The Entrepreneurship Issue presented by CAN DO!
Photography by Austin Malema/Pixel Kollective
Styling by Chelsea Pitt & Nkuley Masmola
Makeup by Caroline Greeff
Words by Naledi Sibisi
The decision to venture out into your own business is never a simple and straightforward task. When it comes to entrepreneurship, one has to undoubtedly build some thick skin to ensure that no bending, breaking or folding occurs when things become challenging. For Farah Fortune, the journey is no different. The PR giant and founder of one of South Africa’s leading PR firms has had one of the most inspirational and encouraging success stories in both a local and global entrepreneurial context. While she has been candid about her struggles during the course of her journey, Farah has proven that she is unbreakable in every sense of the word. Today, the publicist to the stars is a multiple award-winning businesswoman and a force to reckon with in the world of public relations.
“I’m one of six siblings; three boys and three girls between the ages of twenty-nine and forty-seven. I come from a family with a long line of strong entrepreneurial women”, she reflects. Farah Fortune, the founder and director of African Star Communications (ASC) is also the face behind many successful celebrity and corporate brands. The PR firm provides companies and celebrities with a platform to showcase their talents and services while capturing the relevant target market for them to create an income. The success of this endeavour did not land on her doorstep overnight. Farah emphasizes that the struggles linked to the starting up of her company as well as its longevity were certainly money related. “I had to become really broke to appreciate money in the manner in which I do now. I have been evicted from my home with my child, I have lived in my car and I have struggled to buy groceries while still attending events and trying to portray the image of a businesswoman”. As she looks back on the beginning of her journey, the courage and the confidence she exhibited back then is alive and well right now. Farah was determined to change her outcome; in doing so, she refused to submit to the struggles that confronted her on a daily basis. “I know how hard it is so I would never look down on anyone for doing what they must to survive. I have felt that desperation. I believe I am at this point in my life because I refuse to go back to where I came from when it comes to money. I do not ever want to live like that again and my daughter is my biggest driving force to make sure that the bills are paid and we never have to go back there”.
Through the launch of ASC, Farah successfully created a full-service PR agency upheld by an incredible team of experts. The agency customizes strategic PR campaigns to build brands and shift opinions in order to curate a different and exciting narrative for the media, consumer and ultimately, the entertainment and corporate industries. Through the use of original and unavoidable approaches, ASC has managed to get their high profile clientele slots in print publications, features on television and radio as well as increased traction on social media platforms. “We curate an audience that stretches beyond liking the celebrity or product we are endorsing. We create loyalty”, she continues, “We do so by creating a sustainable income for our client through the best possible image we can portray for them. We also provide crisis management for those ‘sticky’ situations our clients sometimes find themselves in. In a nutshell, we ‘fix’ these situations for them”.
When it comes to exactly how she branched out into her respective field and worked her way up the ladder, Farah refers back to her qualification in PR and her passion for working with people. “I always knew I was going to have a career that did not require me to be at a desk all day. There were so many challenges and triumphs. There are still challenges and triumphs just on a different level now”. Her PR career took off by working on acclaimed projects like the Oscar-winning ‘Tsotsi’. Before deciding to pursue her dreams in her personal capacity, Farah acknowledges that when she compared what she had been billing during this period in relation to her seniors; it made her aware that her deliverables did not match what she was earning. “I knew then that I was great at my job and I knew that I could do the work. I just didn’t know how hard it was to run a company at first. I had some business experience but nothing like the experience I have eleven years later. That’s for sure!” Indeed, while the challenges do not ever stop, her business mind-set is unwavering. “I started my own business purely because I got tired of having a boss and a minimal salary. I networked however I could, I went as a plus one to other people’s events. I then hustled my way into meetings and I took literally every opportunity I could find. It is all about grabbing the opportunities presented in order for you to create your own”. She reaffirms the fact that she started ASC with R1 000, her phone and a laptop. Today, the fully functional agency has built sustainable income and continues to operate productively and lucratively. It is easy to imagine that this was a daunting task to not only pull off, but to maintain. “I did every little job I could find. No matter what it was and no matter what it paid, I did it. I did it to create network opportunities as well as build relationships. Some of these relationships I still have today. My biggest fear was whether people would make use of a new unknown agency. I soon learnt that people would actually make use of our services as a new business for as long as we could deliver. I delivered the best I could then. I continue to deliver the best I can now. That is how we have retained our clients. Entrepreneurship is really about pushing consistently”.
The woman who has been credited as Africa’s most influential businesswoman in media most definitely faced additional challenges in relation to her industry. She states that while she has overcome many of them, the challenges remain the same today. “I am still a woman in a man’s world. I think the pure fact that I continued knocking on doors and refused to take no for an answer has really helped. It has been tough though; the men in the boardroom will try and sleep with you before they give you the work. As a result, I have lost out on some major projects. I have come to live with it. I would rather have the respect - I feel that it has gotten me further, otherwise I would have had to keep sleeping my way to the top and I didn’t want to”. As a word of advice, she encourages young people to be absolutely certain that entrepreneurship is what they want when they decide to take that leap. “Entrepreneurship does not mean that you will be rich. Some people in full time jobs can make more money than you. The journey of the entrepreneur is one that is heavily reliant on passion - so make sure that you are passionate about what you do”. On what she considers success, she expresses that success is subjective. In her world, she is successful because her bills are paid, the lights are on and there is food in the fridge for her child. It is inspiring to notice how the very things that could have broken Farah right at the beginning of her journey are the very things that set the standard for her. “From the time I started ASC, my definition of success has never changed; I still feel that these are the levels I aspire to. Everything else that comes with this is simply a bonus. As long as my daughter has clothes on her back and her belly is full, I am successful. My biggest strength as an entrepreneur has to be my resilience. I never give up, it may not go the way I envisioned, but I get to that end goal eventually!”
To top the wins off, Farah Fortune was recently awarded the Global Chairwoman Award at the United Nations Global Awards. The ceremony was held in association with Trinity University in Atlanta where she was introduced to the Trinity Girls Network through Dr. Jacqueline Mohair. “This was such a surprise and a highlight in my life. It introduced me to so many other phenomenal women whilst in New York and I am still in awe that I was chosen”. She goes on to get candid about one of her favourite moments during the course of her career. “I have so many career highlights but I think one of my best memories was dragging Clint Eastwood into one of our events. I literally forced myself in front of him while he was having dinner in Sandton and did the quickest introduction in my life before the management could throw me out. Luckily, he knew the brand as they were launching in South Africa but it was an American brand. He said he wanted to come but needed to finish dinner first. He actually did come to the event and asked for me personally at the door - you can imagine how star struck I was then! I walked him in and we received huge coverage from the media in attendance that night. We even received coverage in the United States. My client was so happy we ended up picking up two more events from them”. The thrill as she tells this story is a true testament to the fact that sometimes you just have to trust your better judgement and go for the opportunity in front of you as soon as it presents itself.
At the present moment, Farah is appropriately working with CAN DO! On their ‘Unbreakable’ campaign. Given her back story, it is truly something that is suited and close to her heart. “It was important for me to jump on this campaign because I have realised that so many people give up too early in anything these days, especially our youth. This instant gratification society is killing us. We need to learn, we need understanding and then everything falls into place. If you do not know the basic foundations of business, the cracks will appear when they do and in the end, you will not know how to fix them because you never took the time to learn before you started building”. She reflects back on one of her biggest fears throughout the course of her journey. Having enough revenue in order to pay salaries tops her list. “I do everything to make sure the ladies are paid first; no exceptions. I must say, it is no longer a fear but a priority now. I have gotten better with money. Because my background was not t in business but PR, I have had to learn how to be a businesswoman and not just a creative. That understanding early on in the business has helped me so much”. As someone who is trying to expand more in the digital space across the continent over the next five years, Farah understands the benefit of what kind of boost a good cash injection can add to an even better idea. “The CAN DO! Competition is a fantastic opportunity for any entrepreneur to get a cash injection as well as resources to support them through the year on top of the mentorship programme. When I started, no one wanted anything to do with people who had big dreams and no money. So trust me, this is amazing!”
For the most part, she is just grateful that she is still present and relevant within the industry eleven years after she started. “You have no idea. I remember going for a meeting when we were approximately two years old and the company I went to meet with was seven years old. I literally sat in front of this woman and stared at her in awe as she sat in her big office and had all those staff members seven years in. That was a big deal to me that a woman owned business was making it. I’ll never forget her, she gave me hope and she didn’t even know it”.
While she continues to make exceptional and inspirational strides, Farah Fortune looks forward to a future that looks more digital and more female dominated. “PR students out there, please look at the digital side of this profession. We are going into the 4th industrial revolution and you guys need to be prepared”.