PROFILE: Agnes Nonsizi, vivacious publicist who tells African stories authentically
By Patience Nyange and Esther Kiragu
This week in our #KenyaWomenSeries, we feature Agnes Nonsizi who is a publicist, a TV presenter, an event host, a moderator and an actor.
Many of her friends describe her as bubbly and a ray of sunshine; every time she walks into a room, she brightens it with her presence. I know this too well.
“Don’t let my exquisite taste of fashion and light skin fool you. I am a village girl, and I love it. I am the firstborn in a family of two and grew up working hard on a farm in Kagongo village, Kiambu County. My mother used the opportunity to instil in us the value of hard work from the time we were young. We grew up in the village with both parents until 2007, when we lost my dad. Then, we moved elsewhere,” she says.
“I love entertainment; I’ve always loved it. This is where I feel alive. With me, there’s never a dull moment. I am always very active and energetic. I have always been, even as a child. I took part in drama and skits in church. The music bug bit me when I was very young. I was a lead singer in the church groups and worship team. It is no wonder that I established a career in the entertainment industry,” she adds.
Nonsizi is a publicist, co-founder of Terazo New Media, a former TV presenter and a music business consultant. She remembers her teenage years when she loved watching the East African reality-singing competition show ‘Tusker project fame’ and getting fascinated by it. “I dreamt of how I would have loved to be a part of what was going on; the camera, lights, action, music, spotlight and the glamour. All of it.”
Nonsizi graduated with a Diploma in Journalism and Public Relations in 2011 and, after that, worked briefly as a receptionist in a media school then transitioned to the music industry. Her journey as an entertainment publicist began at Link Video Global, after which she moved to Ogopa Deejays, then to Taurus Musik and finally at Pine Creek Musik.
“In 2016, my partner and I founded Terazo New Media. He conceptualized the idea when he realized there was a need for more entertainment publicists in Kenya. He had the vision; I had the contacts and the networks I had built in my five years’ work experience in the industry.
“My previous record labels exposed me to all aspects of the music industry, including its business side. I am just not a publicist; I have knowledge in audio and video production, branding, managing and monetizing an artiste’s career. I do consultancies for musicians looking to monetize their trade.
“Although my entry into media was unplanned, now I look back, and I believe I was born for this. I was meant to do this. Radio was my first love, and I still long for the day I will be back behind the mic. When I was young, I remember being intrigued by radio hosts like Waithera Muithirania and Gathoni Mucoba whose broadcasting styles I admired.
“I have a strong command of my mother tongue, Kikuyu, and as I waited to get an opportunity, I kept working on my skills. When I first got full-time access to a studio, I recorded many demos in Kikuyu. I shared them literally with everyone I knew on vernacular radio, on my social media pages and on the sound cloud too. Somehow, this initiative opened some doors. Kwa hii maisha, lazima ujitume.
“In 2015 when Kameme TV was looking to launch their brand, they held auditions for TV presenters. I showed up with my demos, which came in handy because I could fluently read and speak in vernacular. A year after the auditions, Kameme hired me, and I went on air in April 2017 as the host of a reggae show – Cia Reggae.
“This was a challenging task because the only reggae music I knew then was what I listened to while growing up, courtesy of my late dad. Through the years, I learnt that ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, just say yes – then learn on the job! So I took up the challenge and embarked on a research journey to understand reggae music and the artists. Within no time, I was shining at my role,” she says.
1.Being an entertainment publicist is a niche industry in Africa. How has it grown over the years?
Being an entertainment publicist is very exciting because of the adrenaline rush that comes with it. The job entails being in charge of the artiste’s project release, including coming up with a release strategy, releasing the music project, doing media promotion and also handling any crisis that may come up. Over the years, the music business in Africa has grown, and artists have found the need to have music publicists to help them tell their stories professionally and grow their brands.
2.Having run a publicist company for the last five years, what are some key lessons learnt so far, biggest accomplishments/ proud moments and the events that have shaped your career journey?
One key lesson learnt so far is the importance of having the necessary business structures in place from the onset. This is a common mistake many startups make. In the first few years of operation, my partner and I lost many business opportunities because we were not business ready.
The music business at large is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a lot of work and patience for your efforts to yield results. Launching an artiste, introducing them to the media and fans, seeing them become stars and earn from their craft is very satisfying.
Some of our success stories include working with Band Beca from scratch and seeing them become Big Break Artiste in Coke Studio in 2017. That was an amazing moment.
And then we have Guardian Angel, who won the Artiste of the Year Award in the 2018 Groove Awards ceremony, which was a proud moment for us as a company. The tremendous growth of our client Otile Brown to become one of the best musicians in East Africa is a great highlight too. We managed him between 2017 to 2018.
Every time we successfully conclude a project, no matter how small or big, it is a win for us. I have since learnt to celebrate the wins no matter how small they are; they keep us going on during challenging/tough days.
3. What are the greatest challenges that publicists face in Kenya, and how can the same be resolved?
The greatest challenge is the constraint of finances; the music industry has no proper structures, and the artists don’t make money as they should. They often overlook engaging a publicist not because they do not see the importance but because they do not have a budget for it.
As creatives, we need to speak with one voice and lobby the Government to recognize the entertainment sector as a critical contributor to the economy. This will set in motion the journey towards institutionalizing the sector, which will, in turn, give investors more confidence to put in their money.
4. Given an opportunity to advise young women who want to establish themselves as entertainment publicists, what would you tell them based on some of the lessons you have picked along the journey?
There are diverse opportunities in the entertainment business, not just for publicists but for all music professionals. The industry is growing rapidly, and more investors are getting into the industry, thus creating all these opportunities.
I would advise young women to be very keen on the following:
• Professionalism. Be professional at all times in your dealings with clients. It will earn you great respect, reduce conflicts and give you a positive brand reputation.
• Increase your knowledge. Always strive to grow your knowledge through reading and researching the industry. Find out what your competitors are doing, and check out the latest innovations in the industry. It gives you an edge in a competitive world.
• Have a portfolio. This may mean taking up a lot of jobs strategically, especially when starting out in order to grow their portfolio and expertise. The business is not all glitz and glamour as it looks; it is about putting in the work. A portfolio allows you to show and tell of your skills and expertise.
• Patience is a necessary ingredient. As a publicist, your currency is the contacts, networks and relationships you build over time. Creating them takes time; it is not an overnight process, but you need to be intentional about it.
5. You were a Zuri Awards winner in 2019. Please tell us about this award; what it means to you and the women coming behind you?
In 2019, I was voted as the Zuri Awards Winner (media category) for my exemplary work in media and entertainment. It felt good to win, to be appreciated and recognized by the whole industry.
It sends a message to the women coming behind me; it is possible to rise to the top without having to use unconventional means. In 2021, we are proof enough that women can work hard and build a name for themselves. We have enough examples out there.
6. If you were to choose the two most important values that keep you grounded and shape the way you work and live, what would they be and why?
I. Consistency: It helps me to make mistakes, learn from them and eventually become the best I can in my craft. I am a product of the many mistakes I have made along my journey.
II. Excellence: No matter how small the job is, I give it my all because sometimes it determines if I will get my next job or not. In media we say, you are as good as your last story.
7. How do you describe yourself, and how do others describe you?
I am loud and energetic. I laugh a lot. I love music and dancing; I would be a dancer or a musician in my other life. During my 30th birthday, a close friend described me as a ray of sunshine; every time I walk into a room, I brighten the place with my presence.
8. As part of your parting shot, what would you tell your 25-year-old self?
Please don’t be so hard on yourself; take it easy. Be at peace and trust the process. As long as you are putting in the work, everything will fall into place. I have come to understand that brands are not built in a day, it is a journey, and the best thing you can do is enjoy it. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made, take the lessons with you and learn. Tomorrow is another day.
Esther is a writer, editor, and communication professional in Kenya while Patience Nyange is a Chevening Scholar with a Masters Degree in International Public Relations and Global Communication Management from Cardiff University. Prior to joining Cardiff University, Patience served as an Assistant Director at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).