Royalty soapie awards publicist Bongiwe Potelwa spills the tea about the challenges of working in the entertainment and showbiz industry.
The self-made Public Relations guru is the kind of black girl magic we stan. Born and raised in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, Potelwa has established herself as a publicist and promoter.
Bongi as she is affectionately known in the media space begun her career as an intern in one of the publishing houses that was behind the renowned SABC’s soapie Isidingo.
The colourful communicator’s star has never stopped shining as she has had a stint with some of the biggest television shows in the country including, Inkaba, The Queen and Isibaya.
Bongi was recently one of the promoters and publicist of the Royalty Awards, an annual award ceremony created to recognize and celebrate excellence in the soap opera Industry.
The KwaZakhele born publicist exclusively tells Glamour South Africa that her success in the showbiz industry is largely due to her mentors who guided her when she started out in 2004, resilience and her never give up spirit.
GLAMOUR caught up with Bongi to chat about her perseverance, what it means to be in the showbiz industry and more.
Briefly tell us who you are and what makes you thick?
I am the product of my grandmother's steadfast upbringing. My mother was based in Johannesburg, where she was working and was at the time the financial bone of the family. She worked hard to give us the gift of education by sending us to schools that would be the institutes to teaching us languages and grounding us in faith.
For my primary education, I went to a Xhosa speaking school, then an Afrikaans primary. During my high school days, I had a stint at a boarding school in Knysna but I become homesick, as a result, I was sent back to PE where I finished off my high school at a Christian Private School.
After finishing matric I went to Johannesburg to join my mother and study journalism. But this was short lived as my plans changed when my lecturer at that time said to me, I was more suited in Public Relations. Well, as a young woman from the Eastern Cape, I had no idea what PR would be but I changed course to what would be the begin of my life as a publicist.
Where did your journey as a publicist and ultimately someone who runs her own communications company begin?
While I was doing my second year at varsity, it was time to look for a learnership and a friend I was studying with referred me to a company called Glam Slam which was ran by incredibly ladies Lauren Pretorius and Ira Harpen.
The two were ‘mean’ Publicists and they had Isidingo the drama series as one of their accounts and were doing great work in the television space.
Lauren had a journalism background while Ira was a spin doctor, my teachers were a combination that would propel all I know today.
During my internship at their firm, I was partnered with two senior publicists Genevieve Cutts-Coetzee and my manager Adilia Teixeira. I was thrown into the deep and pushed beyond my limits.
By the time I graduated, I was a junior publicist but then I left to join Livewired Communications, a technology PR agency and within 6 months of joining, I became an account manager looking after the company's major clients, Sentech and SanDisk.
SanDisk would be the opportunity that sent me to Amsterdam for training amongst the world’s best PR practitioners. Upon my return from abroad, I moved around in the corporate world but my heart wanted to return to entertainment PR in the world of television.
A few years later an opportunity opened at eTV and I was in my comfort zone, I spent 5 years there and then I went back to Isidingo.
The soapie’s executive producer at the time, Pumla Hopa opened the doors for me, I was finally back at home. It wasn’t long after that, M-Net came knocking at my door, so I dropped everything and headed the call as I wanted to be part of Mzansi Magic's many firsts.
At the channel, I also had an opportunity to work on numerous flagship telenovelas which included iNkaba, Isibaya, The Queen and many others.
During my brief stint at the channel, I also had the privilege to work on the music channels and reality shows. It was a journey that would test and define who I’m and what I was made of.
After at least seven years of working for DSTV particularly the Mzantsi Magic channel I felt it was time I left the job, and develop my own PR agency.
What sparked the passion and vision?
I’ve always loved being a PR person and being behind the promotion of storytelling, this gave me an adrenaline rush. The dreaded lockdown due to Covid-19 has been a blessing in disguise as it brought my vision to light.
I had been taking side jobs from staging The Evolution of Connie Ferguson to launching Sorisha Naidoo's cosmetic brand. During Lockdown I had time with my thoughts and carefully visualise my next adventure.
I knew I had cemented my place as the best media savvy person, have contacts and my experience. I always joked about being an Olivia Pope whenever I have a great idea. I had to find my inner Olivia Pope (ha ha ha)
How has it been running Onedge media?
It has been a dream in the making, reassuring and 'my girl on fire moment'. Overall fulfilling and a great confidence booster.
Your team and yourself were behind the prestigious Royalty Awards which proved to be a success, what are your secrets, you must have a very thick black box of tricks, mind sharing at least 7 of your best?
Build solid relationships - My family of journalists, influencers, my partner - Nyagunda Ngwenya, family and friends who want to see me prosper are my backbone.
Fearless attitude - I'm a straight talker and don't sugar cote things. I walk in honesty and hope that those around me get.
Integrity - This is everything to me, I would rather you don't like me for stand for my truth. Deception has no room in my life.
Creative thinking - I can creatively adapt to tell a story be it visual or in words.
Alter ego - channeling your inner voice will push you to be the greatest. Throughout The Royalty Soapie Awards project I would play Alicia Keys 'This girl is on fire' to psych myself.
Great instincts - Someone told me to always trust my instincts and stand by them. And so far, they have not led me astray
Respect others - My value system has grounded me to respect human beings no matter who they are.
You have worked for some of the biggest media (Films/Events) companies among which are Ferguson Films, DSTV, how has this been like and how has the change from being an employee to being your own boss?
My journey prepared me for my own baby. I always reminded myself that I was not working for a family business or my father's company and one day I will have to reinvest the years to myself.
I have been so fortunate that I had people who have been watching my work ethic and being my cheerleaders, supporting my hustle and offering to assist where they can.
Be it by referring work or even encouraging me to keep going. Calls from my network of supporters kept me going.
5 tips for people who would want to follow in your footsteps, what are the pros and cons of the industry?
- Be in it for the right reasons. You can't self-promote when you don't even know the job.
- Your work ethic is what counts in the end
- Learn wherever you go, in this industry you are as good as your last job
- You need to have a thick skin to be able to get your point across
- You need to have some creative bone in you, write and think on your feet.
The media space is very challenging and requires one to work long tiring hours, sometimes rewards are not instantly visible, so how do you balance your work schedule and family life?
For a very long time I was over working myself, thinking I was showing my commitment. I had to learn that corporates are loyal to their bottom line.
You have to find the balance. Now, I work smart and manage my hours better though I still take weekend meetings. But I make time to do the things that make my soul smile and benefit me. I'm lucky my work allows me to have fun as well.
It has been a tough year for entertainers this year, but technology has proven to be a life saver for many others, where do you see the media landscape in the country let’s say in the next 2 to 3 years?
A new age of PR is here. Diversified agencies and consultants that are diversified and can pivot quickly have done reasonably well, while specialist boutique agencies, such as event management consultancies, have struggled.
Be Agile and be innovative to adapt in the changing times. Social media content creation is a big deal now and most agencies are prioritizing this offering and traditional media is fading out slowly. Learn to turn around consumer marketing into community relations.
Conventional services online is here to stay. The public relations discipline may finally find itself in a position to steer brand creativity rather than being consigned to the supporting role against which it has chafed for so long.
Traditional communications strategies must be rethought. Earned creative thinking, flexibility and more human understanding, is a huge opportunity for both brands and the PR agencies that support them.
Businesses that maintain their PR efforts will be positioned to recover faster as the economy improves by preserving their brand awareness, or in some cases even growing companies.
Do you have any advice for people who are going through the most because of the pandemic which has affected everyone across the globe?
Trust what you are made of and march to your own drum beat. Start small and the gain will be rewarding. By taking a chance on yourself and your abilities you will surprise yourself.