Amankwah forged ahead in the male dominated world of IT during the noughties. After dabbling in events management in her spare time, even organizing the prestigious Miss Ghana UK pageant, she had an epiphany.
Mavis Amankwah took a brave step and decided to ditch the 9-5 to concentrate on building her own business empire. Now, less than 10 years on, the goal orientated entrepreneur is one of the most influential women in PR, was nominated to carry the Olympic Flame and has published her first indispensable business book, ““44 Ways to Grow Your Business or Brand - A step-by-step guide to increase PROFITS.”
But, her road to success was not so smooth. There were moments when Amankwah didn’t think she would survive. Growing up in a racist Britain during the mid ‘70’s wasn’t easy for any black child, but her childhood was tinged with dark secrets, domestic abuse, abduction and bad memories which still live with her thirty seven years on. She dusts off the cob webs for DS as we exclusively delve into the woman behind the business.
A native of East London, Amankwah explains, “My mum came here when she was about 20 to meet someone that she didn’t know for an arranged marriage. Shortly after she became pregnant, but within 18 months she had to flee from my father as he was abusing her. She ended up seeking refuge at a battered wives home for two years and I didn’t see my father again until I was about seven.” When prompted Amankwah reveals she met her dad again when she was 15, then again at 32. “That was it. I’ve only seen him about five times in my entire life.”
They struggled against racism, “My mum always talks about when she had to go and bath in a swimming pool as she was heavily pregnant and no one would let her into their homes.” And as she grew older prejudices were still bubbling. School days in Canning Town were difficult and being black and African created areas for other kids to poke fun at. Amankwah recalls, “I couldn’t pronounce my name and I had a very different hairstyle. My mum used to thread my hair and the kids would say they were spiders. They were really mean. I remember one incident when a guy spat in my eye, and said, ‘That’s what you get for being who you are,’ and walked off. I was about seven and I will never forget that, I even remember his name.”
Another unforgettable moment saw Amankwah being abducted by a child killer. Taken at knife-point, she was held for nearly an hour when she was nine years-old. Frightened and confused she prayed for the right moment to make a run for it. “He was trying to catch a ferry from Woolwich, South East London to South West, fortunately the ferry had gone so he drove back to take the Blackwall Tunnel. He stopped the car to get petrol and said, ‘Don’t move else you will be in trouble.’ So when he got out to pay I just ran out the car so fast. I was very brave. Luckily, he was caught.”
But that same year Amankwah encountered another horrific trauma when her hair caught fire. “I was trying to cook something and the next thing I knew my good old shiny, long, bouncy Gerry Curl was ablaze,” she laughs now but back then it was awful. “I ended up completely bald for about four years. I had severe scars and people would stare. The doctors weren’t sure if it was going to grow back.” Amankwah is still nursing scars now.
Her mother went on to find happiness and Amankwah had the company of siblings. But by the time she was nine her parents were working hard in shift work so the responsibility fell on her to care for her two younger brothers before and after school, including taking and collecting them then cooking the evening meal. “They were like my handbag; always with me wherever I went.”
Her teenage years proved easier attending a girl’s convent school in Forest Gate. Despite her disruptive behavior she was popular and left with five GCSE’s and went on to study IT at college. Clearly, the horrors of her past hadn’t held her back. Instead it shaped her resilience rooting valuable lessons which she would invest in her future PR business structure.
After eight years in IT and Admin her light bulb moment came in 2004 when she realised she needed to go with her passion. “I made the break into PR full time. You’re always doing events somehow, so it was a very simple move into the industry,” she says.
And so Rich Visions Communication Agency (RVCA) was truly established. Now, she’s consistently named in industry bible, PR Week Power Book 2011, 2010 & 2009, as One Of The Most Influential People in PR. “It’s quite positive, as the industry is very white middle class, so on that front it’s nice to see that people from diverse communities can be recognised in Public Relations.”
Whilst juggling four companies, RVSA, Black TV Guide (one stop shop for black TV and radio programming), Colours Media (media agency) and Diva Visions (lifestyle and business e-mag) Amankwah still finds time to be a supportive mother to her 11 year-old daughter and 16 years-old son, wife, friend, fundraiser, and role model.
“The most remarkable thing I’ve done was working with a voluntary organisation called Sankofa back in 2005.” She continues, “We were helping young people in Newham by taking them off the streets and keeping them entertained. It was really motivating and moving for me because every Friday black youth’s aged 14-18 came to the Youth Centre and learn about black history, education, talent and social things. They could admit about 40, but on one particular day about 100 turned up and we couldn’t let them all in. It made me think wow we are really doing something useful. It was good to see how enthusiastic and inclusive they felt. It was incredible. Unfortunately the night folded due to lack of funding.”
Now the PR Guru has embarked on a new project to help young people set up their own businesses. She explains. “They are marketed so badly, so I’d like to show how they can look at other ways to bring in an income.”
Mavis Amankwah’s life and business ethic runs parallel to her RVCA branding slogan “Reaching The Unreachable” making a difference in society despite the hard knocks.
Mavis’ Top Business Tips to progress your business:
- Know your market.
- Understand the ins and outs of your clients and customers.
- Keep your Marketing and PR consistent.
New Year, New Motivation Motto’s!
If you want to see your business succeed:
Creating a PR plan is a vital part of your business armory for 2012.
For more inspirational advice read Mavis’ essential guide, “44 Ways to Grow Your Business or Brand - A step-by-step guide to increase PROFITS” available from Communications Agency, Rich Visions: www.richvisions.co.uk