An event produced by Gloria Buckman Yankson is a theatrical production planned with military precision: magical lighting, food you could literally worship, great sound, tasteful décor, props, mood-appropriate lighting, attractive and attentive waiters, and of course an army of satisfied clients.
But in case you were looking for Gloria toask how she pulls it off, don’t look where the champagne- popping and merrymaking guests are; you won’t find her there. Instead, she would be sweating it backstage making sure that the tiniest details are taken care of. Make no mistake though. For Gloria, that’s her sort of fun.
“Event design and production is an instant mood lifter for me. When I’m able to pull off a successful event from conception to reality it gives me the most incredible high,” she tells me. In the past five years, delivering that same high to her clients and their guests, as co-founder and Senior Partner of PlanIt Ghana, has filled up her time.
Nine years ago, this life was all a dream for her and her husband with whom she co-founded and today runs PlanIt Ghana. It’s a full service Event Production & Brand Communications company that has grown to become the “go-to” name for bespoke corporate and private event productions. As Public Relations professionals living and working in Scotland, Gloria and her husband had spotted an opportunity for such a business in Ghana and plotted their return home to offer a service that was badly needed.
Rather than rush to start the business though, Gloria took her time to painstakingly prepare for it. She invested in a master’s degree in public relations from Scotland’s Sterling University and then spent three years researching and reading on the industry and the opportunities available in Ghana. Growing up as a curious kid spending all her free time reading in a home filled with books, it was the best way she knew to get ready.
After stints with the marketing communications team at Morgan Stanley and as Director of Corporate Affairs at Devtraco, Gloria had become restless, her mind filled with ideas and endless possibilities for a top notch events and brand communication firm which would serve a burgeoning economy. “Quitting my full-time job to build our company from scratch remains the biggest career decision and most significant accomplishment for me professionally,” she confesses “The thing about an entrepreneurial spirit is this: you can’t lock it down. You can’t shut it out. Your instincts will fight you until you give in. Of course, I am forever thankful for the job opportunities and the people I learnt from, but I have absolutely no regrets. That wasn’t the half of me. This is me.”
It’s easy to get a romantic image of all that, hearing her say this. The beginning was anything but that. Hers is a business that relies on many others keeping their word. From the sound to the food and even the waste management teams. Getting a hold of all of them is an uphill task, many would admit. Then consider the daily economic and infrastructural challenges of a developing country like Ghana, and you know how tough things were.
The business almost failed the first year, when after taking the wrong advice on pricing, they produced the best events for clients at ridiculously low fees, all in the name of ‘building a portfolio.’ It’s a mistake she’s quick to advise start-ups to be careful of, “My advice to creative entrepreneurs is to not compete on price. There’ll always be someone cheaper than you. Instead, find your niche market, focus on offering the best quality of work possible, focus on developing your talent to the point where you can afford to select which clients you want to work with and what projects you prefer to put your name on. Charge what you’re worth, and add taxes to it.”
That was a phase you’d trust the hardworking Gloria to survive. She had garnered enough managerial acumen to overcome that and turn PlanIt into what it is today. What was more threatening, were the other odds stacked against her. “For my husband and me, and similarly for many entrepreneurs who run a business with their spouse, the statistics have been against us from day one: most start-ups do not survive past year one and 50% of marriages where spouses are also business partner, end in divorce. Not a winning formula.”
Well, except when you are Gloria Buckman Yankson. The client testimonials, awards and other accolades suggest she is on to a winning formula. Global Professional Achievers’ Awards, Ghana UK Based Achievement Awards, TNJ Africa 40 Under 40 Achievers’ Awards, WB Excellence In Events Awards, and many more.
But Gloria doesn’t take anything for granted. Her long term vision – to turn PlanIt into one of Africa’s leading event production firms – is motivation to keep her going and to keep excelling. She quotes Sylvia Plath, the American poet and novelist to say “What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age,” I don’t see that happening.