was previously being handled by PMS Group and on behalf of which it organized the annual ConnectedKenya Summit(s), ESET East Africa and Nokia among others.

Additionally, Aktivate had coordinated events and activations for other brands as well. Among these, as listed on the firm’s website, are Liquid Telecom Kenya, Microsoft, Safaricom, MultiChoice, MTV, Google, Airtel, BBC and Warner Bros TV.

However, it seems that Publicis Groupe was (or maybe not) very conversant with the management deficiencies (or you can call them inefficiencies) bedeviling the entire Homeboyz Entertainment at that time and even now.

This maybe the reason why at some point after announcing the deal, Publicis recommended Randy Pearson to join Homeboyz Entertainment team as the COO-cum-Executive Creative Director at Publicis One.  In this position, his role involved “running the day to day operations and long-term creative strategy of the Publicis Groupe in East Africa for owner/partner, Homeboyz Entertainment, Ltd, and its affiliate brand network, including Publicis Worldwide, Nurun, MSL and Zenith Optimedia” according to his professional profile. He would last there for less than a year.

According to sources, some of who have previously worked at Publicis (and its predecessor Aktivate), Myke and John Rabar maybe the owners and co-founders of Homeboyz Entertainment but when it comes to everyday management and operations, the real power rests with Rose Rabar, the spouse to Myke Rabar.

“Publicis One has gone through three General Managers since it started operations, and this includes Randy Pearson. The General Managers are never given the leeway and independence to perform their duties as Rose Rabar, the head of Finance and Administration, handles and approves everything,” said a source.

And it’s not only Randy Pearson who couldn’t cope with the working environment (and the management style of Rose Rabar) at Homeboyz Entertainment. Others who soon decided to leave after joining the firm were Roy Karuhize (the Strategy and Business Development Director), Antoine Canella (the head of Homeboyz Entertainment’s technical unit, also called Soundtraxx) and Renee Sewe (who was an Account Executive at Aktivate).

Publicis One was not spared the staff exodus as Nick Thiong’o, Alfred Ogolla, Sally Kimani and Boniface Mwalii soon decided to throw in the towel and resign from the PR firm.

The departure of the Publicis One execs from the firm meant that clients who had previously worked with and even developed a relationship with them were now exposed and had no one at the company to (adequately) handle their issues. This has since led Publicis to lose the ESET East Africa as well as the Nokia account (which was later signed by H+K Strategies).

The only major client from the first accounts that Publicis has managed to retain up to now seems to be the Kenya ICT Authority as they handled PR during the 2018 Connected Kenya Summit held last November.

For now, and because we’ve just embarked on a new year, it remains to be seen whether the HBE team will go full out to pitch and sign up new accounts for its PR division, Publicis One. Thais is assuming that it doesn’t want (and hasn’t given up on) its new baby.

Curiously, and worth noting, is that both the Aktivate and Publicis One websites are still active, though the latter is still under development. Let’s hope that once the Publicis One website is up and complete, all the content from the Aktivate page will be moved to it. Or could the Publicis Groupe be shopping for a new partner in Kenya, apart from (away from and instead of) HBE and Aktivate? Only time will tell…

Overall, failure by Publicis One to bring on board new talent and sign up new clients may cause the PR brand to die a quick death in Kenya’s increasingly competitive PR industry. And this will be very unfortunate.

For now, our hope is that the management is alive to these issues and seeking solutions and that Publicis One is seriously ‘Coming Soon‘ as the ‘Agency of the Future‘ as stated in its homepage.

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