On April 4th, 2020, Grace Gikonyo started GG the Brand, with the aim of mentoring PR and marketing starters and recent graduates, effectively giving them a footing in the communications sector. This is after having had a stellar career spanning more than 4 years.
This decision to give back is not easy, as professional life can be demanding. However, she decided to give it a go.
A year later in the same exact month, she landed the role of leading a team at the #1 online marketplace in Kenya, Jiji. Ever since joining the brand, she has led a largely successful campaign.
Gikonyo and her team have won a streak of awards and positioned the brand strongly against tough competition. We at Career Fodder had a virtual sit down with her to find out about her personal journey that has since culminated in a big position at a young age – compared to her peers.
Career Fodder: You started your career as a news anchor at Daystar’s Shine FM during your campus days. You then took a different trajectory, diving into PR and Marketing. Is this what you’ve always wanted?
Grace Gikonyo: Back in Daystar I think it was more of us as students being part of Shine FM to grow our careers. I wouldn’t say that’s where my career started per se. It was a learning curve at that time.
I always say that my career started officially when I started working on payroll (laughs). On campus, it was just trying out things and that’s why I was a show host in three different shows and I also served as a PR and Communications Manager.
CF: How did you actually get into your current field?
GG: When I joined Daystar, my thought was I would be able to do journalism. However, when I enrolled for Electronic Media, I did a few courses and realized the course wasn’t what I thought it was.
It’s not simply journalism – you’re supposed to do everything including camera work, reporting, and writing. I felt PR is more of what I wanted.
I thought of switching to PR purely, but my Head of Department recommended that I do double concentration as opposed to pivoting completely. That would have added more years to my time in campus. I ended up doing a double concentration in PR and Electronic Media.
CF: When you were younger, let’s say 15, what did you envision as your career?
GG: I thought I’d be a lecturer, perhaps? I really love telling stories and explaining to people what I’ve read. When I was in class 6, a teacher identified my talent and told me that I should be a journalist. That motivated me to be a journalist.
CF: But you still ended up in PR and Marketing…
GG: My love for PR started in high school. At that time we were choosing careers. One of the teachers told us that there was a demand for PR professionals and most companies end up hiring from outside the country.
When I joined Daystar, that’s when I discovered more about PR. I did several courses and excelled in them. At Shine FM, I didn’t apply to be a PR and Communications Manager…it’s just the HOD who identified me.
The radio station manager quit his role. The person who was the PR manager was promoted and we were asked to vote for her replacement.
Having only been at the station for two months only, I felt that there were people who were doing a great job and so I nominated them. However, the HOD told me that she wanted me to take on that role.
I was shocked because I was almost graduating and I hadn’t been there for long. However, I was given an assistant to help me and that’s how I got that role.
CF: Now, for PR and Marketing, you seem to blend in effortlessly. For people who are in universities, could you expound on the technical and interpersonal skills that they need to succeed in such a role?
GG: There’s a thin line between PR and Marketing. For marketing, it’s more about creating awareness out there through many activities in order to generate leads. PR is more about reputation building; it could be through media relations, press releases, or other means.
When it comes to both, you need to be a people person. That means, mastering how to talk to people, being creative, and being a great writer. For PR, you’d be the spokesperson, for marketing, you might be tasked with creating content for online platforms like social media.
For both roles, you have to be knowledgeable in the industry that you’re in. For example, you might be employed in an auditing firm. You need to know what’s trending in the auditing world. This helps you apply your knowledge appropriately in building the company’s reputation.
You also have to create news for your company; it doesn’t happen naturally every day. Identify the aspects of the company that needs to be visible. For an eCommerce business, a growth curve representing an increase in ad listings can be made into a newsworthy story.
For marketing, efforts include billboards, radio ads or social media. You have to work to create visibility in various channels. For PR, it’s free. You need to make sure you source for coverage.
CF: Let’s talk personal branding. What are some of the practical steps you took to build yourself over the years?
GG: When it comes to personal branding and image, let me start from the basics. How you dress will make everyone know to address you. As a communicator, look at every company that you visit. The person that you meet or speak to is normally the PR or marketing professional. How they dress is usually a statement that they make.
The other thing is building your portfolio. This is through networking through industry events. Meet people who are above you…who are where you want to be. There’s always something new to learn – even if it’s from different industries.
Build your LinkedIn profile, since most of the high-ranking professionals in companies can be found there. It is also a source of opportunities. You’ll often hear people saying that they’ve never looked for a job. They were hired via LinkedIn.
LinkedIn helps you grow personally and professionally. You meet people with common interests and share notes. Some will ask for your input to implement in their companies because they feel that you’re a professional in whatever you do.
Getting a mentor is super important. Many people complain that they’ve probably risen through the ranks too quickly and don’t know how to go about things. A mentor helps with that.
CF: I’ve not that your career has been consistent and there were no notable breaks. Are there any challenges you’ve faced and how did you get over them?
GG: People usually see whatever is on the CV and LinkedIn but what they don’t understand is where you are at. Let me start from back in Daystar. I had applied for a role as a host or news anchor for a long time. Right from the time I started schooling all the way to my final year, when I was almost giving up, that’s when I got accepted.
I ended up getting three shows and became a news anchor without being a reporter. That was the procedure; you had to be a reporter first.
I also got a position in management. That was one of the major challenges but I never gave up. When I was trying to get into the industry, I ended up doing an internship in media instead of PR. I felt that I’ve probably exhausted everything that I could learn in PR and now wanted to learn from the media angle.
I think that was a mistake that I did. It totally took me from 100 to probably 70 or 50. Whatever you do in your internship automatically helps you curve your career trajectory. After that, I had to start from zero.
I had to prove to companies that I could do PR. I ended up doing other jobs so that I could gain my footing – including at a spa. In Nairobi, you need to pay bills.
When I started working with Jofar Systems Limited, the major challenge was that it was a startup. I’ve worked with startups and one of the challenges that they have is that they have to maintain themselves in the industry.
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You don’t know if they are going to survive this year or the next. You are always living in the moment.
When you are in an established company as a young person and your subordinates are way older, there is a lot of undermining. People don’t take you seriously. What I did to overcome that is to draw boundaries.
There’s a thin line between professionalism and friendship in all corporates.
CF: Speaking of awards at Jiji, which as some of those that you’ve won and how was the experience?
GG: Someone has ever said that as a PR professional you work so hard but there’s no actual return on investment that you can attribute to your work. So I’d say that the awards were the biggest highlight for us as a department and the company as a whole.
Before I joined Jiji, the company started in Kenya in June 2019. You see, there’s a lot that had been done that nobody knew about.
When I joined my first job was to let people know what we’ve been doing so far; all the small or major things that we had done.
I put all that out into the media and there was a lot of coverage.
We started being noticed and our first award was in August. During the eCommerce Awards, we were named the Best Classifieds Website.
We were competing against The Star Classifieds, Nation Classifieds, and all others that people know. Around October, we won the same award during the Digital Tech Excellence Awards. In November, we were competing with all eCommerce websites in Kenya; we ended up winning Mobile App of the Year: Shopping and eCommerce.
The highlight of the year was when we won the Ecommerce Site of the Year 2021 at the Pacesetters Awards in December.
That now gave us a title; after doing a lot. These were different bodies awarding us and we were only nominated and a voting process followed.
CF: How was the general mood at the office? How were you feeling yourself?
GG: The first gone got us off guard. We never expected an award. As the awards came in, we got more ads, signaling more people to trust our site. In just a year, we’ve had a growth of more than 1 million active ads.
We can always say that the visibility we created in 2021 bore fruits because we hadn’t had such a growth curve since the inception of the company in 2019.
This one was major and we attribute it to the visibility we created.
CF: When It comes to work-life balance, are there any sacrifices you’ve made? It’s been so long since you started working…
GG: You’ve probably come across that saying that goes like, ‘if you love what you do, you’ll never feel like it is work’…
It might be a cliché but I always abide by that. PR has always been in me. I say that it’s in my genes. I’ve been practicing what I love.
The problem with that is that you end up being a workaholic. You end up working more. The advantage with that is that you end up rising through the ranks compared to a typical person your age.
The disadvantage is that you lack time for people you love. One thing I’ve done is intentionally put aside work when it comes to my home time.
For a long time, I’ve always had to bring work home or get busy through off days. I maximize my productivity, especially during working hours. We get to work at 9. I actually write down tasks and divide them into hours or minutes.
I’ll spend time genuinely doing just that. I also include breaks in my planning. If I don’t do that, I may end up being so busy and not working. I’ll not do the actual things that I had planned.
CF: The pandemic and accompanying factors brought about unprecedented digital transformation. On your end, what are some of the ways you’ve had to adapt?
GG: For us a company, the pandemic actually made us. We grew exponentially. People converted their offline businesses into online. We had more active ads and that was pressure on us as a department.
What I’ve learned is the cost per installation that we’ve had to attribute as a department. There’s also the churn rate. In this case, we had to implement AI at our HQ to understand the issues that people are facing in order to improve on them and reduce the churn rate.
It’s one thing to have 5 million visitors to our site, but then, how do we maintain them?
There’s also calculating return on investment as a department at the end of the month. We are doing a lot of activities but do they appeal to our target audience?
For example, the stickers we have in matatus have QR codes that people can scan to download our app. We track that to see how many do so per month. We can know their location as well. That informs us where to target next and the cost implication in attracting just one person.
We’ve had to do more research to understand our demographics. It’s one thing to have a site that you think is for all, but you need to narrow it down actually.
Is our target age range 18-24 or 24-39? So, we had to do a lot of field research and focus group discussions.
Whatever we do now is passed on to our Country Manager who gets the Net Promoter Score based on the research we’ve been able to do and the whole company now focuses on what’s important based on the research.
We ended up realizing that the department is like a backbone to the company because it helps the company in knowing what to focus on in the future. It helps shape the overall strategy and how the other departments operate as well.
CF: You mentioned that you’ve purposely been spending more time with family. So what do you usually do during your free time to unwind?
GG: I love road trips when I’m free. I love exploring our beautiful country. Sometimes you can be in Westlands but there’s a place that you’ve not actually seen. I love exploring different counties.
I also love movies and series. Reading motivational books is also a favorite. That’s more like it.
CF: Going back to productivity, how do you manage your busy schedule?
GG: The productivity tool that I use is Asana. You can create different projects…let’s say in the department you have social media, videography, and media relations…you can create tasks.
The major probably, for PR can be due dates and priorities. They are also marked according to ongoing or done. That’s what I use to maneuver my busy days!
CF: Finally, what’s the best piece of life advice that you’ve ever gotten?
GG: When we were receiving our awards, someone said go where there is no path, and leave a trail…become a pacesetter. I think that’s one thing that I’ve carried with me. I normally ask people, is there a path that you can create and leave a trail? Look at David in the Bible. He was young, unskilled and he only needed a pebble to kill the Goliath. That is a mark that he created. One day people will look back and see what you’ve been able to do.