East African Community permanent secretary David Nalo (right) presents trophies to the Lady Entrepreneur of the Year and Professional Marketing Services CEO Joanne Mwangi . Looking on are Lands PS Dorothy Angote (centre), KPMG CEO Josphat Mwaura and Nation Media Group CEO Linus Gitahi (left).

When Joanne Mwangi, the founder and managing director of Professional Marketing Services (PMS), a media and advertising agency, stood up to cheers
from the audience of fellow entrepreneurs two weeks ago, it was a flashy moment that marked the crowning of 15 years of hard work.

Winning the Top 100 mid-sized companies crown, she says, is testament to the fact that sheer tenacity for sticking to a dream does produce rewarding results.

“We started in 1997 as a below the line marketing and public relation consultancy that has since evolved into an all rounded marketing firm,” says Ms Mwangi who says her real break into the world of mid-sized business came when Bidco Refinery, a leading manufacturer of household goods hired PMS to promote its wide range of fast moving consumer goods.

Over the years PMS has grown in size to include in its list of clients both local and global clients. That list includes Reckitt Benckiser, Prigat, Airbus and East African Breweries (EABL).

But for Ms Mwangi the two engagements that arouse the sense of reassurance that her company has become a truly professional outfit are Uchumi Supermarkets and the promotion of the Economic Stimulus Programme for the government.

This, she says is not because of the fat cheques that comes with such deals but her firms intimate involvement in the two projects to produce positive results.

PMS was intimately involved in the revival of retail chain Uchumi Supermarkets which was placed under receivership in June 2006 after it failed to meet its financial obligations.

“We are very proud to be part of Kenya’s history. We stuck our necks out in the Uchumi’s revival drive and succeeded,” Ms Mwangi says. Uchumi tasked PMS with developing a marketing strategy that would get suppliers and shoppers back to the retail chain at a time when its future was unpredictable. And for the government, PMS did the hard work of preparing the launch of the EPS in Hola Tana River that forced the firm to move nearly its entire operations from Nairobi to the coastal regions.

Like all entrepreneurs across the world, Ms Mwangi started her business from personal savings that were quickly gobbled up in the initial months of operation. With income trickling in only slowly Ms Mwangi, who also won the leading lady entrepreneur crown during this year’s Top 100 SMEs survey, had to do without paying herself for months to keep the business running.

“I worked without pay for some time to save the business from collapsing,” she says.

While income was proving difficult to generate, Ms Mwangi says it was even harder to get clients signing up for a service that is largely intangible.“It is very difficult to convince a client that you will meet and exceed their expectations because you are not tried and tested and you do not have the resources to hire the kind of high caliber human resource required for quick win,” she says. Yet her tenacity to soldier on has seen PMS grow from its humble begging in the below the line marketing to a world class multi-faceted services firm it is today.

“We have since grown to incorporate all aspects of the agency including creative design, event management, category management, advertising, and media buying,” says Ms Mwangi.

To manage the growth, PMS has spanned out four different entities to ensure quality and personalised services.

Rapid adaptation of information technology by Kenyan businesses has also helped PMS to hook up its clients on an IT platform that provides them with real time data on product movement at the shop floor.

“The Retail Synergy is an integrated software and data management tool that allows our clients to obtain real time information on product movement,” she says.

Fifteen years of operation has taught Ms Mwangi to appreciate the importance of growing talent within an organisation that motivates staff and lives the dream.

Just as she toiled to get PMS from its infancy to its current status, Ms Mwangi has cast her eyes on the wider regional market where her goal is to have a presence in the larger Eastern Africa region. “In the next two to three years we plan to have a footprint in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Southern Sudan.”

Such a rapid expansion program may necessitate the need to obtain fresh capital besides tapping internally generated funds.

While internal resources remains her favourite source of capital for growth, Ms Mwangi has not closed the door to external financing.

“We plan to use internally generated funds though we may also source for a strategic investor or equity partners,” said Ms Mwangi.

Appreciating the obstacles that Kenyan entrepreneurs encounter, Ms Mwangi sees the recent provision by the government to provide up to 25 per cent of government businesses to SMEs as the surest way to hold young businesses to maturity.