Q&A: Djembe Consultants CEO on how he put together a new kind of African communications consultancy

Mitchell Prather, CEO of Djembe Consultants

Djembe Consultants is a communications consultancy with a difference, committed to amplifying an African narrative based on opportunity, growth and innovation.

Rooted in Africa and with a network of fully operational offices in high growth countries, Djembe Consultants brings together the very highest international standards of a communications consultancy with the history, traditions and values of a dynamic business that understands Africa.

The ‘Djembe’ in Djembe Consultants is a common name for a West African drum. An old African proverb proclaims that when the drummers change the beat, the dancers must also change their steps. Africa is changing its beat and Djembe is helping its clients change theirs. The African continent and its people have a rich history with enormous potential for a prosperous future. From communities to corporations, Djembe is here to play a role in helping to realise this potential both within Africa and on the international stage.

Here, chief executive officer Mitchell Prather tells us about how this powerful proposition came together and why he’s so passionate about telling Africa’s story.

1. How did this group of consultants come together to form Djembe, when you’re all based in different markets?

One of the great things about working in multiple international markets for over 30 years is that over time you find yourself with a global network of like-minded professionals who you can trust to deliver. This network is talented and experienced. Having worked in-house for global companies and as a leader for some of the world’s biggest PR firms, I now find myself in the incredible position of being able to hand pick the best in each of the Djembe target markets to join our team. That’s what happened when the Djembe Consultants team came together.

2. How do you ensure cross-market teams work efficiently?

One of the first – and most important – things I did with Djembe Consultants was to create one simple profit centre, something that does not exist in the communications agency industry. This one profit centre strategy is important because it removes the intra-office competitiveness from how each network office interacts on global client assignments. For example, after winning a global client assignment, international agencies regrettably, due their multiple profit centre structure, turn this win into an internal commercial arrangement putting the local office profit interest above the interest of the client. The mentality is, I as a local GM won’t use my best, incredible talent to achieve greater results unless I receive a larger budget for my local office. This mentality creates massive internal conflict of interests at the expense of network clients.

Having worked in-house, I always wanted a communications firm that did what was best for me, not for their local offices. I know that with Djembe Consultants, each team member in every location is focused solely on client outcomes. That is how it should be. So, we pitch as one global team without hinderance. We agree overall with the client the objectives and associated investment levels and then get on with delivering impactful results.

3. What makes the African market unique?

We believe in the promise of Africa. It is one of the last remaining global frontier regions where there is enormous potential for growth and development – not least because it has an enormous amount of untapped human capital. The Djembe team of communications specialists is right at the epicentre of this region’s potential, having worked for numerous types of organisations over recent years, particularly pan-African and multinational companies and governmental related entities in 30 of the 54 African countries. By leveraging exceptional insights from within the Consultancy team, Djembe offers an unparrelled emphasis on clients and projects focused on the African region‘s development.

4. What’s the opportunity for communications and marketing in Africa?

The opportunity lies in the region’s inherent complexity and diversity. There is an enormous appetite for culturally rich and authentic strategies that are led by African people within their own markets. That’s why we have invested in building a team of highly able, talented and ambitious professionals in each market – born and bred who can also support clients on a regional basis. They know how to operate in their own back yard, and they’re allowed to get on and do so without a foreign expat parachuting into the market to explain how things are done in the West. At Djembe, we have removed this ‘Western lens’ bias. However, the opportunity (and I would say challenge) also lies in being able to bring together multi-platform best-in-class services supported by a team of international specialists with an awareness of how to apply these skills locally, nationally and regionally.

5. What’s unique about Djembe?

I truly believe that Djembe Consultants is unique in Africa – there is absolutely no other consultancy that is doing what we do. We have a de-centralised model that allows each office to work in the client’s best interests so there’s no intra-agency competition. We have a business that has grown from African soil, roots up, to become a network that is African and doesn’t just say they are. And, our clients benefit from best-in-class services garnered from decades of cumulative international experience and a rich and powerful understanding of Africa’s story.

6. What part of your job most excites you?

When you’re as travelled as I am, you can point to a career full of kicks – building agencies and growing incredible teams in-house. Within this environment there are many exciting moments. Right now, I am the most fulfilled I have ever been because I am back to driving a business that is truly independent, nimble and staffed with incredible people. To be able to look around the world and put in place my very own dream team is very exciting. That’s rare. The excitement is therefore derived from being in a position where my professional instinct, love of Africa and leadership qualities all come together – and the Djembe Consultants team is the result.

7. How does the team unwind after a hard week’s work?

The team is incredibly diverse in ethnicity, lifestyle, age, culture and belief systems, so I think everybody unwinds differently. Some head to the country, some enjoy the nightlife, whilst others like to jump on a flight somewhere. But, when we’re all in the same country and the same building, we’re a force to be reckoned with!