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Nefertiti Communications: Unathi Memela

A natural networker draws on her strengths to grow a differentiated publicity company.

Juliet Pitman

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Unathi Memela of Neferttiti Communications

Intheir book Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Cliftonposit a simple idea: people perform at their best when they’re playing to theirstrengths. The authors also dispute the idea that any person can learn almostany skill and that a person’s greatestroom for growth lies in their areas of weakness. Everybody, they say, has a setof innate strengths and if they recognise and harness these they will enjoygreater success than if they were to expend their energy on trying to improvetheir areas of weakness. But, the authors say, because our society is obsessedwith weaknesses, most people take their strengths for granted and don’t developthem. So less than two out of ten people really harness their strengths.

Working thecontacts

UnathiMemela is among this tiny percentage. Early on she realised that something shedid naturally – networking with people – was a natural strength she couldharness to build a successful business. “I initially went to hotel school but Iwas always in trouble because I was always talking to people when I wasn’tsupposed to be,” she comments. Realising her career path lay in other areas,she went on to film school. “I got to know a lot of musicians and actors andI’d advise them about their media and how to promote themselves. It took awhile but it soon dawned on me that I was good at it and I could charge peopleto do it,” she says.

Finding aniche

Inrecognising her ability to connect with people, Memela hit on what was tobecome a successful business idea. Today she runs Nefertiti Communications andlists a host of local music artists and soccer stars in her talent / publicitymanagement stable, she has also done corporate videos for numerous governmentdepartments and produced the now well-known United Nations ‘Voices ofTolerance’ counter-xenophobia radio campaign. Thebusiness is currently divided into corporate communications, talent management/ publicity and TV production, but lately Memela has realised the importance oftargeting a niche audience. “I see a real gap in the South African market forpublicity / talent management. In this country, it hasn’t really developed as aserious industry in the way that it has in the United States for example, and Isee real potential in developing a comprehensive, strategic publicity serviceoffering,” she says.

Looking forgrowth

Witha host of local celebrities on her books, she’d also like to explore growthopportunities in Africa. “The market is wideopen there. There is definitely money to be made – just think about the boomingNigerian film and music industry. And in South Africa we are at an advantage because, relative to therest of Africa, we’re developed and haveaccess to the tools and expertise to make publicity work,” she says. Oneof Memela’s key challenges lies in convincing prospective clients thatpublicity management involves more than simply making a phone call to book aslot on a radio show. “Very often people don’t realise that your network ofcontacts is a valuable asset that not everyone has. They also don’t see thereal strategic value that you’re adding in managing their publicity. They don’tsee that it’s not just about getting their name out there into any publicspace, and that strategic consideration goes into managing their public imageand reputation,” she explains.

Doing itdifferently

Onthat point, she admits that the publicity industry is partly to blame for suchprevailing perceptions. “There is a general practice in the industry ofbombarding a massive group of people with information about a client. Manypractitioners believe that the only way to cut through the information overloadis to add to it, which is quite strange. More is not better. The most effectivecommunication involves providing a highly targeted group of people informationthat is relevant to them, not only relevant to the artist or celebrity you’repromoting,” she explains. Ofcourse to do that you have to develop an intimate knowledge of your database,of their likes and dislikes, of what will strike a chord with them. But, to getback to our original point, that’s Memela’s particular talent: “I love talkingto people. I love finding out about what makes them, as individuals, tick.Sure, I use it to the advantage of my business, but you know something, itreally doesn’t feel like work.”

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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