Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Michelle Anekeya. As the Associate Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Michelle Anekeya is responsible for the strategic communications and public relations for a range of clients in sub-Saharan Africa.
Michelle has over 16 years of extensive experience in devising cross-border corporate reputation programmes, integrated marketing and communications, stakeholder management and engagement plans as well as managing critical issues, advising clients including Emirates, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Diageo, LG, Huawei, Schneider Electric, Rubis Energy and Wartsilla.
A Council Member and Assistant Treasurer at The Public Relations Society of Kenya since 2017, Michelle is a holder of a Master of Arts degree in Communication Studies from the University of Nairobi and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Information Sciences from Moi University.
- Describe your typical day.
My day starts off at around 5:30 am when I wake up to prepare my daughter for school. Once I drop off my daughter at school around 6:45 am, I head out to the gym – mostly lifting heavy weights because I hate cardio – until 8:00 am.
Since I have been working from home since 2020, I usually begin work from 8:30 am until 3:00 pm. My workday involves a minimum of three meetings, developing strategies for clients, connecting up with my media friends, checking up on my team members and looking for new business.
I take a break from work around 3:00 pm to pick my daughter from school. Just like everyone else who discovered their Michelin skills with the pandemic, I use my dinner cooking time which starts around 5:15 pm to unwind. We usually have dinner by 6:30 pm a habit I have been unable to shake off.
From there, I wind down by reading a book or watching a science fiction movie after putting my daughter to bed at 7:30 pm. I am usually asleep by 10:00 pm.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an electrical engineer when I was young. I had always been fascinated with electricity and how a small thing like a fuse can make a whole television inoperable.
- Tell me about your background and how it shaped you into the person you are now.
Growing up in a family of five older brothers somewhat contributed to who I am today. My parents treated all of us equally regardless of our genders – even when it came to tasks. Way back before the Beijing conference, my parents had already empowered me adequately – just by how they raised me, a girl amongst boys.
Being raised with boys really encouraged me to take risks in life. They would play the riskiest games and do dares that would certainly earn them some punishment, but they would still continue taking the risks. And as fate would have it, they would never leave me behind in their risky missions. What I learnt from our adventures is that for one to take risks, one must be agile and self-aware of yourself and your environment.
I learnt the joy of developing and growing others from my late father. Being the last born, I was dragged to most of my father’s work and social events – to my displeasure at that time. However, over time, I came to enjoy observing how he had a way of influencing those around home. You see, my father was a social worker and a FIFA referee. His work involved helping members of the Eldoret communities handle their everyday life problems. He would bring in the aspect of football in most settings as an icebreaker to get people to open up. It is from him that I gained my passion to be a problem solver using the influence I have.
I also got my free spirit from my father. I would never shy from trying out something new – well once I have calculated the risks and benefits. It has allowed me to keep exploring for new solutions at work and home, be empathetic to others and remain grounded especially in times of great success.
The person I am today would be incomplete without my mother. My mother – a career banker – taught me about the value of ethics and integrity. She is the most reliable person I know. I used to accompany her to work every Saturday and would assist in filing documents. I miss those days! Watching my mother work taught me the importance of keeping my word as a leader. She has taught me to be brave enough to own up to my mistakes instead of blaming my team or making excuses.
While I studied in good schools, I strongly believe that my greatest lessons were taught at home.
- If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I would take more and bigger risks with my career. Earlier on in my career, I would overthink situations and doubt my capabilities despite my work experience and education.
So, what would I have done differently? I would have taken that job in South Africa.
- What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
To succeed in a public relations role, you must be:
- Agile: There is no career that requires one to be constantly evolving at work like public relations. The profession has no room for stagnation because we manage narratives and agendas, of companies, people and even, nations. One must be able to literally think on their fit and handle dynamic situations with calmness if I may add.
- Relationship building: Public relations is about people and passion. We need others to be able to do our jobs efficiently and effectively. All these relationships must be built on trust. We must have strong relationships with our colleagues, clients, the media and different stakeholders to be able to be successful.
- Time management: In an agile career, time management is of the essence. One must know what to prioritize and what to delegate. In an agency setting like mine, I handle over eight clients from different industries at any one time who must be kept happy. Being well organized is something the job requires from us.
- What do you love to do, that makes you light up when you talk about it? What about it makes you light up?
I love to read.
Reading is like stepping into another world through someone else’s words. It is like travelling without even leaving your couch. It is like going on an adventure but on a budget. Reading is like vanilla ice cream on a caramel cake.
When I started reading, I preferred poetry books however I challenged myself I read a different genre every week – however painful. And I am glad I have read some amazing titles in the process. I try to read at least 50 titles in a year.
I always tell my friends not to bother buying me expensive gifts just get me 10 books or more and I will be very happy.
- What motivates you?
I am motivated by the fact that I know I am making positive changes through my work. That through my service I am making other people shine and be successful.
- How do you define success?
Success is being able to make positive changes in the people who are around me.
At work, it can be making a client shine; a colleague gets promoted or winning a new big revenue account. At home, it is being the best mother I can be to my daughter and her telling me she loves me every day. That is success to me.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
She is a courageous girl who chooses every day to put her best foot forward. She is always optimistic that something great will happen to her and around her. She is full of energy and gives out positive energy. She inspires me to be a better person and look at the brighter side of life.
- What is your favourite aspect of your job or life?
When I get to the point where I am a trusted advisor to the client; that is PR heaven.
This is when the client puts their trust in you to have their back on whichever communications matter, they have. When they think of you first before making any decision or when they have an idea, they bounce it off you. When I earn the 5th seat at the client’s table because of the consistently providing the highest value service to the client. I tell you, that is PR heaven.
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
One of my past CEO’s said something that stuck: “You must be able to write, send and follow up on a press release before you tell someone else how to do it.” In essence, you must start from the bottom and learn the ropes because in public relations there is no shortcut. Respect in the industry is more valuable than your paycheck.
Secondly, I would say do not fit in, blend. Everyone has something different to offer. Do not aim to be like someone else in the industry. Be the authentic you. You will go far.
Lastly, being in a high-pressure industry, believe in yourself. The imposter syndrome is real and can make one not speak in meetings, share ideas or even take a risk. Just thinking of starting out in public relations is enough trust in yourself.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
Leading my team in the “Nyoa Ki Pro Na Gillette (Shave Like A Pro Using Gillette)” that won the 2019 SABRE Awards Africa in the Fashion and Beauty practice area as well as the 2019 Best PR campaign in Kenya. The client contact took a chance on us to execute the project and we delivered more than communications results; the business reported an increase in sales.
- What one word had had a lasting impact on your life or career?
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Besides reading, I love visiting art galleries. If I had a lot of money, I would stock up on my favourite artists April Kamunde, Philip Mukabi and Peter Elungat.
Just like my father, I love to travel and try to visit a new place every two weeks.
I love playing scrabble.
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would say: The Africa communications director of a Fortune 500 company. However, I haven’t figured out things that far ahead.
What I know for sure is that I want to start a social enterprise that sets up communities libraries in the rural areas where young children can go to read or have stories read to them. I want to share my love for the adventures found in books with them. My little donation back to society.
You can find Michelle on Twitter – @MichelleAnekeya or LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelleanekeya/
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