Interviews

PR’S STRATEGIC ABILITY WILL BE WIDELY RECOGNIZED SOON

Samantha Hogg is the owner of GinjaNinja PR, a South African technology PR firm. In this interview, she shares her thoughts with PR Intelligence Magazine on several issues in PR, including its ability to deliver as a strategic management function in any organization.

GinjaNinja PR is a tech PR agency for small and medium-sized ICT businesses, start-ups, owner-managed, and owner-run businesses in South Africa. Please tell us more about the company.
The company is a boutique PR agency servicing technology businesses across Southern Africa. We provide four key services.
In no particular order, the first is Communications Consulting which leverages off my 28 years of experience in the field.
Second, we provide Media Management services. You know that building good relationships with the media is critical to the success of an organization’s PR campaign. We help our clients enjoy the success it delivers. We tell their stories and make the media listen.
We also provide services in the areas of Content Generation and Integrated Communication, which addresses an organization’s audience in a variety of ways to make its stories heard by all its stakeholders.

Why did you choose to serve this category of businesses?
I started my career in engineering and fell into the IT sector. I adored this sector because of its dynamism, fast pace and the challenge to interpret technology into business communication. I love the fact that technology has become all-pervasive and is now part of everyone’s lives. It is a fascinating sector that never gets boring.
Before you started the company, where were you?
I was previously the South African country manager for an international IT PR agency called Text 100. I started as an accounts manager and worked my way up in the organization. I was the first South African to be appointed to this senior level. We worked on huge clients and massive projects. Highlights include meeting Bill Gates and launching Cell C.

What led you to start GinjaNinja PR in the first place?
It was a personal decision to change my lifestyle and start a family. The independence and freedom this has provided me is priceless, and it’s something that has fueled the continued success of the business. I also wanted a space where I could be myself and provide my own unique, quirky services and self to clients. I wanted an environment where I was accepted and felt at home in my own skin.
Your company has been around for a while now. What has helped you to weather the storms of doing business in Africa? Are there books you have read, podcasts you have listened to, or mentors that have helped you succeed?
I come from the school of experience, having worked with many blue chip ICT companies, I have learnt immensely. I also got an exceptional grounding from my time with Text 100. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need grit, determination and self-belief. Nothing is as powerful as your gut-feeling. Follow it and you can’t go wrong. And work hard, very hard. Make a difference from the start and you will be remembered for it.

What are the three things you wished you knew before you started your PR business?
One, if you don’t attach value to what you do, nobody else will. Two, never do anything for free or massively discounted, you create a tough environment for profit thereafter. And three, don’t get emotionally tied to employees, they may not appreciate it and will ultimately do what serves them best.

Diversity and inclusion are thorny issues in Public Relations today. What is the situation in the PR industry in South Africa?
It’s a reality here, but there are many initiatives looking at addressing both issues. Women are rising particularly well, and hopefully are starting to be taken more seriously than previously done.

Do women have a harder time succeeding in PR business than men? What can other women learn from your success in the industry?
It was frustrating as men naturally seemed to be taken more seriously and as a result, secure more of the senior roles. Clients, particularly men, would more readily listen to a male consultant, which infuriated me. In terms of the former, all you can do is keeping pushing, keep succeeding and never giving up. Your talent and abilities eventually get noticed, it takes longer time, but you do get there. In terms of the clients, I found there was no solution other than walking away from the misogyny. Unfortunately, you will not change the mindset of certain personalities.

How do you see PR evolving in South Africa in the next five years?
I truly believe that the strategic ability of PR will start to be more widely recognized. The PR landscape is changing and as a result, PR will start to influence communications more than in the past. In South Africa, PR was pigeon holed and I think that due to a shrinking media pool and the rising importance of content and communications strategy, it will rise again to become a very strategic tool.

Please tell us what brought you into this career path.
To be honest, I fell into PR. I was very uncertain where I belonged and thanks to a local engineering company looking for an assistant in PR, I discovered what has become a career spanning nearly three decades. I have worked in-house as well as in international, mid-sized agencies and by far the best fit for me is to be self-employed, flying my ‘Ginja flag’ proudly.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a PR company?
Starting any business is a challenge, so ensure the mechanism of running a good business is in order. Hire specialist providers to assist with accounting and IT. Then make sure you are capable of doing all that is required of a PR consultant, you must be willing to write, search features and anything else that is required.
I would suggest that they have excellent media connections and a network to target for clients. You must also have patience and faith. It is a rocky road and your business will grow and shrink… clients will come and go… media will be difficult; no day will be the same, and you will be tested to the tenth degree.
In the end, it is all worth it, and you have to keep going no matter what is thrown your way. If you love PR and you are passionate about doing the best for clients, it will all be worth it.