Makholwa graduated from Rhodes Universitywith a degree in journalism. After working as a journalist for a while, shejoined a PR company and also completed a part-time diploma in PR. When she wascontracted to manage product placement and sponsorships for the first BigBrother series on M-Net in 2001, Makholwa took the opportunity to learn allabout sponsorships and publicity.
Shortly after that, in October 2002, shelaunched Britespark from her home. With her savings, and a loan from herparents, she bought a PC and a fax machine, and hired an intern. She also tooka huge risk. Makholwa had befriended the person in charge of the Kora Awards atthe time, and he convinced her that she should buy the rights to host andorganise the South African leg of the Miss Malaika beauty contest, aninternational pageant for women of African origin. “I took a chance and boughtthe rights for R20 000,” Makholwa recalls. “It was a huge risk for someone whohad just started a business with her own money, but it paid off.” With herexperience in sponsorship, Makholwa put together a proposal and went knockingon a number of doors, eventually landing up at the offices of the NelsonMandela Bay Municipality in Port Elizabeth.“The pageant was just the kind of event themunicipality was looking for,” she says. “It was the right type of event for amunicipality that wanted to raise its profile, generate publicity and host anevent that would entertain its citizens.” She was awarded a contract for R1million, a win that she says catapulted the company to where it is today, withsix employees, offices in Midrand, and an impressive array of public andprivate sector clients.
“Because there are so many PR consultanciesout there, the biggest challenge has been to differentiate Britespark fromdozens of competitors,” Makholwa says. “Establishing the company and growingyour credibility is not easy, and there are no simple solutions for doing this.It requires a huge amount of hard work and demonstrating to your clients thatyou are able to deliver on your promises. A particular challenge in the PRindustry is convincing your clients that PR is about far more than glam.”Makholwa notes that all PR companies havetheir own way of doing things, and that she has structured Britespark in a waythat leverages staff skills and has enabled the company to service client needsin the most optimal way. “Our account executives report to the account managerswho, in turn, report to me. The account managers are the client interface andthey are responsible for coming up with strategies to support the clients’needs. This structure enables clients to get the most out of our agency.” Makholwa says she has grown her business onreferrals from happy clients. Where she once employed PR interns to assist her,she now has a team of five professionals who are skilled in financial, FMCG andgovernment communications, as well as investor relations and event management.
“I have surrounded myself with highlyskilled senior people who are able to consult with our clients at the moststrategic level. Our level of professionalism has enabled us to retain and growclients, always a major challenge for PR agencies.”Makholwa stresses that people are key to aPR business. “You can win a huge account and lose it within three months if youdo not have good writers and events people, and if your account managementcapabilities are not up to scratch.”She notes that when she started thecompany, she was responsible for everything. But she learnt early on that ifyou want to grow a business and distinguish yourself from the many who operatefrom a cottage at home, you need to have staff. “You must employ people who cankeep the business running while you are engaging with clients and bedding downnew contracts.”