Nkechi Ali-Balogun, one of the nation’s foremost female PR practitioners clocks 60 today. As family and friends celebrate her, Raheem Akingbolu looks at her career and how her warmth and friendly disposition has won her many admirers and friends
Speaking during an interview she granted a brand magazine in 2011, Nkechi Ali-Balogun, former chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, was very blunt. She told the magazine that she was not used to giving brown envelopes to journalists who helped her project any of her numerous clients.
“What I build are relationships,” Ali-Balogun declared. “And these relationships are much more important to me and my friends in the media who I must be proud to say, are so many. They see me as their friend while I see them as my friends and partners. And there are so many ways friends help themselves.”
She was not done. She said perhaps that was why she did not last long in a paid job environment because she was not ready to compromise or dent her own integrity.
“Without sounding immodest and without sounding like a perfectionist, I will say no. and I’m proud to say that. And maybe that is why my career in the office didn’t last that long. I’m not saying people that stay longer are compromising, no. I was faced with a situation where I needed to compromise. Rather than compromise, I resigned.”
Perhaps she was right. A journalist told THISDAY during the week that she is like a mother to them because of the way she engages them. He attested to her warmth and matriarchal disposition to all those who come across her. A journalist told THISDAY how virtually every journalist Nkechi comes across always wants to assist her one way or the other.
“She is like a mother to all of us,” the reporter who did not want his name in print said. “She is like a mother the way she engages you. And when I discovered she was close to 60, I was not surprised. That is why most of us are always ready to assist her in whatever she is doing. It is not for any pecuniary gains but for the kind of person she is.”
Beyond that, however, she might look chummy, young and vibrant but today; Nkechi Ali-Balogun is marking her 60th birthday. As friends, colleagues and the media as well as public relations industry celebrates her today, may be it might be pertinent to look at Nkechi the Nigerian rather than Nkechi, the PR practitioner.
As the name suggests, she is from the east of the Niger. She is an Igbo woman. But she is married to a Yoruba man. And from the name of the husband, Ali-Balogun, perhaps he might even be a Muslim. These relationships make her probably a complete Nigerian.
Nkechi, as she is fondly called, set up her own PR consultancy firm 21 years ago when she was 39. It was a plunge in the dark where she was not sure what lay ahead or what the future had in stock. She was the head of corporate affairs of the Nigerian Export/Import Bank with all the perks that went with such office.
“What actually led me into private practice was because paid employment was no longer convenient. That was when my office was moved to Abuja and I had to fly every weekend from Abuja to Lagos to join my family and by 7am every Monday I was always at the airport, rushing back to Abuja to resume work. Then I was head of Corporate Affairs at the Nigerian Export/Import Bank. I eventually decided to return to Lagos and channel my energy into setting up my own business and that gave birth to NECCI.”
Nkechi admitted that it was not always easy when someone leaves paid employment; it is always like fish out of water. To her, all the things taken for granted will be gone. Apart from that, all those who one sees as friends will all abandon you since that office is no longer occupying that position.
“I tell you, when you leave paid employment to start your own business, that first year, you’re like a fish popped out of water. All the pecks of office varnish and you also realise the friends you thought you made at work are actually not your friends. As soon as you leave, they disconnect. When you call them, they want to quickly do away with you because they think you need something from them. They just believe you’re no longer relevant. People you thought will also help you stand turn their back on you. I remember I almost gave up on private practice in the first three years. I, however, got used to those shocks with time and I must say God has been faithful and my husband too.”
Even when she is operating as a PR practitioner, Nkechi is one industry expert who believes an average PR person must always hone his or her skills to be able to cope with demands of the profession. And that is why her agency conceived periodic training sessions for players in the industry and she said this has always been her area of strength.
“My area of strength is rendering trainings in public relations and I actually identified that area a long time ago when I saw there was a need gap. That gap is still there, though. The best I can do now is offer consultancy in online PR but to tell you I’m managing your blog, I do not have that energy even though I have the expertise. I believe older people must understand younger professionals are coming up and must also know when to bow out in certain areas. There are younger ones coming up with better ideas and also looking for ‘space’.”
A gifted strategist with intuitively creative abilities, Nkechi is always an in-demand industry facilitator, motivational speaker, and mentor in her career. A graduate of the University of Lagos she also holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and an MBA in Management from the same University. In addition, she has attended Public Relations Management courses in Frank Jefkins School of Public Relations, London and the prestigious Lagos Business School. Nkechi has won many awards and the first female to win the Most Outstanding Public Relations Practitioner (Female) from the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Lagos. She has also just concluded a Master class in Mass Communication at the University of Lagos.