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I’ve been reading a lot across social media platforms around Zambians (specifically) talking about not doing work for free.   I read it with keen interest.

As a person who has had to pay for services of another person, and have also had to charge out my services, I hasten to caution that the not working for free does not apply across the board. I’m a strong believer in knowing your worth, therefore you know when and how much to charge out your time to, but don’t have an exaggerated belief in your worth.   This blog is more for people coming up in the industry, still wet behind the ears, as opposed to those established as I feel the ones coming up are feeling they are established out of the gate.

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So before you refuse any zero paying jobs, consider these points:

Is It Really Not Paying?

Money is not the only currency for success. Sometimes you do things in order to get exposure, network or add to the portfolio. All of which will make you make more money, or gain more skills, which will make you earn more money. So it still comes back to money.

I’m always eager to learn and try new things. Sometimes this means that I don’t get paid for it, but then I have it under my belt and next time round I can charge for it. So I look for the ‘what’s in it for me’ before I say no, and equally before I say yes.

Sometimes I take on projects that don’t pay me because I want an opportunity to work with a key person, a cool creative collaboration with like minded people, or to network, or it’s a charity I believe in, or because it just seems like an awesome project! But I ensure I’m still working with people who appreciate the value I’m bringing and not just exploiting me.

Know Your Worth

The great thing about living in a global world is that anyone can hire anyone regardless of location. The problem with that is that you’re no longer competing with just people in your locale, or your borders only but people everywhere in the world.

So when you’ve taught yourself how to use photoshop, or how to shoot videos via youtube masterclasses (not hating, there are some good tutorials out there), your skillset will still not be as great as those who went to school for three years to learn.   But yet you’ll want to charge the same rates? True story, I have encountered this a couple of times in Zambia – I remember a Zambian DOP asking for the same daily rate as the guy who shoots with Spike Lee! I couldn’t believe it, ‘You’re having a laugh mate!’ Of course flying him in and paying his accommodation and per diem adds up, but the result of the product would still be night and day.

Before you demand your fee, make sure you’re worth it – and not just in your head, but from your body of work and your skillset. In the same regard, don’t underprice yourself, just know what you’re bringing to the table – what is your value add? You might be expensive in one area but your knowledge, or skill might save the client money in other areas, and not because you’re just greedy.  And always remember to be professional.

Know Why You Do What You Do

We hear it all the time: you need to love what you do so you’ll never work a day in your life. And we also hear ‘ultimately you have to pay the bills’.

I think you need balance. I believe when you love what you do, you seek out opportunities to be better, to grow. When you are better, ideally the best, the money comes. How will you ever be the best without practice, without seeking out new ways of doing things, without exposure? And trust me, just because your five friends tell you you’re the best, that doesn’t mean ish. Awards too are great – definitely a move in the right direction, but again, doesn’t mean much, unless it’s from a super respected and noted body. Being on lists is also a move in the right direction, again note who is the author of the list.   And they all add up.

You know you’re the best when not only do people seek you our, but actually you’re in the position where you can control doing things for ‘free’ because you make enough money to choose to do what you love, and to give back to those who need you to do it for free, or reduced cost.

However, what is paramount to all of this, is clients who can afford to pay you, must pay you, regardless of what your thinking around doing work for free is.   There is a difference between being exploited and someone genuinely not able to afford you and needing your help. And don’t sour a relationship just for a few Kwachas, there’s always give and take, who knows where you’ll be tomorrow, who will be willing to help you, and who will be waiting to push you down. Though people who know your worth, will also understand your position – ultimately free doesn’t pay bills.

One of the things that I really used to admire about my former boss’ boss, was his ability to see things from the audience perspective. It wasn’t about whether he liked or understood the product but whether it would resonate with the audience. And he trusted the teams he had to know the product and to know the audience. It worked. It kept the brand in the top 4 of global brands.

Now that I’m in the business of delivering creative solutions to clients trying to reach their audiences, it shocks me how few businesses think about their audience but think about themselves. I’ve met clients who market their products, that are targeted to people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, with billboards in Kabulonga. Or other businesses that base creative designed on their own personal preferences. It becomes less about the brand and the product and more about them, and perhaps how they look to their peers.

In all my experience – and that of all the industry leaders who I’ve read about – the beginning of success is with knowing your audience. From a deep understanding of your audience can you know what they need and what they want, and then deliver it successfully to them. Perhaps if you yourself are your target audience, then maybe your personal wants and insights are indeed useful, but if you’re not, then it’s really not about you.

It is definitely a hard thing to do – to put the needs of others above your own – but that’s why having a marketing team or agency that understands your brand and your audience is paramount.

Another example I often face is when we’re editing a video for a client. Despite them filling in the creative brief and outlining the objectives of the video, the audience it’s supposed to reach etc, when it comes to the first offline, and the first chance they get to edit it, it’s like they forget their brief and their audience! Sometimes this can be seen when the team reviewing the materials have very different opinions on the direction of the creative or the edit changes. That’s when you should know that somewhere along the line, someone is not in tune with the audience or the objective of the creative.

I find whenever I’m coming up with a concept, and following it through, I have to pause several times to ask myself if this is right for the audience. Having a litmus person or group also helps, I can check in with them if we’re going in the right direction.

Of course the problem with the focus groups, or litmus person is that you have to make sure they don’t feel the need to tell you what they think you want to here. In this regard, this is probably why Media 365’s immersion process is so useful. It’s partly based on observational research. Rather than asking people specific questions, watching their behavior, how they interact with things and their products.

Even sometimes that’s why listening can be more useful than talking. I remember once, during all the election campaigning and the candidates kept talking about their agriculture promise being about paying the farmers on time, my aunt from the village in Lundazi scoffed and said while that was important, even just having a place to store their grains was important. Turned out that they lost a lot of their harvest because the nearest distribution point was too far for them to get to.

It was another aha moment for me. While the papers were reporting about the farmers complaining about late payments, no one was talking about any other problems the farmers were facing, so it became an easy campaign promise to jack, without talking to any farmers. I’m not saying the presidential candidates didn’t do their research but perhaps they chose the ones that made more sense in the media, than to the voting farmers.

It reminds me of another story about a man who tried to sell me a bicycle (don’t ask), the thing was he sold me on the benefits, but couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t buy the bicycle. That’s because he never even asked me if I knew how to ride a bike – which I don’t (don’t judge me).

I fight a lot with my clients – I do because I’m passionate about my work and delivering a good product – on seeing things from their audience’s point of view (I’d also like to win some awards in the process, but that’s another story!). Sometimes the client will listen when I point to the data, but sometimes they’ll ignore it in favor of pleasing their MD – this is probably also because they have yet to convince their MD that when marketing works, it does translate into sales and therefore your profitability.

When your business is up and coming, it’s probably even more important to understand your audience as you develop products and services for them. But as you grow, it’s equally important not to lose sight of who they are. Not knowing your audience and how to reach them will ultimately cost you financially and give your competitor an advantage over you.

They say you’re only as good as your last success, so as we get close to wrapping the shoot of Love Games and it’s subsequent broadcast date of July 17th, I think, what next?

court set up

It could also be my insatiable desire for successes that never allows me to be complacent, and to be constantly challenging myself regarding what to do next.

Love Games has been a great run – if you’re a regular reader of my blog, or avid follower on twitter, you’ll know that it came not without it’s own challenges. Challenges that cost us – economically, as well as spiritually! It also allowed us to see people’s true colours – really in business not everyone is your friend despite what you think! But we learned, and season two has gone far more smoothly, and while we’re still over budget, it’s not ridiculously over budget – it’s a much more expected and manageable (in theory) amount. While I’m happy with the way it looks, I wonder how the audience will feel about it, it’s such a different feel to it. But I’m proud of it, so guess that’s more important.

Back to my ‘what next’ dilemma. Sometimes in life you have to give up this to move ahead. In our case that means downsizing. Perhaps we did it too early anyway. There’s a lot of lessons learnt in running your own business, it’s not all glamourous, it’s a lot of late nights, hardwork, and huge responsibilities – not only to ensuring that you meet your legal obligations but also taking care of your staff. I recall someone visiting the office and saying that the way the boss sleeps, is different from the employees. And it’s so true I’m sure. Our stresses are definitely different.

So all these considerations are necessary when making the decision of what to do next. But in life, as my better half says, ‘courage is doing what you are scared of’. We operate in a state of fear of the unknown, sometimes crippling us to make decisions and incapacity to actually move.

The problem is that you don’t know what the outcome will be, until you try. I feel like I’m coming full circle – back to the beginning – which is scary. But I’ve learnt a lot of lessons, which will help me build an even more successful brand, as scary as it is, you have to dust yourself up and keep it moving, what do you have to lose?

I am looking forward to make next step, even if on the surface it looks like a step back, as it should put me a position to take a giant leap forward! I can’t be afraid of the future, and I can only look back to reflect on lessons learnt but not dwell on it.

Wish me luck and I’ll keep you posted!

Often times people use the phrase ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’. That might have worked years ago, but today I think business is personal. It certainly is in my world. Deals are made or broken not just by the financial gains but by the personal relationships we have with people.

I do think that people forget about the social capital – the social relationships/interactions that provide productive or economic benefits. We burn bridges without even thinking about it.

Working on this production – a 26 part drama series – has really shown me a lot about the nature of people. People I can trust, people who have my back and those who don’t. When it comes to business you don’t necessarily have to like everyone, but you should be able to recognise the economic benefits people provide. Sometimes the money today is not what you expect, but always look to the future, remembering that a bird in hand is better than two in the bushes.

As a business we remember how coming up not that many people supported us – saying we were too young to be taken seriously. And as a young person today, these prejudices still exist. But we believe in young people, we believe in supporting people that are trying to come up – after all, isn’t it how it’s supposed to be done? We must always be helping those coming up as we pave the way forward?

We have supported a lot of young businesses coming up, often giving them contracts that others aren’t comfortable giving them, and as an ethical business we have never done this with an expectation of something in return. At least not anything tangible. A little appreciation would be nice.

On this production it’s been clear that there really are no friends in business (in these people’s case) and that sometimes it’s even better to work with your enemies – no surprises when they backstab or betray you.

You do have to find a way to distance yourself and perhaps not invest so much in a project, which is hard when you are so passionate or want to deliver the best product possible.

The last month has been filled with tears, sleepless nights, anger, and the frustration that just keeps you silent, when the fight gets too much. But I am resilient, I don’t give up easily, can’t really afford to.

And like Maya Angelou said, ‘Still I Rise’.

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….

The last week has been an interesting week for me. I have spent the last two years working on this project and finally seeing it come together … well to be honest, I didn’t appreciate it until the last minute. You spend so much time working on something, being one of the people behind the scenes, putting out fires, trying to get your point across, accommodating views that you don’t really agree with, it is in essence a thankless job. But I wouldn’t have traded it for the job that would have had my name in the headlines, because I do what I do because I love it, and I’m good at it. Maybe I’m also not really the person who likes being the center of attention. Sometimes I do get frustrated that people have no idea who I am, or what I do, and treat me like some insignificant person. Then I realise that it’s always more important to focus on the positive and knowing my end-goal.

Even when I worked at MTV, I was never the one to be at the parties, trying to meet the celebrities, I was in the office trying to get to the next level on my career trajectory. And maybe it’s my age and experience, but I was from the school that only you can be responsible for your own opportunities, no one was going to do it for you, but hard-work, luck and your social networks could take you wherever you wanted to go. Doing the opposite could also have the opposite effect, but only you can make that decision for yourself. This last week showed me that not everyone feels that way.

This last week I have met some people who have had the most wonderful opportunity, it wasn’t all roses, there were some unforseen thorns in this opportunity, but rather than turning the lemons into lemonade, they focussed on the lemons in their hands, without a clue of what to do with them. I found myself getting mad at first, and then offering my words of wisdom, but hold on, who am I? Their fairy Godmother?

I do find myself often in this situation giving people advice – probably because of my beliefs (stated above) and also the fact that I do think we should be helping bring each other up – the pie is big enough for all of us, no need to have crabs in a barrel syndrome. However, at some point I did get a bit irritated, because these people had come to me with some disrespect (in my opinion), yet I swallowed it and was the bigger person. In my mind, I’ve made up my mind about those people, and while I won’t share it, I know where I stand with it. Never underestimate the power of your social capital.

But on a good note, I made some great connections. Again, I focused on where I want to see my career and the things I believe in, and I met some really talented amazing people. We talked and we share similar beliefs for the future of creatives in Africa. I’m looking forward to finally working with them on some of my Zambia projects. 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!