This blog reflects on life at work at comments on the latest news that shapes my 9-5 working day in a Corporate Communications consultancy.

About Me

I am a born and bred South African who has always loved to read and write. As a child my mother used to read to me and my siblings, from classics like the “Lord of the Rings” but later also from her own stories. She would write children’s stories and then use us as her test audience, but I loved to hear what she had written long after my siblings had tired of it. So I grew up in an environment of reading and writing, which inspired my love of these things. I hope to write a great book some day, and have learnt first hand the determination and will that it takes. My love of English inspired me to continue my study of it at university. I majored in Law and English in a BA degree at UCT where I found that I took to English much more than law. I enjoyed learning about South Africa’s history and the development of our liberal Constitution, which increasingly made me committed to the hope this country has for the future. Ideally, I’d like to find myself in a job where I am able to write; that allows a good mix of time spent with people and being able to work on my own.

Monday, 25 June 2007

More annual results

TOMORROW I'm going to be attending the Transnet annual results, helping out with any organising that needs to be done at the venue. Maria Ramos is going to have a very long day... there are several presentations to different groups of people and a long list of radio, television and one-on-one journalist interviews. The first event is at 6:30 am and the day will end at 6:30 pm. At least I only have to be there at 8am! I'm looking forward to it - Transnet is often in the news and it should be interesting.

A request to everyone reading this: next time you get an invitation to an event, please RSVP as soon as possible! I spent a lot of today on the phone to journalists and editors to find out if they were coming to a breakfast on Wednesday morning. I had a list of +_ 50 people and of those, only about 10 had RSVP'd. So for the sake of the organisors, please RSVP!

I look forward to sharing what I learn tomorrow on my blog. Look out for any reports on Transnet's results in the news.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Keeping the shark alive

In the evening when I get home from work, my head is usually buzzing with thoughts about the day. I have a little voice that tells me what I could have done better and another voice that tells me I did a great job. I've taken to running myself a bath so I can relax while I listen to my internal dialogue. Watching TV or reading a book doesn't really help as it distracts me from digesting my thoughts.

I've realised that this time will be ideal to blog. I haven't been doing so yet, as I don't want to sit down at the computer straight away when I've been in front of one all day. Perhaps a good system will be to jot down some thoughts on paper (I could even do this in the bath) and post some blogs later once I've organised my ideas and they've had a chance to settle.

Blogging is a great tool as writing things down will help to digest the multitude of new things I learn each day. It also allows me to get comments as well as other people's advice, or just sympathy - so far, the group have understood the time management problems I've had. I think a blog is better than a diary, because it's public, which somehow commits me more to being regular about it. A Sunday Times article discussed celebrity bloggers, such as Lindsay Lohan, whose posts often begin " I'm SOOOOOO SOOOOOOORRRRRRY! I haven't written for EVER!" (Read the article at It's called "Avoiding the blogging graveyard). (I hope I never get to that stage!).

I'm going to try writing more often during the week, even if the posts are brief, to keep the world abreast of how I am doing, but also for my own benefit. And of course to keep the shark alive! I remember Elspeth's advice - just write something, even if it's two lines. And also, it doesn't have to be perfect the first time. That's what editing is for. Watch this space....

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Reading, reading, reading - an updated version

I've added some more detail on this post at the end... so read on even if you've read this before!

Working at a communications firm like Brunswick, it's important to be very familiar with the media. So far a number of the things I've been doing have revolved around that, for example at the moment I'm working on putting together detailed profiles for the major and influential South African publications. Yesterday I was looking at Maverick magazine and I thought it was really great. Its style is quite flamboyant and chatty and it has some great business profiles- when you have a chance I suggest you have a look. Perhaps we could add some to the book club.

At Brunswick we are encouraged to read the Business Day and the Business Report every morning, while the FM and Finweek circulate weekly, and other magazines also come to the office. We do this to know what's happening in the world, but also to keep tabs on any coverage on Brunswick clients. Often the research team (which I'm on) will need to put together a media pack with an analysis, so that the clients and their advisors can monitor what the public's perception will be. I think that being a regular reader is a great habit to get into, not just for communications people, but to learn about and become familiar with the business world. Being in the office has increased my interest in business and the news, because what I'm reading about now has some relevance for me. Since WOW I've also enjoyed reading about African politics, since it was often a hot topic of conversation during our sessions.

There are a lot of terms I don't understand - especially financial ones- but through a slow process of reading and asking questions I'm building up a 'business knowledge' base. The book club will be a great help to. I went to an annual results announcement for Omnia, a chemicals, fertiliser, and mining company, on Wednesday. The results announcement is an overview of how the company has performed that year, and includes a lot of financial data. I brought back their information pack and sat with Rachel, my "god parent" (a Brunswick term for mentor) and talk through some of the things I didn't understand - so I'm getting a bit of 'finance 101'.

At the Omnia results Rod Humphris, the Executive Director, briefly discussed how the demand for bio-fuels impacted on their business. I was interested to see how many dynamics influence a company's performance. Economically, because there is a demand for bio-fuels, which is produced from maize, the maize price goes up globally, which affects our food prices and the cost of fertilizer, which affects Omnia... (As I try to think through this I'm casting my mind back to the "Economics for Non-Specialists" course I did in first year varsity!)

On the way home from the results I was chatting to Taryn (person who works on Omnia account) about it and she asked me to do a short research project on what's happening with bio-fuels in South Africa, for inclusion in the Omnia annual report. I'm looking forward to it as it's very topical at the moment. I will keep you posted on my findings via my blog! Read more about Omnia at

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Never downplay your role

A small piece of advice for everyone as they go into their internships. When someone asks you about yourself, never say "I'm just an intern". Your role is as important as anyone else's. Leave out the 'just' - don't dowplay your role in the organisation just because you are the newest person there. And don't be tempted to FEEL like you're not so important, either. Concentrate on thinking of the ways that you CAN add value and are an asset.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Day 2… the learning continues

When I got home yesterday after my first day at Brunswick I felt exhausted – there was a lot to take in and adjust to! I’m pleased to say, however, that today I feel quite energised – part of that is down to meeting the wonderful Irish author Marian Keyes (known as the “queen of chick lit”) this evening at a talk hosted by The Write Company. (Read more about her at She was a joy to listen to because she was very lively, funny, personable and confident – all great qualities for anyone to have, especially in the workplace! She was also very gracious and kept thanking the audience for coming to listen to her – even though she’s a best selling author, she seemed genuinely surprised that people had chosen to spend their evening with her.

Today was a similar day to yesterday for me – a continuation of the induction process. An important part of being in the communications world is keeping up to date with the media, and becoming familiar with all the important publications. Today I was working on an assignment that would help me to get a feel for these – ones I’m used to like the Financial Mail, but also others I haven’t read before such as Maverick and Fin week. I also had a ‘crash course’ in some financial terms – I’m hoping to pick those up as I go along – I know I have a lot to learn! I think a big part of my learning in the next two months will be to manage my time… Janet’s rocks and sand. In the workplace there are always several things happening at once, so learning to prioritise is important. I’ve noticed that Thobeka (the other intern in the office) always communicates with whoever has asked her to do something – for example, yesterday, she had a few things to do at the same time, and she spoke to someone who’d asked her for something urgently to explain the other pressures on her time. This is a good lesson for me - communicating makes sure that both people are on the same page. Another adjustment will be working in an open plan office – it’s great that everyone’s accessible when you need them – even the directors share this space - and it creates a friendly atmosphere, but I find it fairly difficult to focus on something that I’m doing with other things happening around me. I remember that I found that tricky at first when I was at Caxton, but after a while I got used to it.

Watch this space for the next instalment about my life in the working world!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Getting to know the ropes on my first day

As soon as I arrived at Brunswick, Refilwe the receptionist gave me a warm welcome. This set the tone for the day as everyone in the office was extremely friendly and emphasised that they would be available should I have any questions for them. Rachel (part of the panel that interviewed me) showed me around the office and introduced me to the team. On my desk I found an induction programme for the day that set me up with times to chat to different people in the office. I’m glad I was welcomed like Beauty and not left alone for a week like Justine Dangor was (as she shared with those who attended the “Grow Tomorrow’s leaders” workshop on Saturday) – I appreciated that Brunswick had put some thought into introducing me to life in their company. I spent some time looking through the Brunswick information folder and also talking to the other intern in the office, Thobeka. Thobeka is from Tshwane University of Technology and has been at Brunswick for six months already. Her internship is part of her International Communications degree. She is part of the research team and she talked me through how I would go about doing various things, including what to say when I answer the phone! One of the biggest pieces of advice Thobeka gave me was to ask for specific instructions when I am given a task – such as finding out when the work needs to be done by. It really helped to have her to explain things to me that I would otherwise have had to learn by trial and error. At lunch time the two of us went to the cafĂ© down the road to eat and chat some more, and in the afternoon I helped her with a few tasks she needed to finish. Having so many friendly people in the office really helped to put me at ease, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot in the next two months!

Saturday, 09 June 2007

“Spud” joins the bookclub!

Even though we set up our bookclub with the intention of sharing business-orientated books, my previous post on John van de Ruit’s bestselling book “Spud” generated some interesting discussion amongst us. Those who commented on my post wanted to read the book, so I decided to throw “Spud” into the mix. Perhaps it will be a good stress reliever, as it really hits the funny bone – or at least it did for me, but I’ll be interested to see how other people in this group respond. Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was because I’ve been to boarding school and, although we didn’t get up to nearly as much mischief as Spud and his dormitory mates do, I can identify with the story.

After Valentin’s comments on my previous “Spud” post that the mere act of putting pen to paper is political, I initially disagreed with him. I argued that there was nothing political about this humorous, fairly light-hearted book. But after thinking about some more, I realised that “Spud” makes a political point about South African fiction - by doing so remarkably well out of being funny, Van de Ruit suggests that as a nation we are ready for entertaining, rather than issue-driven, fiction.

“Spud” is the diary of a young boy in his first year at a prestigious boarding school. It is set in 1990, a critical turning point in South African history. This creeps into the story, as Spud’s head boy is the son of apartheid hero Albert Luthuli, who educates him about the past and convinces him to join the school African Affairs society. Spud quietly develops a liberal attitude under this influence, which clashes with his father’s outrageously racist ideas. A bit of satire creeps in here, but this is about as “traditionally” political as Van de Ruit’s book gets. Not pure politics, but a good dose of humour to tickle your funny bone, so I hope it gets people from the WOW group laughing!

Thursday, 07 June 2007

Books for writing advice

During WOW Bruce asked me to suggest some books with writing tips. I thought I’d share two that have helped me. One is “The Elements of Style” by E. B White and William Strunk. This is probably one of the most famous books on writing, and it’s been going since the 1920s when William Strunk first wrote it. He based it on a writing course he taught at university, and E. B White (of “Charlotte’s Web” fame) was one of his students. Years later, he was asked to update the work, and in his edited edition you’ll find a forward where he remembers his eccentric Professor Strunk, whose favourite trick was to repeat things three times for emphasis. (“Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!”, White recalls him saying, and banging on his desk as he did so. This is one of the writing tips given in the book). It is written in a list form, and has tips on style as well as commonly misused words and grammar. It’s a very thin book, small enough to carry around with you. The advice is simple, direct and very useful.

The other book is “On Writing” by Stephen King. This is more of an enjoyable book to read, as it is as much the story of King’s life and how he wrote his way to success as it is about his writing tips. His style is very conversational and the book is very easy to read. One of the most memorable things for me that he advised was “Write the first draft with the door closed; write the second draft with the door open”. The first bits you write down are just for you, but after that you need to pay attention to other people’s feedback. For example, you may love your dog character, but if all your readers tell you they don’t understand why the dog is in the story in the first place, the dog either needs to go or you need to carefully re-write his part. Our comments on each other’s blogs were a great place to give and receive feedback, which is a really important part of the writing process.

“On Writing” is available in the Wits Education library, and the Cullen library has several copies of “The Elements of Style”.

Thoughts from our “Grow Tomorrow’s Leaders” Workshop

During the WOW course we often discussed how we felt university life left us unprepared for life at work. As graduates on the job hunt, it feels like a bad thing. But a lady at the “Grow Tomorrow’s Leaders” workshop on Saturday didn’t think so. She argued that the role of the university is not to churn out a long line of worker bees who all look and think the same. Universities exist to create knowledge capital and intellectual thinkers. As Professor Mbigi put it in his seminar, if we just look for jobs, we may as well not have spent all these years studying. We have not been turned into workers, but rather into people who can thing beyond this and identify problems that need to be solved. As Mbigi advised, a career built around a problem will be lasting. (In Kuseni Dlamini’s session Temi mentioned that varsity makes employees and not employers - so this point is debatable.)

Mbigi also caused much laughter when he said his business degrees had not been of any use to him. Although he currently lectures at business schools, he feels that the Humanities training is much more valuable. I suspect what he values most is the critical thinking skills and broad general knowledge base he built up. As humanities graduates we pride ourselves on our analytical skills, but we need to learn how to use it in a way that the world will value. During the tea break, a management consultant was discussing his use of academic ideas in the workplace. If approached a client and said, “Yes, I see you have a problem here. Marx identified it in his theory of liminality, and he suggested you do X, Y and Z”, they wouldn’t have much time for him. Instead, he needs to identify the problem and tell them how to solve it. Knowing Marx’s theories may help him to identify and solve the problem, but his employer doesn’t care about how good he is at discussing it. In the world of work it’s the results that matter.

And although we may feel like it’s a long hard road to secure employment now, it may not last. Someone else I was chatting to mentioned that in the long term, she’s noticed that humanities students don’t have too much difficulty finding jobs. It may be more tricky in the beginning than for others, but once we are in the marketplace, we generally have more success than, say B.Com graduates. Her comment is obviously a generalisation, and only based on her experience, but it’s still good to know. A great way to apply our critical thinking skills now will be to look at the bigger employment picture, and think about problems to build our careers around.

Meeting the professionals on Saturday’s workshop was encouraging. It’s especially valuable to talk to people who have come from Humanities backgrounds and have made their own successes – it helps to remind us that there’s hope for our career futures!