- Player: Farah Fortune
- Company: African Star Communications
- Established: 2008
- Contact: +27 (0)79 826 1955, firstname.lastname@example.org
The 36-year-old publicist launched her celebrity PR business in 2008, with R1 000 in her pocket — she spent R589 of that on registering a CC and the rest on business cards.
From working on her bedroom floor and sharing two-minute noodles with her daughter as she struggled to survive, today African Star Communications represents high-profile rappers such as K.O and Solo, and stand-up comedians Loyiso Gola and Jason Goliath.
She has an office in Nigeria and plans to open two new offices in Botswana and Ghana.
You pulled yourself up by your bootstraps. How did you overcome the hurdles?
I lost my first business to a crooked partner in 2006. I was determined to try again and I went in search of funding, but no-one would give me money.
When the last thing I had to feed my child was a mouldy piece of cheese, I went back to work for a PR company, earning R12 000 a month, managing accounts worth millions. I hated every minute of it. In June 2008, when my CC registration came through, I walked out the door.
My first pitch was for a small charity day that AIG hosted for Manchester United in Johannesburg. I was the only woman in the reception area, but my offer to do the job for R10 000 was irresistible and I signed my first client. That was just the beginning of a long struggle. I was broke for the next three years.
Friends bought my groceries, and I would feed my daughter and have her leftovers for dinner.
I couldn’t afford petrol so I walked from my house in Randburg to do pitches in Sandton in my takkies, and then changed my shoes at the client’s office. The only thing that kept me going was the belief that I could somehow make it work.
What was your big break?
In year three rapper AKA was about to release his first album. He pursued me for four months. Initially, I didn’t want to work with him, but his ambition won me over.
I’ve never regretted the decision. We signed a contract, and shortly after that more clients came my way, mostly for small events.
Working with AKA made me realise that my passion was for music and I decided to channel my energies into promoting South Africa hip-hop stars. That’s how I ended up specialising and finding my own niche in the crowded PR sector.
Our team convinced 8ta/Telkom to look at AKA for their ads and it worked. I branched into corporate PR after the celebrity side took off.
What made your business stand out from other PR companies?
First was affordability. Publicists do not come cheap. I signed up many young artists who had not yet hit the big time, and charged them as little as R4 000 a month to manage their publicity and help make them famous.
Taking on lots of small clients meant that I could spread the risk. We still structure our packages according to what clients can afford and I’ve kept the overheads low. To this day, I’ve never advertised.
Second was my focus on hip-hop. Before 2011, corporates were not interested in rappers and the scene was very much underground. I convinced Vodacom to sponsor a big hip-hop party with AKA as the star attraction.
After that, many other corporates woke up and took advantage of the popularity of the local rap scene. I like to think I played a part in mainstreaming South African hip-hop.
How have you stayed relevant in a fickle industry?
Once the business was pumping, I built my own brand. I never planned to be in the spotlight, but the more I appeared in the media, the more I was able to build my clients’ profiles, and get bigger accounts.
I focused only on doing business-related interviews and people started to take me more seriously. I could not believe how many corporate contracts I did not win because I refused to sleep with the client.
It’s a disappointing reality of this business when you are young and female. Developing my own brand helped me to build a career based on respect and professionalism.