Today, we salute an incredible woman who has made quite the name for herself in the dynamic world of advertising & media. Baleseng Dlamini currently spearheads the advertising and research strategy for four big channels on DSTV- Fox, Fox Life, National Geographic and National Geographic Wild. Beautiful, humble, endearing and inspiring only the touch the surface when it comes to describing this powerhouse of a woman, who I personally look up to. This is her story:
Please tell us about your childhood and what you wanted to be when you were growing up?
Baleseng: My younger brother and I were brought up by our father after our mom passed away when I was just 8 years old. He later remarried when I was in my teens. I was the typical daddy’s girl, but also extremely over-protective of my younger brother. Though nobody imposed it on me, I felt responsible for him, felt the need to fill the void left by our late mother. I was very independent and by the time I was 19, I had moved out of home and juggling school and work. Like any other kid, I changed my mind a few times about what I wanted to be when I grow up. I wanted to be a social worker, then a doctor, then a lawyer before getting into marketing
What was your career choice after you matriculated and did things go your way while furthering your studies?
Baleseng: I entered the marketing world by pure chance. I had taken a gap year, and one day whilst chilling at home watching an episode of Take5, they were talking about marketing as a career choice. I thought ‘I can do that’. So I went and enrolled for a Marketing Management course. I have been in the industry since then and have never looked back.
You are now Head of Advertising & Research at FNG Africa, how did that come about? Take us through your journey.
Baleseng: I was 20 years old and in my second year of study, doing odd jobs to support myself when I was ‘discovered’ by the MD of the now-defunct, Penta Publications, when he went to see a movie at Cinema Prive where I worked. He said he saw potential in me and offered me a job as an advertising sales executive for one of their publications, Tribute magazine. It was a 3 month trial contract, and the condition was that I had to generate advertising revenue every month in order to earn a salary.
I did not have a car to get around, so used to take taxis to go see clients. It was tough and tenacity got me through those early days. I was determined to make it a success, after all I had moved my whole life from Pretoria to Johannesburg, so could not afford to fail. I went on to become the star advertising sales executive, and was promoted to supervisor level within 6 months. A year later I was poached by the SABC, where I worked my way up and after 5 and a half years and 3 promotions later, I left as Sponsorship Manager for SABC Sport in 2008.
Some of my best years in advertising were spent at the public broadcaster. I went on to have a short stint at media advertising agency, Mindshare, as Business Unit Director on some big global brands before I was once again head-hunted, this time for the Content Distribution Manager position at M-Net. This was a break from advertising but still in the sales and marketing sphere, and the experience there exposed me to working in the rest of Africa, which I thoroughly enjoyed. But 2 years later the advertising bug hit again when I got the call to head up the mass market newspapers at Ads24, the commercial division of Media24.
I spent 3 and a half years there as Business Manager: Mass Market newspapers and had a lot of fun working on the biggest daily newspaper in the country, Daily Sun, as well as Ilanga titles in KZN and Son titles in the W. Cape. I missed television though, so when the call came for me to head up the team at DSTV Media Sales selling advertising into the rest of Africa, I took the plunge. I found myself travelling the continent once again, and doing trans-border deals, which further cemented my love affair with Africa. It was during my time at Multichoice that I started dealing with international channels. Fox Networks Group was looking to localise their content and planning to launch a pan-African channel, so were looking for talent that had experience working in international markets. Initially when the offer was made, I wasn’t too keen as I had my doubts about an international channel ‘Africanising’ their content, but when they shared their plans with me, I decided that the challenge was one I was happy to take on, so 3 months into the job, here I am.
That is incredible. How would you describe what you do in your role to a 5 year old?
Baleseng: My job is to manage the relationship with DSTV, who are responsible for generating revenue on our channels, by offering brand knowledge, monitoring advertising revenue and reporting it to the bosses in the UK and US, identifying and sourcing new revenue streams, developing strategic ways to manage and grow the business and ensuring successful execution of advertising campaigns from beginning to end. I also oversee the initiation, dissemination and distribution of research data internally. Then lastly I develop and execute all trade marketing strategies and programs across the 4 brands on the DSTV platform i.e. Fox, Fox Life, National Geographic and national Geographic Wild.
What obstacles have come your way? Especially as a (black) woman in the male dominated industry of advertising?
Baleseng: The media owner side of advertising is actually dominated by women. I started very young in this industry, so my biggest obstacle in those early years was dealing with chauvinistic male clients. I found that extremely overwhelming. I also found that people thought I had nothing to offer purely based on the fact that I was young, so I started dressing older and power-dressing to be taken seriously.
How can aspiring females enter the industry?
Baleseng: Competition is quite steep now compared to when I started out. There are more skilled females playing in this space, so one would need to equip themselves through education and a real passion for the industry in order to succeed. Also, don’t just focus on the media owner side of advertising, there are many options like advertising agencies as well as clients, who are becoming more sophisticated in their media buying and often employ media people to manage that side of the business. It is exciting, but be ready to work hard. Some people perceive the industry as glamorous, and yes, there are elements of that if you consider the number of events one has to attend as well as the travelling, but back at the ranch, there’s lots of hard work to do which is totally un-glamorous
What is your greatest accomplishment/ achievement in your career?
Baleseng: I have won a few awards during my career, but my greatest achievement is when people tell me I have inspired them. It still gets me every time – I cannot believe that little old me has an impact on other people’s lives. I do what I do because I love it, not for the accolades, I never imagined that it would influence other people.
If you had an opportunity to start your career journey over again, is there anything you would do differently?
Baleseng: Absolutely nothing! I have come across ups and downs during this journey, and I am grateful for the experiences and learnings
What is your definition of success? Have you reached it?
Baleseng: Success is doing what you love and excelling at it. I work hard towards achieving the latter part every day. I believe that financial and career growth gains are a bi-product of doing what I love, not a measure of success.
What is your leadership philosophy?
Baleseng: I believe that the measure of a great leader is the development of people. I strive to do this with every single team I’ve worked with.
Who has supported you in your career journey? Did you have a mentor or a coach?
Baleseng: My support base comes in the form of my husband, he is my biggest cheerleader. I do have mentors but I just find that with our busy schedules, it is not always possible to engage on a regular basis. But they are available for me when I need them
Do you personally mentor anyone, and what is your take on mentorship?
Baleseng: I believe mentorship is important as one can’t achieve success on their own. Most of us went through some sort of informal mentorship at some stage in our lives, in order to get to where we are. I don’t have a formal mentorship program with anyone, but I always try to upskill and inspire with every team I’ve worked with.
What are your passions, hobbies & interests? How do you ensure that you have a healthy work live balance?
Baleseng: I think work-life balance is an illusion. Raising 2 young boys is challenging enough, add to that a demanding job and school and your work is cut out for you. I don’t go out much, rather enjoy the comfort of my couch reading autobiographies and fiction to relax, then of course shopping is a girl’s best friend.
You’ve done a lot in your career journey, what is next for you?
Baleseng: I would like to continue working in international markets, and possibly being based in another country. Marketing is my passion, so whichever country I find myself in, I will definitely be marketing something.
Hope you are as inspired as I am, CHICAs.