Rearview: The PR firms which never made it past the previous decade




Operating a business is hard and generally not for the faint of heart. More so when you’re operating in – and competing – in an industry with established rivals and peers where competition for clients is cut throat, like in the local PR industry.

From early 2000’s up until around 2015, various names were synonymous with Kenya’s – and by extension, the region’s – PR and Communications consultancy scene. Among these were Young&Rubicam, Access Leo Burnett, Gina Din, NuTurn Bates, Ogilvy PR to name but a few.

(TOP Image: Dreamstime).

Many of these firms have fortunately, weathered the storm and survived the competition that was the previous decade. Others, both upstarts and established names, have however not been lucky.

Towards the end of 2019, in mid-November to be precise, we reported that Grayling was shutting down its operations in Kenya. But now looking back, we can say that Grayling was not the only PR agency to meet this fate and fail to move over to the new decade as there have been many others before it.

Let’s look at the ones we can remember, the firms which handled brands and accounts we dealt and interacted with in the previous decade:

ZK Advertising – Was based at Victoria Towers, Kenya Road on Nairobi’s Upper Hill area, just opposite Crowne Plaza hotel (even though by then the hotel was yet to be put up). The firm – then led by by David Oliwa as the MD for Kenya and Tanzania – had Zain Africa (now Airtel Africa) as its major client.

Among the notable PR practitioners who had a stint here are Michael Onyango, the firm’s PR Director who would later move to Kisumu County as the ICT minister, the late Kenneth Alari Alare – aka JAGDISH SODHA ‘book maker’ – (who went to PR then moved back to his previous station at the Standard Media Group), Mutahi  Karega, and Paul Barasa, currently an Account Director at Redhouse Group. In 2012, ZK Advertising had no option apart from moving out of Kenya – and concentrate in its home market of Tanzania – after it lost the Zain account to Scanad.

The Energy Source – With offices Karen, the firm handled various companies including CFC-Stanbic Bank, Fairmont, SafariLink, Virgin Atlantic, and DHL among others. Among those who cut their PR teeth here are Duncan Miriri, Lilian Ng’anda (who was an Account Manager), and Mary Muinde. The Energy Source seems to have closed down its operations around or towards 2015.

Bertolli and Associates – Based at Centenary House in Westlands, Bertolli and Associates (founded and led by Esther Bertolli), held the Microsoft PR account for over 10 years until the software vendor began changing PR agencies around 2012. Apart from Esther, the team comprised of Stephen Lumumba, Donna Wanjeri, Evelyn Roimen, Humphrey Odhiambo and later, Isaac Kimani. After Microsoft decided to change agencies, Bertolli and Associates tried its hands on putting together industry expos and expos as well as events management, while at the same time handling the Pure Fuels East Africa account. The last time we heard – and received communication – from Bertolli and Associates was in April 2012.

Benn Communications – Another firm which, just like ZK Advertising and Bertolli and Associates, relied on a single client account for its revenues and operations. The firm, which was by then domiciled at Vision Plaza along Mombasa Road, had American Power Conversion (APC), a manufacturer and vendor of uninterruptible power supply products, as its key client and prime source of revenue. Things seemed to be going well for Benn PR until sometime in 2008 (or 2009) when APC Africa representatives from South Africa reportedly jetted into the country for a review and discovered how their local PR partner was undercutting publishers and media outlets when it came to placing adverts while billing them for exorbitant sums. The firm’s website – http://www.bennpr.com/ – has since been suspended.

Aktivate PR (later renamed Publicis One) – To have everything related to media, entertainment and communication under one roof, the management team at Homeboyz Entertainment – led by Mike Rabar – decided to set up a PR unit in 2016 and called Aktivate PR. And it seemed to be working for them as Aktivate had managed to sign up various accounts including Nokia, ESET and ICT Authority among others.

Homeboyz would later partner with Publicis Groupe, a global PR, digital communication and media buying firm, leading Aktivate PR to change its name to Publicis One East Africa.,

Soon, lack of internal structures would lead to staff departures, followed by clients scouting for new agencies to handle their PR needs. Homeboyz Entertainment shut down its PR unit after less than 2 years in 2018.

Apart from the firms we’ve highlighted above, there are several others which have either gone dormant or shut down quietly without raising undue attention. In this group are companies like Square Gold PR, Century Grey Advertising, Yolanda Tavares PR and Seventh Sense Communications. And before we forget, Gina Din Group also falls in this last group even though it recently netted itself a suitor in Edelman Kenya.

Just like the way many people leave the scene in the name of death but we only get to learn about the demise of a few (either via word of mouth, newspaper and radio adverts or social media updates), we’re sure quite a number of PR firms have had to shut down their operations in the past decade. And the ones captured above are just but the ones we’re aware of and interacted with when they’re active and vibrant.

(NEXT: New kids on the block: Emerging players to watch in Kenya’s PR industry).  




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