Julie Otieno is one of the most respected individuals in the communication business in Kenya. After a long career with leading PR firm Ogilvy PR, she opted to set up her own corporate communications consultancy firm Traction Communications. She spoke to NairobiLiving.com about career and her future.
NairobiLiving.com (NL): What schools did you go to?
Julie Otieno (JO): I attended Muthaiga Primary School and Pangani Girls High School. I then joined Kenyatta University where I undertook a Bachelor of Education (German and Secretarial Studies) degree course (graduated in 1996).
In 2000, I did a post-graduate diploma in Public Relations Management at the Kenya Institute of Management – this was at the point when I experienced the need to switch careers and join the Public Relations arena.
NL: You have been in the communication industry for quite a while. How did you start out?
JO: I started out as a German Language and Business Studies teacher at Pangani Girls High School. I taught briefly (five months) before changing careers and joining the corporate world in 1997 – first as a Secretary (Price Waterhouse), then as an Executive Assistant (Unga Group Limited).
My entry into the communications industry would mark my third career switch – in 2001 I joined Ogilvy Public Relations, starting off as an entry-level Account Executive (at the fairly advanced age of 28 years).
NL: How did you end up at one of the biggest communication firms in Kenya Ogilvy?
JO: In late 2000, as I was about to complete my post-graduate studies at KIM, I pulled out a Yellow Pages Directory, picked out 5 agencies, said a prayer and sent out application letters and my copies of my CV. Only one company responded. Ogilvy & Mather. Richard Mukoma, the Client Services Director at the time, interviewed and offered me a position, which I turned down as it was in Advertising, and not Public Relations.
A couple of months later, I got a call from Mr Koome Mwambia. My first job interview on phone ended with a job offer in a new agency, Ogilvy Public Relations Kenya.
In May 2001, I traded the conservative and predictable corporate world for the fast-paced agency life; I worked my way up the ladder, from an entry level Account Executive, to heading the Strategy & Planning docket for Ogilvy Kenya.
NL: What were your major achievement there?
JO: Rainmaking…bringing in the ching-ching. Business Development was my forte at Ogilvy, and I am proud of the work I did in this score: pitching and bringing in a rich portfolio of clients.
Mentorship and training the next generation of corporate communications practitioners. I have always wondered if it was by chance, or default that I assumed this role. I count it a blessing to have impacted on the industry, through the mentorship, coaching and internship programmes I oversaw at Ogilvy.
NL: What were some of the firms you worked with and what did you do for them.
JO: I handled various accounts in the course of my engagement at Ogilvy. These include Bamburi Cement, Emirates Airline, East African Breweries, Barclays Bank, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Triple A Capital and Credit Bank. For each of these firms, I took on different roles, either as the strategist, content developer, event planner, account lead.
NL: You are now starting out on your own with Traction Communications. Why now?
JO: In all honesty, if we had this conversation about 6 months ago, I would not even be talking about Traction Communications. I was in a good space, career-wise, and building the foundation for something bigger, in say, 3 years.
Following the realignment of Ogilvy’s business in Kenya in October 2013, I felt the strong urge to redefine my career in a direction that made sense. I took the bold step of set up a corporate communications consultancy firm.
NL: What do you offer the Kenyan market?
JO: Traction Communications offers 3 distinct services: Internal PR, External PR and Capacity Building Programmes. Capacity Building is probably where we would want to put 60 – 70% of our focus. Public Relations has suffered, and continues to suffer at the hands of quacks; with all the potential that it has, it is possibly one of the most misunderstood practices. Through capacity building programmes, it is my hope that Traction Communication will restore a measure of confidence and upscale the practice of Public Relations in Kenya.
NL: What are the new opportunities that you see in the communication business?
JO: The Digital Space opens a whole world of possibilities for the communication business. The rise of social media has effectively unveiled an army of influencers (with amazingly large spheres of influence). As professionals we have to find new ways of delivering creatively and effectively within the written and unwritten rules of this new media.
NL: Away from work, how do you unwind?
JO: I am an avid reader, big on biographies and West African fiction novels. At the moment I am reading Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life.
I have also recently enrolled in music school, learning to play the piano alongside my six year old son. I don’t know why I waited this long, playing the piano is one of the best ways of winding down after a long day.
NL: This month sees what is called Nairobi restaurant week. What do you consider the best food in Nairobi?
JO: Best food in Nairobi? The Luo in me believes it is Ranalo’s Fried Tilapia, Osuga and Brown Ugali. However, I have also seen Chef Kiran Jethwa perform magic with everyday ingredients…I believe he should be up there with the best, turning around amazing dishes…