I’ve always built or grown brands since I was 16 —Emilia Asim-Ita, founder of AML

Emilia Asim-Ita is a brand builder, a strategic communicator and the founder of AML with over 10 years of professional experience in the media space. A University of Cambridge certificate holder in Executive Coaching, she has worked with many brands, media and non-governmental establishments. In this interview by Kingsley Alumona, she speaks about her work and journalism; business and brand; Nigerian tourism, the proposed social media and hate speech bills by the Senate, and her advice for young people.

As a mass communication graduate, have you practised traditional mass media journalism before?

No. I’ve never practised journalism after I did it in school (with the Unilag Sun newspaper). I studied Mass Communication at the University of Lagos (undergraduate and masters) and have been working in the industry. I admire journalists a lot, but I’ve never worked in a newsroom.


So, what sector of communications interests you the most and why?

To contribute to developing the profession AML partnered with Emmy Award nominee, Ruona Meyer, to publish a handbook series for journalists titled ‘Rouna Tips’. I work in brand communications, but very passionate about development communications—an increasingly relevant field—that’s focused on achieving impact outcomes for brands and also supporting the development sector with professional resources to, amongst many other outcomes, expand the conversation and include more stakeholders. Development is no longer to be midwifed by NGOs—large and small—tucked away in silos to deliver impact that’s most of the time falls short of expectations, is short-lived or pyrrhic in nature.


Tell us about your Storytelling for Development initiative, and why you started it.

This was a series of articles we ran, as a thought leadership initiative by one of our subsidiaries, A’Lime Impact Partnerships. What we sought to achieve with these was to remind our community about one of the most trusted and tested ways of engaging stakeholders and communicating change, storytelling. We decided to share useful tips, tools and skills to enable brands tell more emotive and compelling stories. I’m pleased to note that it resonated so well, but we’ve since moved on to other topics.


Is Storytelling for Development a form of corporate advertising or something you do for fun? Which media do you explore to tell these stories?

The initiative was certainly not leisure. We didn’t advertise any of the articles but only shared via LinkedIn and other social media platforms.


You are the Founder and Practice Director of AML. Tell us about AML. Were you in any employment(s) before setting up AML?

AML is a strategic communications agency with practices in branding, corporate reporting and custom publishing, events, public relations and stakeholder engagement, sustainability and CSR, faith and learning. I lead the team as the Practice Director. I’ve never been in employment as I’ve always built or grown brands since I was 16. I started professionally in youth marketing and youth development for 7 years (as co-founder of RedSTRAT, now RED Media and The Future Awards, now The Future Africa) and did a stint with media technology before moving to AML (which focused on PR and events only at that time) before consulting on sustainability and CSR for 9 years (co-founding ThistlePraxis) and then back to AML. Prior to all these, I started on Television in 2003 as a Segment Presenter for ‘Mind Your Grammar’ on NTA 2 Channel 5 for a year before hosting ‘YouthTalk with Emilia’ for 5 years and then ‘Rubbin’Minds’ on Channels TV.


What is the difference between a business and a brand? And, in the corporate world, which one should be paid more attention to?

A business is any entity that exists for the sake of offering goods or services. A brand is a fulfilment of a promise and expectation from any consumer. Simply put, one exists but the other delivers value for a promise made. Brands must be paid attention to more than businesses. However, every business should aspire to become a brand.


One of your services involves pro bono consulting. How does it work, and who can benefit from it?

I wonder where you saw that. We don’t have any service offering like that. I support many organisations in a personal capacity as a volunteer or board member or mentor or advisor. I also serve as a mentor with the Lagos chapter of Founder’s Institute, INVENT Lagos, TEEP, LEAP Africa and Teach for Nigeria.


You are a board member of Bethedifference (BTD) initiative. What is the initiative about? And, what are the benefits of being a member of the initiative?

Yes, I just rounded off my tenure. BTD seeks to identify professionals and experts ready to volunteer and match them with NGOs that can’t afford their services. They bridge the gap between skills and opportunities for societal change through community development.


You were once the editor of a publication for the eTourism Nigeria Project. What is eTourism Nigeria Project? Do you think Nigeria is properly harnessing its tourism resources?

I served as the first editor of TOURNigeria Magazine. It was a public-private partnership with the Federal Tourism Ministry where we operated private tourism services and published relevant literature and content to inform tourists and influence tourism service decisions. As a country, we’re certainly not harnessing our potential. A myriad of challenges plague the sector, primarily sustainable investments. For instance, Nigeria will celebrate her 60th independence anniversary in October 2020. Nobody seems to care, and such should be leveraged to promote and reinforce our tourism appeal.


There are indications that the media is not faring well under the current Nigerian government. As someone with a University of Cambridge certificate in Executive Coaching, how would you advise the government in this regard?

I would advise the government to communicate simply, hire spokespersons who evoke trust and confidence of the populace and don’t disrespect Nigerians. It’s obvious that our president isn’t an orator, but oratory isn’t synonymous with charisma. We just need to get prompt and honest feedback more often. And it doesn’t have to be the president. Even the Information Minister doesn’t write often or speak often; he doesn’t leverage digital tools for a country with significant youth population. Nigerians only want to have access and be reassured that their aspirations are valid, questions and concerns matter and most importantly, that both political leaders and followers alike have equity in the Nigerian state.


What is your take on the federal government’s plan to regulate the social media space and its proposed death penalty for hate speech offenders?

I think it’s an idea that’s dead on arrival. I understand the challenges of fake news and data manipulation, the emergence of psyops and ‘weapons grade’ communication strategies now freely at play; mob attacks and herd mentality in full glare by an unsophisticated and easily-swayed populace. However, these don’t justify the proposed penalties. I believe that once we get the right frameworks and policies in place—data protection, intellectual property and digital rights, cybercrimes, et al—that the digital industry will be self-regulated without the interference of government.


What do you like doing at your leisure? If you were to make a wish in your next birthday, what would it be?

I read a lot, dance and love to sing, especially hymns. I find the origin and composition of hymns and canticles soul stirring. A birthday wish? I’ve a few—business, education and faith—but they’re all private.


What advice do you have for young people, especially the female ones, who are aspiring to be like you?

First, I don’t counsel anyone to aspire to be like me. We’re all very unique. My path in entrepreneurship has been peculiar with different sectors and projects. I would advise someone younger or older or in my age group to follow their convictions and stay true to their values. And this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pivot in business or remodel your approach as often as things change. We live in a world where those who shout the loudest seem to be the only ones celebrated; never be intimidated by noise or fooled by the appearance of success. Life has taught me that it’s never about the quantity but the quality, never the size but the depth, never the outcome but the impact, and never how soon but how well we build legacy.





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