Young, Gifted & Killing It: Farah Fortune
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Farah Fortune (@fcfortune), African Star Communications founder and CEO, shares with us her life journey, from being born in Cape Town and being raised in Europe to working on the Oscar-winning movie, Tsotsi, and also running a women-empowered agency in South Africa.
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Farah Fortune: I’m Farah Chirine Fortune. I was born in Cape Town, South Africa. I grew up there ’til I was six years old. We then moved to Kimberley, where most of my family are from, and left there when I was 10 to live in Brussels, Belgium. We lived in Belgium ’til I was 13 and then lived in Manchester, England, ’til the age of 25.
VN: Congratulations on the success of your company and your 11 years in the game. Tell us more about African Star Communications (ASC)?
FF: ASC was started to give women a chance in the PR industry. The industry was and still is quite male-dominated. We see women front the industry but the men still own the companies. My business is women-owned and -run. All my staff are women and we always try and use female suppliers first. We have four divisions in the company: Celeb PR, Corporate PR, Social Media and Eventing. We help companies understand their audience and speak to their consumers directly.
VN: What was it like working as a publicist for Tsotsi, South Africa’s first Oscar-winning movie?
FF: I absolutely loved working on Tsotsi. It was career-elevating for me to work on such a phenomenal movie which birthed such amazing stars. It was a great learning curve for me and taught me so much about my industry. I was challenged during that campaign and it helped me acquire the skills I needed to progress in my career.
VN: Tell us what you do and what does a typical day look like for you?
FF: I am now, 11 years later, at a different position in my company. I am now less involved in the day-to-day running of the company and more involved in bringing in new business for the company. I also am more involved in personal projects, so my day is also filled with proposals and projects aimed at those.
VN: Tell us more about your company’s future plans: what does the next five years look like?
FF: I’d love to grow the business and see my staff taking more control of the day-to-day running. Expanding into Africa is where I’d like to be; my investment interests for the business are on the continent. We are venturing into the digital side of PR currently and you’ll see our shift fully over the next two years.
VN: What are the key things you’ve learnt in your business journey that you wish you had known when you started the business?
FF: I wish I had more financial training before starting this business. I learnt so many lessons I could’ve avoided through some good advice and access to information. Some valuable lessons were learned, don’t get me wrong — I just wish I could’ve avoided most of the stress.
VN: You are a mother: what advice do you have to mothers who are balancing motherhood and running a business?
FF: Don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t”. You really can. You can do it all. You can be a mom and a businesswoman. You can travel, see the world, work, party, live… do whatever you want. Being a mom is not a life sentence to a boring life of no ambition. Balance is something you will need to learn, according to your circumstances. Motherhood will always take priority to me but I know, in order to maintain my sanity, I need ‘me’ time.
VN: What are some lessons you can share with female business owners and lessons you’ve learnt in your journey?
FF: You’re going to have to work twice as hard as any man you know. It’s not fair but it’s the reality we live in, so my advice is work smarter rather than harder. It’s ok to cry; it doesn’t make you weak but, remember, makeup is expensive, so don’t waste it. You will fail; you can start again, it really isn’t impossible. Stressful? Yes. Impossible? No.
VN: Why do you think the communications industry is struggling to transform and what do you think should be done to fast-track transformation?
FF: The communications industry seems to have a block towards 4IR [fourth industrial revolution]. They don’t seem to understand how rapidly technology is taking over in every industry. Communications needs to look at innovative ways to transform the industry before it’s reduced to social media accounts.
VN: What advice would you give someone completing their high-school education this year and looking to follow a career in the PR or creative industry?FF: Look at the digital side of the PR and creative industry. Make sure the institution you wish to study at is progressive and already adapting [its] coursework to the current technological climate. Look for good mentors, too, preferably ones who are able to guide you into your chosen profession.
VN: What do you feel is missing in the PR industry today and what should the future look like in SA and the rest of the continent?
FF: Nothing specifically is missing; however, we could do with a serious overhaul on what is taught about PR. I always feel interns are only really equipped for the admin side of PR. Africa is the last developing continent in the world; therefore, I feel we should be looking to develop industries and skills that don’t leave us. Make it lucrative for Africans to stay in Africa.
VN: What legacy do you want to leave when you retire from the industry?
FF: I want to leave the industry as a pioneer in PR — someone who paved the way for PR to be better and greater. I want people to know that being an entrepreneur is possible and very achievable. They must know you don’t need much to be great. If just one person can say I did that for them, then I’ve won at this thing called life.
VN: If you had a super power, what would you want it to be?
FF: I’d love to vanish patriarchy from someone’s entire being so we can all have a fair chance.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known?
FF: I’m a cartoon addict. I have been all my life and, at my big age, I still love it.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
FF: We’re currently working on dropping Khuli Chana’s new album and Ms Supa’s new single. We also have some exciting brand events launching soon. I’m also working on a number of personal projects which I can’t wait to launch.
VN: Brag a bit, tell us about your awards, brands you’ve worked on… don’t be shy.
FF: LOL! I’ve recently received an award from the United Nations Chairwomen’s Awards for my work within the women empowerment field. In 2014, I received an award from the Women’s World Congress in India for my work promoting women in entrepreneurship. I also received an award for being part of the Top 50 individuals, globally, for social innovation in Mauritius in 2017. That’s enough. 😊
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
FF: I am the current Chapter Leader for the Women Will project run by Google. I support a child in Zimbabwe with her schooling; have done [so] since she was in primary school; her mom is a domestic worker in SA and she’s a straight-A student. I am also working with PRIDE FACTOR for their #ConnectedYouth campaign; we are travelling around SA visiting universities to equip young people to move onto the next phase of their life, either with financial, business or other skills.
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and Loeries, APEX, Pendoring, Bookmarks and AdFocus. He is the group MD of AVATAR and co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.