The journalist who built a big-ticket firm

Monday April 01 2019

Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, entrepreneur and the founder of APO Group. PHOTO | COURTESY


Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard is a Franco-Gabonese entrepreneur and the founder of APO Group. It is the leading media relations consultancy and press release distribution service in Africa and the Middle East.

The 43-year-old founded APO Group in 2007, from his living room, using some $11,000 in savings. Having no investors and money to hire staff, Pompigne-Mognard took on all roles, from accounts, to writing proposals, to marketing and selling.

At the time, he was a journalist for online publication Gabonews and deputy president of the Pan-African Press Organisation in France.

Last year, Pompigne-Mognard stepped down as company chief executive to become its chairman. He appointed Lionel Reina as chief executive.

Mr Reina is the former vice president and general manager for Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Orange Business Services, a division of French telecoms giant Orange.

APO Group has close to 80 employees across its offices in Switzerland, Dubai, Senegal and Hong Kong. The firm works with more than 300 clients including public relations agencies in the region and global companies across multiple industries such as Siemens, Facebook and Nokia.


The firm’s strategic partners include Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, Nasdaq, Getty Images, CNBC Africa and Africanews, a subsidiary of Euronews.

APO Group is also the main official sponsor of World Rugby’s African association, Rugby Africa. Pompigne-Mognard, who played the game for more than 10 years says it is developing at an unprecedented pace in Africa, hence the need to invest in it.

“Players are acting as role models for the next generation of young Africans,” said Pompigne-Mognard. “Out of 105 countries playing rugby competitively, one-third are African and there are many talents in Africa who deserve better recognition.”


How did a former journalist build a multi-million business?

I founded APO Group, a media relations consultancy firm in 2007, investing all my savings in it. As a self-made entrepreneur, I have been resilient and diligent. I devoted a few years of my life to the firm to ensure it succeeds.

To succeed in business you must be visionary and stay ahead, tap into opportunities, be innovative and offer unique solutions.

When I see the results today, I feel proud and happy to be contributing to the development of Africa by supporting local and international companies.

When you establish a company, you create jobs, which is essential for a continent whose population is expected to reach 2.4 billion in 2050.

Why a media relations consultancy, and specifically in Africa and the Middle East?

I started my career as a European correspondent for an African news website. Accessing relevant press releases was difficult. News on Africa never made it out of the continent.

In creating APO Group, I wanted to facilitate access to information and, anticipating the potential for development on the continent, the timing was right.

I also knew that sharing news about Africa’s economy would also support its growth. International clients often group Africa and the Middle East together for strategic reasons. It was wise for us to include the Middle East in order to leverage on our earnings in Africa.

But aren’t you killing enterprise journalism by distributing content and doing public relations for conglomerates?

Press releases are a valuable resource as long as they are timely, topical and well-written. Media houses use them and understand how to use PR content to deliver newsworthy and reliable information.

By distributing content including text, images, video and infographics, from more than 700 sources, APO Group is facilitating access to information.

We have redistribution agreements with media firms such as Bloomberg, Reuters, CNBC Africa, Euronews subsidiary’s Africanews, Lexis Nexis and Dow Jones Factiva, including 300 Africa-related news websites. Our content is free.

None of these media houses would have used our press releases if they were not resourceful and reliable.

While at Makerere University you spoke about the risks linked to international media house’s expansion in Africa...

The African market is untapped. Media houses face a number of challenges including digitalisation, monetisation and talent management, but the biggest of them all is content creation.

Recent reports show that the Nigerian upper middle class prefers international media to local content. To help bridge that gap I have started a series of conferences across Africa for journalism and public relations students.

Last month I was in Senegal then I came to Uganda and in April I will be in Zambia.

In the meantime, several international media organisations are expanding into Africa to take advantage of this huge untapped market.

The BBC, for example, has opened its biggest office yet outside of the UK in Kenya; The Washington Post has recently announced it is expanding into Africa, and European TV channel Euronews, has launched Africanews. CNN now has six programmes dedicated to Africa.

In North Africa, HuffPost has created HuffPost Morocco, Tunisia. Africa should not be left behind.

Can African media houses survive this onslaught?

About 10 years ago, multinational companies began to invest in Africa. More than 400 US companies have been operating in South Africa for several years. Today, most of them plan their expansion across the continent to take advantage of this huge untapped market.

In order to achieve their growth objectives, these companies will have to spend money on advertising and public relations.

If the international media, that already have close relationships, are a credible alternative to advertising in Africa, it is only natural that these companies will spend their budget on them. This will further weaken African media houses.

Without money to invest in their organisations and grow their businesses and invest in talent, local media will lose the battle for content.

How then should African media tell the African story?

One of the questions we need to be asking ourselves is why the middle class is spending more time watching foreign content.

The most probable answer is related to the content. We should not let this happen otherwise advertisers will opt to work with international media.

Africans are most qualified to tell authentic local stories, otherwise those narratives will be altered by outsiders to appease foreign interests.