Profile: Mavis Amankwah, managing director, Rich Visions

Rich Visions founder Mavis Amankwah says ethnic PR is all about understanding cultural nuances, writes Matt Cartmell.

Mavis Amankwah
Mavis Amankwah

Rich Visions is about as far from a typical London PR agency as you can get - literally. Instead of a hip central location, the agency is based in Stratford in east London.

This is no accident. As managing director Mavis Amankwah explains, the borough of Newham in which her agency sits is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the UK, with more than 110 different languages spoken.

Compared with feng shui-aligned Covent Garden agencies, Rich Visions feels very real. 'When I go to other central London agencies I do wonder if we should be there, but then I think if we were not in Stratford we would lose touch with the communities,' muses Amankwah. 'They might say, "What do you know about speaking to us, if you're not here?"'

Perhaps this should not be too much of a concern for Amankwah, because with Stratford forming the primary location for the 2012 Olympic Games, the world is coming to the communities.

Amankwah, 35, formed Rich Visions in 2004 and now has eight employees in her cramped office space.

The agency specialises in ethnic PR and understanding the subtle communication differences between ethnic groups.

Formerly an ICT manager, Amankwah made the leap to starting the agency after successfully organising events in her own east London Ghanaian community.

For Amankwah, the secret to ethnic PR is knowing and understanding different cultural nuances. 'When you meet a Chinese person you are supposed to read their business card line for line, very carefully,' she says. 'Otherwise they will be offended.'

It is this grasp of customs within cultures that clients seek from Rich Visions. Often they come to Amankwah after trying - and failing - to communicate with ethnic minorities themselves.

The Metropolitan Police is one such client. It came to Amankwah after learning the hard way while trying to communicate with the Portuguese-speaking Angolan community about how the police can help them.

'What you have to remember is they do not hang out with the black community,' she explains matter-of-factly. 'They are with the Portuguese community.'

Other Rich Visions clients include HM Revenue & Customs. The agency ran a campaign talking to Nigerian and Ghanaian communities about the dangers of importing food illegally.

With her unique approach and high-profile public sector clients, Amankwah could be mistaken for more than a PR professional. 'Some might say I'm a social activist,' she acknowledges. 'But I'm an entrepreneur.'

One representative from a publicly funded body that has been a client agrees, saying of Amankwah: 'She's committed to providing excellent client satisfaction and she is also passionate about the agenda of diversity. She's massively entrepreneurial, and she takes relationships very seriously as an employer. Rich Visions is a small business, but it is at the forefront of diversity.'

Amankwah's website further proves the point, listing her various roles as 'business owner, trainer, co-ordinator, presenter, columnist, marketing and PR consultant'. These she combines while bringing up two children and maintaining an air of strong-willed streetwise charm.

And she is devising new plans, including a blueprint for a new, wider marketing agency focused on equality and diversity. She also wants to generate more business across the UK and into Europe and the US.

Amankwah claims her agency can advise clients on dealing with every single ethnic minority in the UK and she feels strongly that ethnic PR is here to stay.

'We filled the big gap between mainstream PR and trying to reach a certain audience,' she says of the agency's original proposition. 'This whole industry is looking promising. It is basically at birth - at conception, in fact. Everyone is trying to get on to it before birth.'

Indeed, major agencies such as Weber Shandwick and Trimedia (with whom Rich Visions works on projects) are moving into her specialist field.

Amankwah believes there is still fear and misunderstanding in the mainstream agency world about diversity PR. Some even suspect it has racist connotations.

But she counters that when the 2011 census is completed, government and business will have a much clearer idea of the diversity that now exists in Britain, and just how important it will be to speak to the different communities.

 

 

MAVIS AMANKWAH'S TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

Getting into the PRWeek Power Book, and particularly getting on to the first page of it, was very important. It means we are getting recognised for what we do. That's the kind of thing that helps you to keep going.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

I have two notable mentors - my husband, Richmond Agyekum, who has a few businesses himself, and my previous employer, Brendan McParland of Sleek International.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Talent, invention, someone who can think on their feet. Creativity - that's very important.

- What advice would you give someone climbing the diversity PR ladder?

If they want to get into ethnic PR, they need to start reading up and getting into communities and getting to know what they are all about. Go to cultural events. It's about being culturally aware. They need to know cultures and know how different they are. There are so many cultural nuances.

 

CV

2004: Managing director, Rich Visions

2002: ICT manager, Sleek International

1998: ICT manager, City & Hackney Primary Care Trust

1996: ICT administrator, Department of Work and Pensions

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