Michelle Anekeya is Partner, Head of East Africa for strategic communications consultancy firm Hudson Sandler.
Prior to her appointment in September 2022, Anekeya was based at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, where she worked for over a decade serving in different positions such as associate director, client service director and account director.
The PR guru, who serves as a council member of the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK), holds a Master of Arts degree in Communication Studies from the University of Nairobi and a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Sciences from Moi University.
How did you end up in Public Relations?
This field was not my original choice. I chose electrical engineering but when exam results were out, I had missed the cut-off by a few points. My mother encouraged me to consider an alternative career path. She introduced me to a mentor, the late Prof Naomi Shitemi who pointed me towards Information Science. My first job is what got me into PR, and I stayed. I would say, the person who influenced me into PR was my first employer, Mr. Lawrence Gikaru. He introduced me to the world of PR, strategic communication, and everything in between. He influenced me to continue on the journey and become who I am today.
Based on what you know now about careers, what would you tell your undergraduate self?
When I was in university, I was afraid I wouldn’t get a job I was passionate about. At that point, Information Science was a new course and many people didn’t understand what it entailed, so I had to keep explaining what I was doing and what that course was about. What I would tell that self or a student in a similar situation is that there is an abundance of opportunities, just take the chance. Embrace an abundance mentality and believe that you will find something which you will love.
What were the top three lessons you learned from your first job that you still find relevant today?
It is about results, not processes. The process is important but at the end of the day, people want results. Without results, it is difficult to maintain relationships. It is difficult for companies to maintain shareholders if they do not show results. How you impact the society and people around you is important. It is not just about glamour. How is the work impacting the clients’ bottom line, the community and so on? Have fun. Enjoy what you are doing. Enjoy working with your team and any kind of client. Be grateful that at least you have a client to work with.
What do you find to be the most misunderstood thing about a career in PR?
That it is all about glamour and that PR practitioners are always hanging around celebrities. Events management is just a fraction of PR.
What is the most challenging thing about a career in communications?
How to remain a great listener. As you progress in your career and gain experience, it can become difficult to listen because you think you know every answer from past experience. This can make it difficult to suspend your agenda and listen to a client objectively, without trying to provide a solution. Listening to what is being said and what is not being said is important. It is only after you listen properly that you can provide a suitable strategic solution.
What did you struggle with in your first leadership role?
First of all, anyone even in the lowest position can start taking on leadership responsibilities. You don’t have to wait until you are an MD or a head of the department to be a leader. You can start by leading a meeting. I am an introvert so learning to be more outgoing was challenging for me but I eventually learnt and I am better for it.
What have been the benefits of being a member of PRSK? Why is it important for young professionals to be part of professional bodies?
I am currently the assistant treasurer at Public Relations Society of Kenya. Membership to professional bodies grows your network because you get to meet new people. In terms of professional opportunities, there are many professional development courses available to members, and you easily access employability support in the form of mentorship and employment preparedness. I joined PRSK in 2005 and I have seen a significant impact on my career.
What are you currently reading?
Two titles: Leading Change by John P Kotter which speaks to being the new person in an organisation. It is about learning how to manage operations effectively while seizing new opportunities with the new team. The second book is Man About Town by Silas Nyachwani. It reminds me that many of us are Nairobian by bus. I tend to read a lot of fiction but I am stepping out of my comfort zone by reading more non-fiction.
What would you tell a recent communication graduate regarding how to build a career?
Public relations is about how you relate with others. First, you have to build your personal brand. Have a CV that stands out and a nice email address. Secondly, how are you branding yourself on social media? What do you talk about on social media? People look at these things because you are coming in as a representative of your organisation and your client. Thirdly, network and keep in contact with your classmates. Some of my former classmates are now my clients, others are in the media, and PR works a lot with people in the media. So, build your networks. It is your net worth. Finally, be resilient, consistent, and agile. If you try something and it doesn’t work, try a different thing. Beef up relevant skills such as content creation, and digital commentary, become an expert at something through research, and create unique content.