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When I first started working, at 18, when I co-ran a youth non-governmental, not for profit organisation, I was known for my foul temper and moody behaviour. I had no problem releasing my wrath on inefficient staff and unreliable suppliers.
As I got older, and started working in a bigger company I realised that maybe my moods and temper were not allowing people to be as productive as they could be. I still struggled with mediocre work and frankly unthought through plans and generally what I considered below standard work. But I learnt to keep the moods in check. Of course if you’re naturally so inclined it is hard to completely switch and occasionally the moods and temper would surface.
I think it did give me the reputation of a no nonsense type of person, and for those who didn’t know me said I seemed scary and aloof. Of course I was shocked by this and in fact hurt at times (when it was within my own team) because I’d worked hard to be more understanding and supportive to my junior colleagues.
So you can imagine my frustration when the other day I was told that a client was scared of me, almost to the point of accusing me of being a bully.
I guess my problem is that I’m passionate. Being passionate about creative and trying to protect against awful design and mediocre products sometimes makes it hard for me to accept below average, or even average, things. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like doing client work, because ultimately you do have to do what the client wants. And unfortunately in the case of this client, they felt we had crossed the client-agent relationship and we were ‘friends’ (this is the only assumption that makes sense to me), and asked my opinion on the products they’d made us change. It was a bizarre thing to me because it should have been obvious that I wouldn’t like it. Perhaps it was a trick question but I just couldn’t lie. I tried to be diplomatic about it, somehow it still didn’t work….
The next thing I knew I’m being called uncooperative, difficult and in short, a bully who scares our point person (of course I’m paraphrasing but that was how it felt).
I make no apologies for wanting to be the best of the best, the leading brand behind everything creative, and of high quality standards, but I do take exception to being called out like I am a tyrant who treats people like shit.
Maybe one of my strengths is that I’m not that precious. I mean the type of person who is a diva about everything. I can take criticism, I might not like, I might go to the toilets and cry (not really), but I won’t throw a strop and need my employers or anyone else (except maybe my boyfriend) to come and throw a pity party for me or coddle me to get what they hired me to do.
Sadly, I’m coming to the reality that maybe in Zambia this is what we need to do for employees here. I don’t know whether it’s because in the west – certainly the US and the UK is becoming like this too – there is such a huge push for excellence, and being the best of the best. Slacking isn’t an option, well it is, but it’s looked down on.
In Zambia, maybe because we weren’t a capitalist society and we were on the everyone is equal tip etc we don’t really encourage people to aspire for greatness and more importantly, to actually work hard to make it happen.
That’s the struggle I’ve been having. Media 365 have recently been commissioned to conceive and produce a 26 part drama series around women and AIDS. I’m so excited about it. We needed to put together the team to work on the production, as we don’t have all those internal resources. Our plan was that the team was going to be the best of the best, people we could work with on a long term basis and they would understand how we work. I have to be honest, it’s a year later but the current team we have at Media 365 are among the hardest working you can find in Lusaka. But it wasn’t always like this. As the leaders, as managers, you set the example for how you want to work and how you want work to be done. And now they are a pretty reliable, professional and efficient team. I trust them to get the work done.
This new team… well it’s been a challenge. Simple things like showing up to work on time, adhering to their confidentiality agreements and presenting their work as their best quality work. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.
And the demands! I laugh when I think about what production companies in the UK used to go through, working in TV is not a glamourous thing, certainly not behind the camera, yet here people want to be treated with kid gloves and like they are the stars.
I have spent long hours in the office, here as early as 7am and leaving past midnight, yet some of the hired crew rock up at 9am (their contracted hours are 7.30-6) and stress about leaving at 8pm. But I realised that the more I shouted, pulled my hair out, cried (for real this time), and lectured about attitude (ok that was Jeff Sitali the director, but I agreed with it), and my own (stolen from Freddy) verses on the power of greatness within all of us, the pride of delivering a high quality show like never before seen on Zambian TV, I realised as it continued to fall on deaf ears that I was the only one who was stressing. To be fair not everyone is like this but you know what they say about a few rotten apples.
I have come to realise that in Zambia it’s the exception rather than the rule that provides those people that do want to be better than good, that do stuff for the passion and recognition rather than the money, but I’m still hopeful that we’ll bring up generations after us that will be the rule rather than the exception. Our country can’t possibly develop until that happens. I’m learning to exercise patience – if you know me, you’ll know that’s really hard for me – and I’m making a note of who will be people I’ll continue to work with, bring them into the Media 365 family, and who won’t step foot on any of my productions again. In life there aren’t second chances so why should I do that in business?
Maybe it’s also because we’ve chosen to work largely with a production team of young people. I am passionate about giving young people an opportunity, partly because I am still a young person, but partly because I have faith in young people. As a young person who was given an opportunity to live out my dreams, and been a success (if I must say so myself), I’m a firm believer in bringing up those behind you – specifically young people. But sometimes young people think they know it all, or can’t see an opportunity when it’s right in front of them. But you can’t get mad at them, at the end of the day it’s their career, they need to decide where they want to go in life.
It could also be an issue we have with long term planning and long term goals – for whatever reason we seem to be a short sighted bunch of people. I don’t know if that’s just young people, or people in Zambia as a whole. When we got the contract to do this drama series – and like Shuga, it’s been about two years in the making, we didn’t jump for joy thinking let me do a cheap job on this, do a one man shoot and pocket enough money for me to buy a new car. Nope, we did jump for joy, but because we realised that this was the opportunity for us to make the production we’ve all wanted to make for years. One that was going to be of high production value but also tell the kind of story we’d want to watch on TV (ok don’t buy into that myth, unless you pay for it yourself, it will never be the story you really want to tell!). But it was also an opportunity for us to improve our product offering by reinvesting into the company.
I love everything about TV, I live, sleep and breath it. Other than having my own shoe store, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else but TV… ok maybe I could consider designing clothes and handbags, oh and running my own restaurant/cocktail bar…Ok, so maybe I could do other things. But I truly love TV. I love how you can create something that can impact millions of people, I like the power of TV to change your way of thinking. Really TV can do a lot more good if harnessed correctly. So while Media 365 doesn’t only do TV production, we do print, radio, digital, research etc, my passion has and will always be TV. And all us co-founding directors knew one thing, we did not want to be a here today, gone tomorrow business. But to ensure longevity you have to have the right systems in place, and the equipment and technology to do it. In Zambia it’s all about chasing the money, even at the detriment of repeat business – people don’t understand that it’s cheaper to retain clients than get new ones.
The last couple of weeks have been a real challenge for me and been a rollercoaster of emotions, but at least I know for sure that playtime is over. Doing business in Zambia is by no means easy, the rewards are there, but to reap them, you need tenacity, resilience and faith. And be prepared to work damn hard. Bring it on I say.
And watch out for our new shows coming to local TV soon!
I won’t lie, I like money. I dream of the day when I have enough money in my bank account to take care of myself, my family, and my most important charities. But I also like to know I earned my money. Only on my lazy, depressing days do I dream of winning the lottery!
I guess there is something about working hard and by using talent and knowledge to make money that makes me feel like a success. Anything other than that, well, maybe it wouldn’t be as rewarding. But of course this path is the hard way to climb the path to success. It’s littered with frustration, disappointment, and stress along the way. And there’s no roadmap that tells you how to reach your destination, no short-cut, no show way you’re going to get there. Yet when we begin the path we look forward to getting to the end-point, without knowing how or when we’ll get there.
Ok that isn’t entirely true. There is a roadmap – it’s called strategy. The problem is sometimes we don’t know how to develop that roadmap (strategy) or worse still, how to follow it.
The challenge I find in my pursuit for success and financial rewards (not necessarily the same things), is that I seek to do things that I enjoy, things that I take joy in learning about and getting better at. So sometimes I forget that I’m trying to make money too! But that’s me, I can’t imagine being in finance because I can make a lot of money that way – I’d die of boredom, quite literally.
The downside is that you can get too bogged down doing the stuff that excites you, that you’re passionate about and not make any money from it. So the challenge is to find the balance. Which brings me back to strategy.
To set out on your path, you have to know where you’re going. What is your end-goal? How will you know you’ve got there if you don’t know what it will look like, what it will feel like? Believe me this is easier said than done. Especially if you’re setting out on this course with other people. You all need to be on the same page about where you’re going, because when those detours, bumps and roadblocks come, you need to know how to stay on course and keep ‘the end in mind’.
Among my many challenges, this has been one that continues to crop up. Finding a direction that everyone agrees on. And then back to what will it look like, what will it feel like?
What I’ve realised is that when you’re in management you need to take a step back from the day to day operations, even when it is chaos on the floor, to go back to focussing on the roadmap – keeping the vision always in sight.
So while I’m back in the UK to ship the rest of my stuff (yikes, i’ve really moved for good!), I’m doing the step back thing to look at the bigger picture. The plan is to get back on track once I can figure out what success means, where the end-goal is, and sell it back to the rest of the team.
But first I’m going to watch some day time TV and eat some real junk food – aah the joys of fast food.
Reading this blog is good insight that failure can be enroute to success – don’t be scared of it!
I was shocked the other day when a client said that we couldn’t use a particular word in our communications campaign because they thought it was offensive – not that the intended audience would find it offensive, but people in their office would.
As if that wasn’t enough to annoy me, another client called me into their office for me to assure them that we would deliver a creative product for their campaign. This in itself doesn’t seem bad (though as a creative agency, it’s a bit offensive to be asked if you know how to deliver a creative product), but later that same day, I saw some other products they produced with another agency which was truly atrocious! And then my fear set in, if that’s what they thought was creative, would they approve the products we’re producing?
I also got into a little bit of a twitter rage when someone I follow retweeted something someone they follow (I assume) that basically said promotion of condoms promoted promiscuity and that’s why HIV is still spreading. I obviously said what a joke that statement was and the response that I got was that sex before marriage is dirty and immoral. Yep in 2012 someone said that to me. My response was demonizing sex is what is the problem and encouraging the spread of HIV, if you have a positive towards sex, you’re more likely to talk about it and know your options to keep your safe right? Nope, instead I was met with the morality police – when I mentioned that multiple sexual relationships, especially in marriage is a huge driving factor, there was no real response from the morality police. I guess marriage is too sacred to poo poo on.
I have been working in this industry for a long time, which is probably why my tolerance levels are getting to an all time low. I think not being completely honest and giving people the correct information in the language they understand is doing a disservice. But I guess the scary reality is that if the HIV crisis was solved today, too many people would be out of a job right?
This is one of the reasons that I want my company to focus on producing our own campaigns (kind of like the same reason why I think developing nations need to stop taking aid with strings attached) is so that we can control the messages we want to put out and deliver it in the way we know will work – because we are more of the audience than the clients are.
As far as I’m concerned a radical and different approach is needed, and it’s time that we’re all honest. This is why I’m so excited for That Shuga Moment show to air where a bunch of young people talk openly about issues such as transactional sex (some believing it’s ok if it’s for an investment benefit – i.e. college degree), or women carrying condoms (women saying honestly they don’t because they don’t want the promiscuous label attached to them) and so many things that public health people would prefer people don’t talk about.
I really hope that this new campaign we’re working on will give us that creative and editorial freedom, and hopefully we’ll see some impact – watch this space….
*I refer to programme managers, meaning public health professionals
Sometimes I feel stuck in the middle. I sort of fell into what I do because I felt we (young people, my sisters etc) could make a difference in the lives of other young people – specifically young women who were getting pregnant and kicked out of school – that archaic rule that said pregnant girls could not stay in school (despite only having sex ed in the 12th grade!). So my sisters and I coupled that desire to help educate our peers with our passion for writing – or perhaps we’d watched too much Press Gang! – and formed Youth Media, soon followed up by our first publication Trendsetters.
Soon after I learnt about the enter-educate approach – using entertainment to educate your audience. It makes sense – who doesn’t love watching an entertaining programme, or reading an interesting magazine, if you can use those channels to educate people then even better. And when you think about it, they’ve been doing this for years! I learnt a lot of what I know from TV! Law and Order has taught me loads about the legal system (even if not all of it is relevant to Zambia, but you’d be surprised how much is).
Trendsetters was set up in that way. It was a magazine that appealed to young people, dealt with their issues, but also weaved in sexual and reproductive health messages into the different articles. But it wasn’t that simple, there were other factors that made young people make the risky decisions they were making. Yes education was a large part of it, but like all people, young people take many emotional, physical, spiritual and other considerations when making a decision. A huge part that we found played a roll in the harmful decisions young people made was the lack of self-esteem. The mission of Trendsetters became to empower young people to become responsible citizens that made healthy decisions in all aspects of their life.
Trendsetters became a definitive guide for being a young person in Zambia. Since we stopped publishing it (for reasons not worth mentioning here), there has been no publication that has met the needs of young people.
I eventually moved on to work for MTV – creating TV programmes to reach young people globally with HIV prevention messages. In my eight years there we produced a TV film, a couple of drama series, talk shows, documentaries, forums etc.
It was amazing to work with some of the most creative and talented people in the world. I loved every minute of it and learnt so much from them. But what frustrated me, and to some extent the creatives as well, was the clients thinking they were the creatives and telling the producers, directors, writers etc how to do their jobs.
Funnily enough, it never happened the other way. The creatives were pretty grounded with knowing they knew what they knew but were in no way experts at developing an HIV project for young people in rural towns (as an example). I soon realised that I needed to take the middleman role – understanding both sides of the coin – unfortunately it did mean I had to sacrifice what I thought was my passion and instead manage relationships and expectations.
It does get a bit frustrating. On one hand, I do understand why the HIV programme managers wanted to ensure that all the messages were delivered correctly, there has been enough examples of mass media gone wrong. But it also kind of disrespects the creatives. They need to be left alone to do their craft and what they’re good at – creating TV programs to appeal to audiences and keep them engaged and tuned in regularly.
If you put too much of the social good stuff to a script and lose the drama, no one wants to watch a pro-social drama series. But give me ER, Law and Order, Girlfriends, Grey’s Anatomy – all popular shows that have managed to weave in social health messages. It’s about finding the balance. What I’ve seen that works is creating the stories first and then slotting in the sexual health messages. Because let’s face it, sexual health is very much a part of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not.
There is a place for the SRH programme managers and that’s as consultants. But they are not yet producers, scriptwriters or directors, so should give those experts the opportunity to do what they do, after all, they wouldn’t like it if someone less qualified that them told them what to do would they?
Until then the middlemen like myself will continue to exist, people who understand both sides of the table and ensure everyone gets what they need without frustrating the other. Or there is another way.
At Media 365 we have a process we follow to try to avoid these problems – called Blueprint 365. This is the process we follow to ensure that we know exactly what the clients what before we go and produce anything and based on what the clients tell us – so even as clients, they really need to know what they’re trying to achieve – and we develop it the best way we know how. This is why I believe in starting with the end in mind. What is it that you’re trying to do? You keep asking yourself this question at every stage of the project or programme development to make sure it’s all tying in to the end goal. The inception report that we develop outlines exactly what the key messages are, and what the process is for developing storylines, characters etc. Once these processes are signed off, we can go ahead and create the programme, giving the clients milestone moments for approval – but they also know they only have a certain number of times for feedback or they are charged for additional hours and of course we no longer guarantee the deadline will be met. The reality is that when you don’t plan properly, it is easy to change the goalposts and ultimately someone has to pay for that.
Another organisation that I admire and who definitely keeps the creatives and the programme managers separate is Hollywood Health and Society. They get all the information they need from the programme managers, or might even get in the programme managers to debrief the script writers of some of Hollywood’s biggest shows – like the ones I mentioned above – once the brief is over, the scriptwriters do their thing. The result of the debrief is only seen when the show airs. Of course this is slightly different because the development agency puts no money into the production of the show, when they are paying the production costs they do want to ensure it delivers on all the messages they paid for. But if you remember what I said in the beginning, it’s not that simple. The issues as well as humans, are much more complex than what can be told in a 44 minute programme.
Seeing the holistic picture is much more important. There is only so much a TV show is going to do, and then what? This is really where the programme managers expertise should be focused on. How do we ensure that the information learned from the TV show translates into action? What are the services to support this? If we’re telling people to get tested, where can they get tested? Are the service providers aware that there is a campaign that will push them to get tested? Is there a mechanism for the audience to find more information etc. These are not questions or issues that the scriptwriter or producer will concern themselves with – they are focussed on creating an compelling story that will make the audience think and hopefully reconsider preconceived notions. But programme managers should be thinking about these additional elements if they want their programme to be successful – and not whether the adults (who aren’t even the target audience) think that a love scene is too sexy and if a character could give a (unnatural) public service announcement in their script!
There is a way programme managers and creatives can work together in harmony and that’s by respecting each others roles and working together on the big picture. I look forward to hopefully seeing this work in 2012!
I love what I do. I really do. The ability to use creativity and mass media to promote social issues is like having your cake and eating it too, well for me it is.
I like working on productions that involve using media, be it TV, print, digital and these days I’m kinda getting into radio (ok not really, but I can see potential in it) but I also like like being able to contribute to how people can positively develop themselves and their communities, whether that’s through HIV campaigns to educating people to vote.
In the last couple of months I’ve worked on two campaigns that I’m really proud of, one that I have worked on for the last 2 years – being the Shuga campaign for MTV – they’re on set filming right now in Kenya! And since I moved back to Zambia, I’ve been working – with the Media 365 team – on a campaign targeted at men which launched a couple of weeks ago. Very exciting stuff.
But doing all that doesn’t come without it’s challenges. I have new found respect for people who have more than one job – and do all of them well. Finding the energy and time to do a good job – because it is in my nature, I refuse to give less than 100% – that becomes really taxing on your soul and your spirit. I feel like I’ve been giving so much that sometimes I don’t know whether I’m coming on going.
That said when I see the pictures from the set, or the finished products from the Zambia campaign, I feel so excited and pumped and that keeps me going. There is nothing like seeing all your hardwork come together.
When it’s not a product you own, but you’re doing something on behalf of a paying client, that’s another challenge. You understand the medium you’re using, the client, not so much. So finding the middle ground between pleasing the client and delivering a really good product that resonates with the audience is always a challenge.
We sometimes joke in the office that we should have a wall of our favourite (and sometimes ridiculous things) clients say – to save them the embarrassment and to reduce our pain. Some of these are – and thankfully with these two clients I’ve worked with this year have not said any of the below (well I wouldn’t very well diss them on my blog anyway!):
Upon seeing the first version of a recorded TV product: ‘Can you make her say blah blah blah instead?’ erm… no because she didn’t say it, we’d have to re-shoot that.
‘So will they pick the question out of a box?’ in response to giving client the reference of who wants to be a millionaire for a quiz format programme
Actually, I’ll leave the rest just in case I do decide to have that wall just for the fun of it!
You never quite do what you really want to do when you’re not paying for the product and sometimes clients don’t want to take the necessary risks to enhance the product. And that’s the price you pay when you are the supplier and not the owner.
Another challenge I’ve found – but then this has always been in my career so far, but maybe more enhanced as I am constantly being pushed – is managing different personalities. It’s not always that you get to work with people who are on the same page with you or have the same personalities that you have. And really you wouldn’t want to – that’s the beauty of diversity, it allows you to learn more about yourself as well as grow as a person, as long as you’re willing to listen and be open to acknowledging your own flaws and faults.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you feel that people are constantly picking at your flaws so you need to know when to listen and do something about it, or when to realise that sometimes people project their own issues on to you, and keep your mouth shut instead of react.
Building an empire is hard, but who said anything worth anything was easy to get? (except maybe in the relationship sense!)
I’ve spent the last week in Nairobi listening to stats on HIV there during the day – women are up to 4 times more likely to be infected than their male peers and women in their 20s disproportionately affected etc – and at night, my Kenyan family and I are hitting the bars and clubs. Bend over Thursdays as it was known, thanks to the popular song of the same title – no longer exists but doesn’t mean you can’t go to a club on Thursday night (Thursdays are the new Fridays) and not hear Bend Over come on. As soon as it does, the young women in there go crazy and bend over, and thats when you see some all out daggery that leaves your mouth open.
I get it is a dance, a sexual dance no less, but it is just dancing. Though sometimes that dancing can go a bit far. I’m not a prude at all, but as I hear the stats, I can’t help but wonder how our sexuality plays into all of this.
My issue isn’t so much that here in Africa (or is it even many parts of the world?) we, as in black people, seem to be oversexed, my issue is that we’re made to think this is a bad thing. Cultural as a woman (in many African cultures) we are told to say no to sex, we must never be seen to want sex. But at the same time, women continue to be objectified as a sexual object. Is there any wonder than rape and sexual violence continues to occur? Sometimes women not even fully understanding that they have been raped as isn’t their role to serve a man? Or the misunderstanding that occurs when men believe the no to mean a yes?
Thankfully more and more men are choosing to err on the side of caution and accept no to mean no. But this still doesn’t empower women to say yes.
I look at the sexual health messages that are put out, all about the dangers of unprotected sex – which with our HIV rates is still necessary – but no one is talking about sex as a pleasurable act, not even in healthy relationships. So you have the guilt element coming into play. What is wrong with me if I like sex? Am I a slut? Does this make me a bad woman?
I’d like to say things are changing. In Kenya, I was shocked to hear about just how ‘empowered’ women are. Women choosing to have sex when they want to and with whom, including being bisexual or bi-curious. This seems great, until I hit the clubs on Thursday night.
The sexual energy was intense – it would be if you’re dancing to Bend Over I guess – but was it a healthy one? These so-called empowered women, demanding the sex that they want are wearing outfits that made me wonder, are they really empowered or is this just a trend?
Let’s be honest, it’s one of men’s biggest fantasies to see two women at it, and who better than to feed that fantasy than women. Doesn’t it immediately make you more attractive to men if you entice them with that fantasy? So my questioning really became a matter of are women doing this because they want to and makes them happy – i.e. they are empowered – or are they doing it because it makes them more attractive to men?
Until we become absolutely confident in who we are as sexual beings and being comfortable with that, can we really, and honestly be sure about the sexual choices and decisions we make? And to support that level of security, we need the society to enable it, not by condemning sex as some moral issue, but embracing it as a healthy and positive experience, that can be enjoyed safely and responsibly.
I truly believe that once we can give young people healthy messages about sex can we then begin to see a change in our sexual behaviours – so that people aren’t hiding or feeling ashamed of their desires, but enjoying them safely. Yesterday I learnt that only 7% of young people in Zambia use condoms, there have been safe sex messages here for as long as I can remember (er over 15 years), so what isn’t working?
For now we’ll continue to see younger and younger girls doing daggery on the dancefloor and hope that’s where it stays.