He started his journey from humble beginnings, pouring his life savings into setting up his own company – the African Press Organization (APO) – in 2007. His goal was to provide international and African media with access to reliable news about the continent’s economy, business, and investment news.
It might have seemed like a gamble, but Nicolas defied the odds. He soon abandoned his career as a journalist for online Gabonese media ‘Gabonews’, and, over the last 15 years, APO Group (as the company is now known) has grown into the leading Pan-African communications consultancy and press release distribution service.
APO Group is changing the narrative about Africa, helping communicators relay compelling, uniquely African stories to audiences all over the world.
With close to 100 employees, and more than 300 clients, APO Group reported increased revenue of 88% in the first semester of 2022, versus the same period in 2021.
Some of APO Group’s prestigious clients include FIFA, Facebook, Nestlé, NBA, the Basketball Africa League (BAL), Canon, Coca-Cola, DHL, Marriott Group, Ecobank, Liquid Intelligent Technology, Siemens, Standard Chartered, Orange, Jack Ma Foundation, African Development Bank, World Health Organization, Islamic Development Bank, Rotary International, Kaspersky, Greenpeace, the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA), the governing body of the Olympic Movement in Africa, among others.
Nicolas is also a judge at the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH), Jack Ma Foundation’s flagship philanthropic program spotlighting and celebrating Africa’s entrepreneurial talent and promoting entrepreneurship skills.
He was among six judges who recently came to Rwanda for the semi-finals held at Kigali Convention Center on 30th September 2022, during which a Rwandan, Francine Munyaneza, emerged among ten finalists to share Jack Ma’s US$1.5M Prize.
Her company, Munyax Eco Company targets solving Rwanda’s energy challenges in rural and urban areas by providing solar equipment made and tested in Africa.
During his week-long stay in Rwanda, IGIHE sat with Nicolas to talk about his entrepreneurial journey, the efforts needed to shape a positive narrative about Africa, APO Group’s partnership with the Catholic Church in Africa, and other topics of interest.
APO Group has been in operation for the past 15 years. Briefly tell us what the journey has been like?
APO Group was created in 2007 as a press release distribution service.
Today, we have two business units: A press release distribution division and a Public Relations division. We are Pan-African in everything we do. We operate in each of the 54 markets of the continent - including Eritrea and Somaliland, where establishing relationships with media can be very challenging. There is not a single country on the continent where we have not delivered our services.
We provide services to more than 300 hundred clients, many of them multinational companies such as Canon, Ecobank and Liquid Intelligent Technology. We are also working with international institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Sports Organizations, with organizations like FIFA, the Jack Ma Foundation, and the African Development Bank (AfDB) among our customers.
We are the Main Official Sponsor of Rugby Africa, the governing body of rugby in Africa, and the strategic partner of the Association of National Olympic Committee of Africa (ANOCA). We are also an Official Partner of Olympic de Marseille, and of Team Qhubeka, the only African professional cycling team.
Our work is to provide Public Relations, media relations, and digital marketing services to our clients all over Africa.
Where did you get your inspiration and how is APO Group contributing to job creation and Africa’s economic growth?
That’s an interesting question. Two days ago, here in Kigali, I was visiting someone who is very dear to me, without whom I wouldn’t have created APO and be what I am today.
The person is Donald Kaberuka. He was the President of African Development Bank in 2007 and 2008 when I started APO Group. I reminded him of what he told me in 2008 when the company was six months old. It is something that was completely instrumental to our success.
He told me that “the dissemination of information about the African economy can participate to the development of the continent”. In other words, making sure people in the USA, UK, China, Belgium, Brazil and Russia – everywhere – are able to receive information about the economy of the continent will drive potential international investment, and participate in the growth of Africa.
Africa needed to share its good economic news with the world. Once investors would receive that information, they will come forward to invest.
During the past fifteen years, I believe we have had an impact on employment in the African continent, maybe not directly, but through supporting our clients and multinational companies.
We have supported some of the biggest companies in the world as they expand across Africa. Through our partnerships with Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, Lexis Nexis and Factiva - among many others - we make sure information about African economies reaches all the major stock exchanges across the world. That has undoubtedly driven investment in Africa.
By contributing heavily to the dissemination of information about the economy of the continent, we have definitely had an impact on investment and employment.
APO Group registered a growth of 88 per cent in revenue in the first half of 2022, compared to the first half of 2021. To what efforts do you attribute this success?
In the first quarter of this year, the company’s revenues grew by 70% compared to the first quarter of 2021. In the first semester of this year, the company’s revenues grew by 88% compared to the same period last year. By the end of the year, we expect the growth to hit three figures.
A lot of that growth can be attributed to multinational companies investing heavily in Africa, and specifically on communications.
As an example, I am a member of the Advisory Board of the Africa Hotel and Investment Forum (AHIF) which is the largest event for the hospitality industry in Africa.
Before and during COVID-19, I heard a lot of comments from people who were obviously concerned that the tourism and hospitality industry in Africa might go into decline. But we’ve actually seen the opposite result. APO Group works with Marriott, the leading hospitality group globally. We also have other clients like Radisson, Hilton and Accor. All of these organizations continue to work with us, and are maintaining or increasing their communication spending.
By looking at our growth, you can ascertain a lot about the dynamism of the continent and the appetite of multinational companies developing their presence in Africa.
Usually, people say that if a company is reducing investment, the first thing they cut is communications. If APO Group is growing, it means that there are many multinational companies investing in their PR and Communication. That’s good news for the continent.
What should be done for the continent’s communication industry to thrive and promote positive narrative about Africa?
Both the media and the Public Relations industry have an important role to play, but it is a long road ahead.
Africa is often portrayed in a negative light by the international media. They tend to play to the negative preconceptions of the western audience. Mostly, the news is of poverty, famine, conflict and corruption.
That is not an accurate depiction of what I see when I am travelling across Africa.
Public Relations Agencies like APO Group have an opportunity to carry positive news that can change the narrative about the continent. But then, the responsibility is passed on to the media.
I am very worried about the increasing expansion and influence of the international media in Africa. We are witnessing an increasing number of international media creating African subsidiaries, opening offices and so on, and perpetuating their own preconceived opinions and bias.
The so-called “international” media - I am referring to CNN, BBC, Aljazeera, TV 5 Monde, France 24, and so forth – are not truly “international” at all. Really, they are “national” media with “international” geographical coverage.
So here is the problem: If I go to my room at the Radisson here in Kigali, I can watch CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and more. If I go to Europe, what Pan-African equivalent media can I watch?
I do not want Africans to be condemned to simply listen to what the “international” media are saying about them.
APO Group recently signed a partnership with the Symposium of Episcopal of Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). What does it this mean for African countries like Rwanda where a large number of the population is Catholic?
At the Vatican, in May this year, APO Group signed a partnership with the Catholic Church in Africa through their governing body, the Symposium of Episcopal of Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
APO Group is providing two main services: The first is media relations capacity building. As we speak, APO Group is planning online training for more than 150 delegates across all the Church’s episcopal conferences with sessions held in English, French and Portuguese. I recently met Cardinal Kambanda at the General Assembly of the Catholic Church in Accra, and we had a very productive meeting in Kigali a couple of days ago. Rwanda will be part of that training.
By doing that, we will increase both the quantity and the quality of the content produced by the Catholic Church in Africa. We will show the Church’s communication managers how to draft proper press releases, the importance of images and video, how they can use smart phones to produce content, and so on.
With the training in full flow, there will be a huge increase in the amount of Catholic Church content by the end of the first quarter next year.
The second part of the agreement is that APO Group will distribute all the content these communications professionals produce, including text, images, videos and soundbites from all echelons of the Church, from parishes, dioceses, episcopal conferences, regional episcopal conferences, and of course the governing body of the Catholic Church in Africa, the SECAM.
One of the things most Africans know but sometimes need to be reminded of, is the importance of the Catholic Church in Africa. 20% of the entire African population is Catholic, and, while the number of Catholics globally is decreasing slightly, in Africa it continues to rise.
The Catholic Church in Africa is deeply involved in development activities across the continent, managing countless schools and hospitals.
The Church has a huge impact on the African continent in terms of education, health and conflict mediation.