INTERVIEW: Uganda’s Tracy Walakira lands big office as APO Group

Tracy is APO Group’s longest serving Public Relations project manager, and her well-deserved promotion to Account Director reflects her dedication and passion for African journalism

Tracy is APO Group’s longest-serving Public Relations project manager, and her well-deserved promotion to Account Director reflects her dedication and passion for African journalism (PHOTO/Courtesy)

Communications consultancy and press release distribution agency, APO Group has appointed Uganda’s Tracy Walakira as the new Account Director.

Reacting to Tracy’s promotion to Account Director, APO Group Founder and Chairman, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard said: “Tracy epitomizes everything APO Group stands for. She is a proud African woman with a passion for helping our multinational clients achieve great things all over the continent. She has been responsible for some of our most impactful and memorable projects, landing groundbreaking interviews and articles with the most influential media in the world. I am incredibly proud to have been part of her journey, and she truly deserves this recognition.”

Operating from her home in Uganda, Ms. Walakira has spent the last seven years working on some of APO Group’s most challenging assignments, collaborating with media and coordinating huge events in every corner of Africa, from Eritrea to Somaliland.

It has earned her the nickname ‘Indiana Jones of APO Group’, as she consistently astounds her colleagues with her intrepid media relations work and her ability to facilitate interviews, events, and press conferences wherever in Africa her multinational clients need to be.

Here, we talk to Tracy about her life and career at APO Group, charting a journey from modest beginnings to the pinnacle of the African media relations community.

What were you doing prior to joining APO Group?

Before I joined APO Group I was working for the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA), a global advocacy movement for maternal, reproductive, and newborn health and rights. My life has been profoundly affected by these issues. I lost both my parents to HIV and spent years caring for my siblings and it has made me incredibly determined to raise awareness in my country on issues affecting society. Journalism is a powerful way of reaching people, so as a journalist, I have always made it my goal to work with the media to inform and educate people about these important issues.

In 2010, APO Group Founder and Chairman, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard noticed the work I was doing with WRA at the African Union Summit. In a country where 16 women die every day due to pregnancy and childbirth-related causes, our main goal at the time was to engage Ugandan media to help them better understand sensitive issues related to reproductive health so they report effectively to contribute to the reduction of preventable maternal and newborn deaths in the country. I like to be as creative as possible, as it makes a greater impact, so our advocacy events at WRA-Uganda often involved things like poetry, drama, and music as I was then coordinating youth activities. Nicolas recognized the value of this approach to media relations, and as soon as I finished school he asked me to join APO Group to help build similar relationships with media across Africa.

Talk us through your journey with APO Group.

I think I have been on every rung of the ladder! Initially, I was hired to bring multinational online content partners across Africa on board. I progressed into Project Management, and then Public Relations work organizing media interviews, press conferences, and articles. Our main remit is to help clients connect with media all over Africa, but for some organizations, they require more wide-reaching services. For example, Emirates’ sister airline flydubai regularly opened new routes into different African countries. They needed us to be much more than a traditional Public Relations partner. Most of the time, we were organizing every aspect of their inaugural flight events from venue hire to travel and catering.

Tell us a bit more about the work you did with flydubai, and the challenges you faced.

flydubai needed APO Group to facilitate and coordinate inaugural flights in some extremely challenging locations like Eritrea and Somaliland, where it can be very difficult for foreign journalists and Public Relations professionals to even enter the country, let alone coordinate a press event.

It is difficult but rewarding work – and the reason I earned the nickname of the ‘Indiana Jones of APO Group’! It has taught me to be flexible and adapt to the intricacies of every market APO Group is operating in, but it is also where our local knowledge can be put to the best use because we are not just dealing with media or suppliers, but government ministries and other authorities.

I think projects like this demonstrate APO Group’s genuine Pan-African reach because if you can manage effective Public Relations activity in Eritrea and Somaliland, you can do it anywhere.

What tips or advice would you give for successful media relations to those who are just starting out?

I have always thought media relations is not about simply pitching to journalists but trying to inspire them by attracting them to a story or an idea. Of course, you also have to build longstanding relationships and develop trust. At APO Group, we have been successful because we have the largest Pan-African project team, working ‘on the ground’ across Africa, so we can cover the whole continent.

Covering Africa is not like working in a single country market. There are 54 countries, and we have to have deep knowledge of them all. It is a big challenge: Not only do these countries have unique cultures and languages, but they also have very different media landscapes.

Another tip is being able to communicate with journalists in their preferred language. With our team, we can cover the four main languages of Africa (English, French, Arabic, and Portuguese), but also dozens of local languages too. For example, I speak Luganda – which is a huge part of the media landscape in Uganda. If you are only communicating in English, with maybe a little French, there are many journalists and media outlets in Africa that will be out of reach.

What are you most proud about in your career at APO Group?

There are lots of things about my work that make me feel lucky. Not many Public Relations professionals in Uganda, Africa, and in many parts of the world get the opportunity to coordinate top-level interviews with influential global organizations like CNN or the BBC. Placing interviews for the Richard Quest show, Quest Means Business on CNN has been a real career highlight, but I’ve also been lucky enough to work with prestigious organizations like the Jack Ma Foundation, Canon, Nestlé, Islamic Development Bank, Huawei, Accor Hotels and the World Health Organization (WHO) among many more.

What still surprises a lot of people is that I have done most of this from my computer at home in Uganda! Many years before COVID, APO Group recognized the value of giving staff the freedom and flexibility to work from home.

On a personal note, I’m also extremely proud to have worked with more than 1000 young people in my home country, educating them on women’s rights and newborn health. I’m so grateful that I am able to continue this important volunteer work alongside my day job with APO Group.

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