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.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Google finding my blog page

Peter Hanworth-Hayden, the external visitor to my blog, found it by googling his surname. It's good to know that my blog comes up on google- what a powerful search engine.

Apparently, each post is treated as a separate web page, so search engines will find them separately - which increases the chances of your blog being found.

The google team are really doing well - I had a quick look at their extra features - and there are a lot of them. In response to the ongoing concerns to save energy, they set up blackle - a search engine with a black screen. They explain their reasons for doing so below:

"Blackle saves energy because the screen is predominantly black. "Image displayed is primarily a function of the user's color settings and desktop graphics, as well as the color and size of open application windows; a given monitor requires more power to display a white (or light) screen than a black (or dark) screen." Roberson et al, 2002

In January 2007 a blog post titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine. Since then there has been skepticism about the significance of the energy savings that can be achieved and the cost in terms of readability of black web pages.

We believe that there is value in the concept because even if the energy savings are small, they all add up. Secondly we feel that seeing Blackle every time we load our web browser reminds us that we need to keep taking small steps to save energy."

Blackle works exactly like google. It's just a black screen. Try it at

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

An external visit to my blog!

Some time ago, I wrote a post about a South African gentleman named Peter Hanwith-Horden who was featured in the Star Workplace. He had spotted some errors in a training manual and wrote to the US publishers. He was then contracted to re -write the manuals for a South African context. The article used his work to show that South Africans can compete in a global arena - quite relevant to our World of work discussions.

Last week, I was excited to find a mail in my inbox from the gentleman himself. This is what he said:

I came across your blog regarding my write up in the newspaper. Thank for your kind words. That's not the first time I have mailed the USA explaining to them that their books had errors .
Most of the certification books have errors.

One thing I have found in this country is that some companies don't appreciate the skills at all - for example, after my write-up was in the newspaper not one of the management came to congratulate me - not even the boss I report to!

Great Blog
Peter Hanwith-Horden

I wrote back to thank him for his compliment and also to invite him to join in commenting on our group's blogs. I was very excited to have an external visitor to my site, which made me curious - how did he actually find it? I have e mailed him to ask and wait with baited breath to find out!

Technology - the curse?

In a previous post I wrote about the importance of communicating in the workplace. From some of the comments on that, I started to think about how technology gets in the way of communication.

Brunswick is a small office - less than 25 people. Yet despite this, we use e-mail for just about everything. Often, we don't get up to talk to someone sitting two desks behind us. As a result, I can spend the whole day without ever really connecting with others in the office - especially those who sit at the other end. We mail each other a lot rather than walking over. Laziness? I think so. But it's very convenient to send a mail - but not always effective. Often, e mail helps because we need to transfer things from one computer to another. But at other times, it gets in the way of communicating a clear brief.

Some time ago, my Dad mentioned that he disliked that someone in his office always sent e mails rather than making the effort to talk to him in person. He saw this as a sure sign that the man did not have the potential to reach a higher position in his company - its essential for a leader to have people skills and the 'likeability' factor that Maxwell wrote about on his blog.

The solution? I think it's much more personal to actually talk to someone. Will I do it? I'll try to make a conscious effort to. The other option is also to use the telephone.

During one of our weekly meetings, someone requested that we please refrain from fiddling with blackberries or cell phones during meetings with clients. A while ago I went out to lunch with Rachel, my mentor, for a catch up. She brought her blackberry with her - to be available in case anything important required her attention. Often, my Dad takes his 'devices' on holiday with him - robbing him of the ability to ever fully relax. One of the FISH philosophy principles was to BE PRESENT - and I think technology is robbing us of the ability to focus completely on the person we are talking to. Devices are always a distraction.

Suggestions - turn off devices when they aren't really needed, focus on what's happening in the present moment, and don't take your work on holiday with you! (I better convince my Dad to do that too).

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Inspired creativity

I was driving home today and saw someone begging holding this sign:

My cat has been arrested for eating my neighbour's chickens. Please help with bail money.

What a creative way to convince people to part from their cash! In Joburg, even beggers need to think differently about what they do.

I usually buy a copy of Homeless Talk and I try to get mine from someone I drive passed often on the way up to Jan Smuts avenue. He has the biggest smile and he always waves as soon as he sees my car and gives me a thumbs up. Service with a smile!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Team work means getting things done

At 5: 30 this afternoon, a request was sent through to the research team. It involved a search through some publications for a year's worth of coverage on a mining company, with the specific focus on its BEE dealings. Also required was a quick summary of these articles.

The work needed to be done ASAP. As you may imagine, it was quite a big job - and I think a number of us were starting to wonder when the day would end.

Fortunately, the 6 team members assembled quick as a flash and, by splitting the work, we were able to complete it in just over an hour.

There's the power of team work for you - in getting things done!

JSE visit

Our visit to the JSE during WOW was very informative. I think knowing the basics of the stock exchange is essential to understanding how businesses work. As I read and ask questions, I'm learning more about it.

From last week, Thobeka and I have been doing a twice-daily market snaphsot to send out to everyone in the office. This includes the share prices of all Brunswick's listed clients - the opening price, the current price, the percentage change between the figures, and the market capitalisation (number of shares in issue x current share price) - and the daily indicators (forex, gold price etc). We get the information of the Reuters terminal.

This is doing two things: Helping to familiarise me with our client list and the stock exchange. In the paper with all the market figures there is a brief explanation of what all the figures mean so it helped to read that too.

The more time I spend at Brunswick, the more I'm learning... I never would have bothered to know what a market cap was before this. Now that it has some relevance for me, I'm more interested.

Learning the corporate lingo

Early on in one of our World of Work sessions, Lesley joked that she'd felt slightly panicked when she heard her supervisor say that she would be finished her PhD soon. This was until she realised that in academic speak, soon meant three years.

After years getting to grips with 'academic speak', I'm having to learn a new corporate lingo. On Monday I was working on a review of annual reports for a booklet that is compiled by Brunswick's design partners in London. I had to look at some annual reports and comment on a few things that stood out about them. This was challenging for two reasons: I'm not all that familiar with annual reports (but this helped me to learn); and I'm not a practised hand in 'corporate speak' yet. Carol rewrote some of the things I'd written so that they sounded more polished. It's another stepping stone in learning to be part of the world of work and make the adjustment from university life.

I'm also slowly getting to grips with some financial terms. At the Transnet results, I heard the word EBITDA - and thought it sounded like Greek. I accosted my Dad for some explanations and now I know it's actually an acronym, standing for: Earnings before tax, interests, debt and amortisation (this last one is an accounting term which basically means depreciation of assets).

I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of things.... I may even write a dictionary for dummies of financial terms one of these days - anyone like to join me?

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Team work means talking to each other

Today we had a brief meeting with the research team in the office, just to touch base with each other and discuss any queries or problems. The research function is quite important at Brunswick, as it provides a support for the client - facing staff who need to have access to certain information to stay on the ball.

One of the biggest things that was emphasised during the meeting was the need to communicate with each other. Even in a small office (and at a communications firm at that!) we sometimes forget to talk about who's doing what, or feel reluctant to shout if someone feels their work load is too big. One of the major keys to succesful team work is TALKING.

EQ - more thoughts on time management

I still think time management was one of the most useful presentations we had at WOW. In the world of work, and in life, it's all about being able to juggle tasks. Previously, I wrote about being uncertain (as an intern) as to when was appropriate for me to leave work. But at a business like Brunswick, I'm beginning to realise that it's not about how late you stay. You are really your own manager. As long as you get your work done, that's fine.

To help juggle tasks, it's necessary to be able to identify priorities..... rocks vs sand.

My new version of EQ is "EFFICIENCY QUOTIENT". It's all about how efficient you can be in the time you are given to do a task. It's not only about doing something quickly, it's about doing it well at the same time. As I wrote previously, it feels as if I am on the beginning of a life-long journey towards developing the skill of managing my time effectively. It's one of the most difficult, but also the most essential, things to do.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

My first networking lunch date

Today I enjoyed my first 'networking' lunch with my two desk mates (or pod mates, in Brunswick speak) and two journalists from Sake 24 (the Afrikaans business supplement that appears in Afrikaans dailies across the country).

It was nice to have the chance to chat to my colleagues away from the office space. The journalists were pleasant and we talked about current issues. The lunched helped me to understand a little more about building a relationship with journalists (an important part of what Brunswick does) and to see the work we do from their perspective. For example, they don't enjoy being phoned ten times a day to be asked, "Did you get our press release?" and then later, "Are you going to use it?" (especially at a daily publication, which means there are extra deadline pressures).

The restaurant that we went to, Smoke in Pretoria, had their deserts on the first page of their menu - a fun approach. Their food was excellent. I enjoyed my 'office outing' and had the chance to experience another side of the Brunswick business.

Making mistakes

Yesterday a colleague gave me some good advice. When you make a mistake, say you've made a mistake. Admitting it immediately will allow the team to deal with the problem before it gets any bigger. Trying to cover it up will only make it worse. At the end of the day, it's about serving the client, not about your ego. And he emphasised that he learnt the most through making his own mistakes. Celeste wrote in one of her posts that she felt a key to her success was the ability to learn quickly and not make the mistake again.

(This advice wasn't given in response to a particular mistake I'd made, but just as a general comment).

Interestingly, I was chatting to my Dad about this when I got home. I said I thought it would be more difficult to admit a mistake as a new employee or an intern, as you would be trying extra-hard to impress. He disagreed. As a new person, people expect you to make mistakes. As a high-level executive, you are supposed to know what's going on.

My feeling is that it takes a bigger person to admit their mistake than those who try to hide it.

Sunday, 08 July 2007

Live Earth

Yesterday I was privileged to be able to go to the Live Earth concert with Ijeoma. The concerts took place in all seven continents in major cities like London, New York, Sidney and Tokyo, in a global initiative to draw attention to the crisis of climate change. The line up of artists was as follows:


In between set changes we had various people speaking to inspire us to change our daily habits. There are small things we can all do, including:

Buying Pick 'n Pay "Green Bags" (or others like them) and taking them to the shops everytime we go, instead of using plastic ones
Eat less meat - have one 'vegetarian day' at least a week
Don't leave electrical appliances on standby
Switch of lights/ other appliances if you aren't using them
Buy local produce, rather than imported products that have been flown in, which contributes to the Co2 in the atmosphere

The Live Earth concert was inspiring and prompted me to think about my own habits. Also, I realised that the concert was once a germ of an idea in someone's head, and now it's been brought to fruition across the world. It must be fulfilling to see your idea grow and be achieved on such a large scale.

Willing hands

In Susan Mwangi's article in a recent FM Campus on foreign students and their search for employment in South Africa, she talks about how Valentin Tassev secured his job at the UJ theatre by holding out his hands.

This was a "here I am" gesture - it showed his willingness to work and also that he was hardy enough to do the tough physical tasks that the job requires.

Although Valentin was looking for manual labour, I believe interns need to display the same 'metaphorical' gesture in the workplace. The path to success is to be willing to do whatever is asked of you, even if it's something like sorting out the week's newspapers or making phone calls. Those tasks are one of the cogs in the machine that make the organisation work.

Fiona McDonald shared with us that this was one of Celeste's secrets to success at RMB. Being willing to do any task is a great way to show off a positive attitude.
Every morning I try to do an "attitude check" and tune it up if it feels a little off course.

Wednesday, 04 July 2007

New arrivals at Brunswick

WE have a new intern, Zach, arriving next week. He is an American and is in South Africa for a year on a Fullbright scholarship. Zach will be there for two months, as he is hoping to work for the New York office and wants to check out what it's like while he's here. He came in for five minutes last week to say hello to everyone and already he's caused quite a buzz in the office. It should be interesting to have another intern around.

On Monday two new staff members arrived to take the place of two ladies who left. In August, four more people will be coming. Brunswick is growing and we recently had a major re-shuffle of desks to accommodate the changes. It's exciting to be part of a team that is dynamic and is in a growth spurt. With lots of new business coming Brunswick's way, I'm sure the extra hands will be of good use.

Tuesday, 03 July 2007

The digital citizen will take over the world.... (insert evil laugh here)

A post that is an off shoot of the blog research I'm doing.. full report will come later

AS bloggers, all of the WOW group are at the cutting edge of a digital revolution that is sweeping the world... The power of the blog is in the power of the social network - the buzz that can be created in a community that talks to each other.

On Monday, the Business Day Exporter supplement published an article on the success of Stormhoek wine. It was a little known brand until Hugh Macleod, author of Gaping Void (one of Britain's most read blogs), came on board and used his site to tap into this community and promote the wine. Graham Knox was quoted in the article as saying that they're spending very little on marketing, achieving success, and having a ball at the same time.

Blogging is still relatively new in South Africa, but it's starting to take off. Recently, there has been a spate of articles on the subject in the press. We even have SA blog awards for different categories, including business blogs.

Well known publications are starting to link into the blog trend. The Mail and Guardian has blog sites linked in to it. The News 24 home page hosts various reader's blogs. A new daily publication, The Times, launched last month - an iniative of Johnnic Communications - and is looking to revolutionase the media scene. It sets out to be an interactive publication, hosting youtube videos on its site as well as asking a number of its columnists, or 'blogumists', to write blogs. At The Times, they believe that the future of media lies in its interactivity.

On Anton Harber's blog recently, hosted by the Wits Journalism website, he discussed the yearly readership statistics for publications. It was clear that well established media, with the exception of the Daily Sun, were loosing readership. It seems clear that for traditional print and broadcast media to survive, they need to look at ways to change to acommodate the growing trend toward harnessing the power of the digital citizen.

Vincent Maher, a well known South African blogger, wrote about how last week's snow had prompted over 2000 people to send in their pictures to the Mail and Guardian's site. His editor was really excited as it was the first time the public had really interacted with the publication. So it may take extrodinary events to prompt South Africans, a little slow off the mark in terms of the rest of the world, to enter into the digital revolution on a big scale.

In the digital citizen lies the future.... and as bloggers we are all part of it. Go team WOW.... together, we have power!

Sunday, 01 July 2007

Having fun in the workplace

BRUNSWICK has a fun, relaxed office culture.

During my interview, it was described as a 'sink or swim' environment. Essentially, this means (or how I interpret it so far) that's it's not paternalistic. No one is standing over your shoulder to make sure you do your work or policing the hours spent on facebook. It's up to you to get on with it, and if you need help, ask for it. (I'm sure if someone wasn't delivering, it would be dealt with appropriately though.) This is a great environment to learn in - and to learn quickly.

It's also a fun office. Even the directors have a sense of humour and often joke with us. Last week everyone went out for farewell drinks for two people who were leaving. (We're getting three new people in next week, including an intern from the US- which should be interesting). They all had a good party (unfortunately I wasn't able to go as I had a bad cold and by 6pm I really needed to lie down).

On Friday, we had month-end drinks and snacks in the office. This was combined with the weekly meeting, which normally happens in the morning but was moved to the afternoon that day. (I think it's a much better idea to have a Friday meeting than a Monday meeting - Monday mornings being the most productive work time.) After a while, Siba turned some music on, which lightened the atmosphere even further, and we all chatted. It's nice to work in a small office with friendly environment.

The downside - at the moment, especially as an intern- is knowing what's appropriate. For example, with working hours - it's been difficult to know what's expected of me, as the hours are fairly flexible, and people leave and arrive at different times depending on what's happening. Some days everyone's there by 7 30 am and they leave after 6pm. Other times there are only 3 people in the office by 8 30 am. It takes some getting used to.

WOW skills in the real world of work

One of the most useful, practical sessions we had during WOW was Janet's presentations on time management. I think it's one of the most important skills to master.

So far, there hasn't been a dull moment at work, and there's never been a time when I've had nothing to do. People often ask for things they need done, usually when I have an existing project. I'm learning to juggle things in the order of their priority - mentally picturing the rocks and sand as I do. To help with this, it's important to ask whoever gives you the task what your deadline is.

During our WOW presentations, Dr van Zyl brought up the point that your time is often not controlled only by you - there are other people who impact on your decisions. This is true of the workplace environment.

For example, on Monday myself and Thobeka were asked to compile a media analysis of the coverage given to a company in the last twelve months, to be done by Friday lunch time. By Thursday morning, I still had quite a bit to do, and had planned to spend most of the day working on it. However, when I arrived at the office that morning I was asked to help compile a training pack as a matter of urgency. This took me most of the day, which meant that I wasn't able to spend much time on my work for Friday. I arrived home feeling frustrated. I went into the office early on Friday and was able to complete it on time.

Another challenge for me has been learning to complete tasks quickly. I've always been a slow worker, and so far, this hasn't mattered when I've been doing essays for varsity, as no one else depended on what I produced. But now, the workplace is fast-paced, and I need to learn to work quickly, while still producing a quality product. This includes learning to focus on what I'm doing and not get distracted by the other things that are happening around me.

I think this internship is the start of a lifelong journey towards mastering time management!

Results Day

It takes a visit to an event like the announcement of Transnet's Annual results to realise how much organisation goes into it. Most of the people involved had very little sleep the night before. (This didn't include me, as I helped on the day only, apart from some phone calls I'd made). I didn't expect such a large event as the Omnia announcement I'd been to the week before was not like this. Transnet, however, is a much bigger and much more influential company.

I arrived at the Hilton Hotel at 7 45 am to find the registration table and banners already set up. The event management side was handled by Simeka TMS, a public relations firm, so they had taken care of this. The hotel took care of all the catering, and made sure the food kept rolling out for most of the day.

There were several presentations of Transnet's results to different groups of people, starting at 6 30 over breakfast - this was to shareholders. Next was the presentation to the executive boards, the trade unions, and then the media. Brunswick's responsibility was to handle the media side. We had to be there mainly to ensure that everything ran smoothly - to schedule interviews and to make sure the journalists were where they were supposed to be at the right time. I helped Karen (from Brunswick) with whatever she needed, which included finding a fax machine and dropping off a journalist at the Star offices in the afternoon. The trade union's presentation ran over time.. apparently they were asking difficult questions.. which meant that everyone started panicking about Maria Ramos's tight schedule. It worked out in the end though.

I was able to sit in on the results presentation, which was interesting. I still have a lot to learn about financial terms, but I brought a copy home so that I could take more time to understand them.

As soon as the media presentation was done, Maria Ramos went through to the interview room where the TV crews filmed her. In the afternoon she had a long string of interviews with print and radio publications. Ms Ramos then went to an evening function - so it must have been an exhausting day. On Wednesday morning she was due to give another breakfast presentation.

The day after the results, I helped to compile a media pack on Transet - basically collecting everything that had been written about the company's announcement. I felt like I was part of the news in the making. When I did my internship at Caxton, I helped to organise a cocktail party for Joburg 'celebrities' like Nico- the owner of Espresso. This time, I was mixing with a different crowd - the media 'celebrities' whose writing I read everyday, as well as people in the news such as Maria Ramos. I enjoyed being able to put names and faces together.