By Onome Amawhe
Franco-Gabonese entrepreneur Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard founded in 2007 APO Group, a leading media consulting firm and press release distribution service in Africa and the Middle East. The company which employs close to 80 employees across its offices in Switzerland, Dubai, Senegal and Hong Kong, has experienced a record growth of 60% in 2018. APO Group’s blue chip clients include GE Africa, Dangote Group and DHL among others.
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard recently stepped down as CEO of APO Group, and will now assume the position of Chairman, focusing on delivering high-level counsel for APO Group clients and developing his own investment fund dedicated to Africa.
He recently discussed key factors driving economic growth and development in Africa and reveals the reasons behind the company’s’ success.
Nicolas, you have evolved a business you started in your living room into a multimillion-dollar organisation. Can you share with us what your journey has been like?
It has been an amazing journey really. There is nothing like creating something and watching it grow. It’s very rewarding. Eleven years after its creation, APO Group is serving around 300 clients, including some of the biggest companies in the world – like Facebook, DHL and Uber. Our turnover has doubled in the last two years and we recorded an amazing 60% growth in 2018. But of course, the journey was also one characterized by hard work: twelve hours a day during the first five years – including weekends.
In your opinion, what factors have contributed the most to APO’s success?
At least three main factors: Firstly, we never looked at what the other players in our industry were doing. We started from scratch and, as a result, we were completely free to choose our own path and build our own way of doing things. Secondly, we understood from the very beginning that an all-technology model was not the way to go and that we needed to create a model that balanced technical innovation with human intervention. In press release monitoring, for example, it is the human input that ensures quality coverage is found that can be tailored to the exact requirements of the client. Finally (and most importantly), we have a team of talented and passionate experts from all over the world.
What was the main reason why you started APO Group? Was it to make money, change the industry, etc?
If you create a company with the sole purpose of “making money”, you will most likely fail as a leader or entrepreneur because you are doing it for the wrong reasons. The drive must come for somewhere else. In any case, as you get wealthier, you soon realise that there are a lot of very important things in life that money cannot buy.
Everybody needs something more. A purpose and a sense of place. I’m thankful to find myself in a position where I can add a little bit of my own “secret sauce” to the whole recipe of Africa Rising. That is success to me.
I was a European correspondent for Gabonews, and I soon realised how difficult it was to get Africa-related press releases. I also really wanted to find a way to reduce African media dependency on the international media. I wanted to find a way to give African media direct access to information. What really triggered my decision to create the company 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. I wanted to reverse the tide and make sure the international media community and all African media had access to news releases announcing new investments in Africa, new CEO appointments, new startups, new international events, new awards and so on.
How would you characterise APO Group: as an SEO tool, as a tool for public relations, both or something else?
Of course, APO Group could be considered an SEO tool, in the sense that it guarantees instant and simultaneous publication of your press release across more than 250 Africa-related news websites, including CNBC Africa for example. But APO Group’s Africa Wire press release distribution service is actually much more than an SEO tool. Ultimately, it’s the most efficient and affordable media relations tool in Africa. Indeed, with Africa Wire, our clients’ press releases are not only published on Africa-related news websites, they are also sent to thousands of newspapers, magazines, TV and radio channels. For instance, in 2018, our clients’ press releases generated more than 2,500 print clippings. Not to mention our re-distribution partnership with Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, and many more international players like Lexis Nexis and Dow Jones Factiva. Our technology, knowledge and expertise are invaluable tools in making sure a client gets the right press coverage for their target market so their business can grow. This is also one of the reasons 57 public relations agencies used APO Group in 2018.
Does APO Group provide any input/advice related to writing headlines?
APO Group’s press release distribution service, Africa Wire, is not a Do-It-Yourself platform. Our clients are in direct contact with our staff and we are always giving tips to ensure they get the best possible Return on Investment. We distribute tens of thousands of Africa-related press releases each year so we know what makes a headline more appealing to journalists. It is quite common for us to give advice to our clients on their headlines so their press releases get more pick-up. We are always doing everything we can to make sure our clients are successful. That is one of the reasons we have such a high customer retention rate.
What is the true value of APO Group Newswire Services?
In a large continent like Africa, where there are many languages and cultures to account for, it is imperative that we can disseminate reliable, relevant content everywhere – and fast. This is both a challenge but also an opportunity to respond to journalists’ real demand for access to content in order to facilitate their work. That is the value of our newswire services. If journalists cannot access the right information quickly, the entire ecosystem gets stuck. APO Group uses technology to leverage our relationship with journalists. That is why I created the company 11 years ago, because I saw a gap in the market for sharing news efficiently across Africa – which is vital in facilitating economic development throughout the continent.
Give us your pitch. Why should someone use APO Group?
APO Group has succeeded in offering its clients in-depth communications knowledge with versatile methods in increasing visibility on the African continent. We are able to carry out complex projects using our media relations experts. Clients benefit from our cross-sector expertise, extensive communications experience and a very strong innovation culture that enables us to design strategies unique to each campaign. 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 websites. We also provide monitoring reports for our clients’ press releases, giving clients insights into how print journalists and online sources are covering their stories. We have managed to create a leading platform that helps our international clients share their messages across the continent with the right journalists, on the right media platforms, at the right time. With the expansion of our Advisory department, APO Group also has the capacity to consistently deliver high customer satisfaction in challenging environments. Ultimately, APO Group follows its clients where they expand and helps them establish and manage their brand presence wherever they choose to develop their business.
You’ve made big-name clients a big part of your strategy. How do you win their business?
We win business due to our solid knowledge of the continent and expertise in local African markets. There is a growing middle class and a mature consumer base that is no longer swayed by advertising. This is a sophisticated audience for whom pure, bold, advertorial content is no longer working, which is why more is being invested in public relations strategy rather than advertising. While APO Group has played an important role in helping international investors enter Africa with their communication strategies, we also shared insights with our clients coming directly from the ground through our own local relationships. We are able to inform clients how best to communicate with urban populations (where half of Africa’s 1.2 billion people are expected to be living in two years’ time). We can advise our clients which media works best for their type of messaging and give them feedback on exactly how much reach we generated for them. APO Group is perfectly positioned to facilitate strategic communication and develop the business of its clients. We are also taking messages from our African clients, such as Dangote Group, out to the world as their businesses grow in international markets.
As an adviser to major multinational companies investing and doing business in Africa and the Middle East, what are the key factors driving economic growth and development in Africa?
Africa has a fast-growing, rapidly urbanising population with big unmet needs. For example, Nigeria will reach nearly 1 billion people by 2100 and come close to surpassing China in terms of population. This increase in demography, the rate of urbanisation and the emergence of a middle class that consumes more locally are all positive signs that show the development of a dynamic internal market and therefore great opportunities for local businesses and regional trade. It also must be mentioned that Africa’s population will double by 2050 and 40% of humanity will be African by the end of the century, according to the United Nations. Africa has a young, dynamic and entrepreneurial population with an ever-increasing number of active women who believe in the continent’s potential and want to participate in its development.
In addition to the development of infrastructure, the digital revolution should also be viewed as a driver of development. New technologies are spreading at a sustained pace in Africa that has seen the fastest growth rates in internet penetration across the world throughout 2018, up 20 percent compared to 2017. This is a development that opens up the field of possibilities in terms of education and youth employment and gives hope for organic and steady growth.
You recently stepped down as CEO of the company. What’s on your radar now?
As Founder and CEO, I have had operational responsibility for all aspects of the business ever since I created the company in 2007. The company is still growing at a very fast pace. We plan to pursue our development and we anticipate strong, continuous growth of 40% on average for the next four years. As Chairman and 100% owner, I will be working alongside the company’s executive leadership team to shape and drive our growth strategy and also focusing on delivering high-level consulting for APO Group’s clients.
I believe now is the right time for me to step back from operations and bring in a new CEO who will support APO Group in the continuation of its growth. Lionel Reina has worked as a senior executive for Orange Business Services and Accenture and has a fantastic track record in helping companies scale up quickly and break new ground. We have known each other for years and I couldn’t have dreamed of a better CEO.