Gillian Gamsy’s career is closely aligned with South Africa’s own unique history.
When she launched her boutique PR agency, Gillian Gamsy International (GGi) in the late 80s, she knew two things: In a corporate-dominated market she wanted to create something of her own, and she wasn’t going to accept any government-related work.
“At that time it was a risky move, but I believed in the power of my convictions.” Her determination paid off, and the networks and associations that developed from her deep-seated value system would lead her down an ultimately fulfilling path.
“Without passion you’ll never achieve your goals,” Gamsy says.
“That passion has to permeate every part of your life. Every decision I made was informed by whether it satisfied me both personally and professionally. I was always looking at who could benefit from my skills, and if their values aligned with my own.”
These decisions would lead to Gamsy’s integral involvement in the new South Africa. Starting with her involvement with Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990, to fundraising for the first election, and setting up the ANC’s first media department.
“No path to success is straight, or without hiccups, but if you believe in what you’re doing, you’ll achieve your goals.”
What is your success mantra?
I have two: First, never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. The second is that everything you do should be done with passion and integrity. In business, your reputation matters.
You can spend your whole life building a reputation, and then lose it in a minute. If you always work with integrity, you won’t go wrong.
How do you get things done?
By never accepting ‘no’ for an answer. You should never be afraid of aiming for the biggest goal you can think of. When I was looking for my first partnership in the UK for a big local event, I identified the biggest player in the market.
I was a tiny South African PR agency they had never heard of, and so they said no. But I’m tenacious. I wouldn’t stop contacting them, putting proposals together and finding out who the best person to talk to was until I got a meeting – and later a deal.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?
There are too many to count, but the common thread is that when you get knocked down, get back up. In the late 90s, flush from our success with the Rugby World Cup, I decided to create a world sports awards event. It took me months to develop criteria, a sponsorship plan and a strategy.
I then started hunting for a partner. An ex-South African living in London with excellent contacts was recommended to me. We put a non-disclosure agreement in place, and I presented him with the entire plan so that he could start hunting for sponsors.
A few months later, I saw a press release for the Laureus World Sports Awards. He had stolen the idea, and my groundwork. I learnt that NDAs are worth nothing.
Another memorable failure is when I got out-trumped by Donald Trump. I was in negotiations with CBS to buy Miss Universe. At the last second, they pulled out of the deal. Trump owned the building that housed the set of CBS’ Today Show, and he had threated to cancel their contract if they took Miss Universe away from him.
It was a real blow, but I accepted that some things are beyond our control. I had to pick myself up, and carry my losses. It was worth the try.
- Company: GGi Communications
- founder: Gillian Gamsy
- Contact: ggisa.com
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