Sibabalwe Sesmani is the founder and MD of Unorthodox PR and Media Group, a public relations company that places its clients directly in front of its target audience via radio, television and digital platforms.
Sibabalwe is also passionate about the economic emancipation of black women. The gender inequality gap is huge – but it’s even worse for black women, the most marginalised in society.
She tells GH writer Ondela Mlandu why she chose the PR industry, and how you can get your foot in the door. Let the challenges she’s experienced along the way – and how she overcame them – be your guide…
The truth about getting into the PR industry
Keen on a career in the South African PR industry? Sibabalwe recommends equipping yourself with knowledge… and a network. “The pandemic has pushed us further into the digital space. Everyone is online, which has made networking much easier as people are just a click away and have become more responsive. Be proactive – [don’t wait] for opportunities and start implementing any ideas you have,” she says.
The days of being a wallflower are over. “Go ahead and pitch, create demand for yourself, and be relentless,” she says. “Often women are told not to be aggressive, but being aggressive in going after what you want leaves a lasting impression on people.”
How to access info so you can progress in the PR industry
You need to know where you want to go. “Looking up people who are where you want to be in your chosen field and following them will most likely guide you to platforms that are a wellspring of information,” says Sibabalwa. “There is a lot of online material, but it can be overwhelming too, so fine-tuning your path will assist in streamlining what you should focus on.”
But what about the boy’s clubs?
Women, in general, have a tough time in the industry. “I’ve experienced difficulty in my career growth and there were instances that I could link those difficulties directly to my gender,” says Sibabalwe. “There are very closed-off boys’ clubs; there is gross undermining of capabilities because of age, gender and race.”
We have a long way to go in order to fix these inequalities, she feels. “We just hope we can make a huge impact in our lifetime so that those who come after us will have it slightly easier,” she says.
Challenges and how to overcome them…
Access to funding is difficult
“In South Africa, we haven’t modified funding to suit start-ups and the needs they have at that very moment,” says Sibabalwe. “Many development funds in SA are no different to commercial banks. [Some of the requirements seems so ridiculous], you can’t help but think they’re intentionally blocking certain businesses – that’s just how difficult it is to meet the criteria.” So, faced with this, what did Sibabalwe do? “I stopped actively looking for funding and focused on getting clients.”
One of the many layers of gender-based violence is intentional economic exclusion, she says. “In the early years of my career, I wasn’t able to tell if a male client was wasting my time or not. Even though I still face instances of potential male clients having motives [that are not] work-related, I’m now aware and pick up on it much faster,” she says. Sibabalwe is also intentional in letting them know she’s not interested.
Important leadership lessons learnt along the way
1/ Always reflect on constructive criticism and implement the changes immediately if they’re coming from a trusted source.
“When I was younger, criticism used to sting, but I’ve realised that is how you grow,” says Sibabalwe.
2/ You bring value to the table!
“Never ever feel like you don’t bring any value. Avoid situations where you feel like someone is doing you a favour because in those cases you will be taken advantage of. Know your worth and you will always know what you bring to the table,” she says.
3/ Every transaction in business is dual.
“You bring something to the table; so does the other party. There are no favours,” she says.
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Connect with Sibabalwe
Facebook: Sibabalwe Sesmani