Zaakirah Rossier-Philander, digital content producer at Primedia Broadcasting
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a quirky spiritual being that dwells in the physical world. I am particularly interested in the way the mind works in relation to how thoughts lead to manifestation. I love ancient wisdom, and just for fun, I love studying the law of attraction, a bit of Astrology and elements of Astrophysics.
I am a feminist at heart. I celebrate other women and their achievements and make a conscious effort to extend my arm to help pull other women up the ladder.
Helping other women advance is a show of gratitude to the women who came before me and who worked hard to pave the path that I walk today.
The day after Women's Day, it's my birthday, which makes the month so much more special for me!
I am married, we’ve been going strong for 12 years. We don’t have children but plan to have one or two once we’ve felt that our own inner child has been nurtured. Both my wife and I are academics completing part-time degrees while dedicating ourselves to our full-time careers.
You're the digital content producer at Primedia Broadcasting. Tell us more about your role here
I am a digital marketer with a talent for simplifying high level and complicated concepts into simple and concise pieces of written work - nothing short of excellence. I conduct extensive research in order to produce on-brand content for our clients, often in the form of long-form articles that support audio stories or podcasts. You could call me a bit of a generalist – I don’t believe in specialising in just one thing and continuously strive to add new things to my toolkit.
Through my client work at Primedia Broadcasting, I’ve been exposed to various sectors and have researched and written about topics, including the energy sector, agriculture and profiling trailblazers on the African continent as well as promoting the investment potential that Africa presents to the world.
You could call me a perfectionist; I pour myself into my work and strive for excellence, especially when my name is attached to it.
Can you briefly share your journey of how you entered the media industry?
When I completed my degree in journalism, I was convinced that print media would become extinct. I was studying journalism but I hadn’t curled up on the couch with a newspaper in a long time.
So, as a bright and bushy-tailed graduate, I quickly realised that I needed to carve a path for myself because my career options were limited to community newspapers and magazines at the time. I wasn’t interested in print. I was intent on working in digital media, an interest that later evolved into a passion for digital content marketing.
So, as a graduate entering the working world with no experience, I was petrified. I was lucky to be offered an internship at Health24 where I was afforded the freedom to develop my writing skills and find my passion. Within a few months in the editorial department, I developed a keen interest in the backend of the website.
Under the leadership of the project manager and developers, I was offered an opportunity to assist with the improvement of the website’s look and feel and the difficult task of search engine optimisation on Health24’s content management system.
I had identified that users were reading our articles and leaving the site immediately which set me on a mission to correct this with tangible results with SEO practices. In a short period of time, we had managed to reduce the website’s bounce rate by 15% while also driving an increase in traffic to specific centres on the website.
Needless to say, I fell in love with all things digital, but when my internship ended, I was forced to take a job in public relations before deciding to go embark on a freelance journey. While I had small clients, I managed to secure a contract with Native VML as a social media moderator for Standard Bank.
Two years later, I received a freelance contract from Primedia Broadcasting and was later offered a permanent role as a digital copywriter handling social media content creation and curation for Ster-Kinekor and Cinema Nouveau, Disaronno SA and Adidas.
After a short while, I was exposed to specialist branded content writing and produced content for podcast series such as Standard Bank’s Africa Connected, Face to Face with Success, Sanlam’s The 200-Year-Old, Solutionist Thinking with RMB, Son of a Son by Kgabo Legora, The Story of Bokaap, Wits Impacts For Good and Absa Insights to name a few.
Now, as a digital content producer – while I still write branded content, the role has given me the freedom to be more creative and has afforded me the opportunity to take ownership of growing some of our platforms, whilst still managing campaigns from start to finish.
Have you faced any challenges in the industry? If so, how did you overcome them?
I certainly have faced challenges. As a queer, spiritual, woman of colour in a male-dominated industry with colleagues who had the privilege of attending the best schools and universities, I’ve always compared myself to my peers. The comparison wasn’t a rational one but the mind works how it works.
I’ve had to become vulnerable enough to overcome imposter syndrome – a battle that a lot of women of colour in South Africa and the world are battling with. I have realised that the only way to do this, I have to acknowledge and celebrate my achievements and the value that I bring.
It wasn’t until I read Valerie Young’s The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women
that I was able to identify how patterns like perfectionism have led me to question my talent. I am still working on it… but I have finally found my voice and I’ve begun to insert and assert myself in conversations that I wasn’t particular invited to participate in.
If I'm not mistaken, you're in your third year of a Marketing Communication BA at AAA School of Advertising. With this Covid-19 pandemic, how are you managing it?
I have a demanding job that requires high-level writing with short deadlines (story of our lives, right?) When you have high standards like me, it becomes quite difficult to juggle all the stressors of life, work, studies, and a pandemic that has forced me into isolation.
When it feels like the world around me is on fire, I remind myself that it is okay to not be okay. The best that I can do is take it as it comes, observing my negative thoughts or overwhelming fears, allow them to pass and try again tomorrow.
How do you keep that balance?
If I am truly honest, finding the balance has been the hardest part. When work is trafficked through to me with short or immediate deadlines, the books start to gather dust while the campaign is being serviced. Back-to-back deadlines have left me with just a few days to complete assignments ahead of deadline. I am in awe of women who manage to work in challenging roles, study and tend to their families.
So, finding my sanity in the chaos of all of it has been my saving grace. I have an empathetic leader, Gary Oberholzer – who also happens to be my mentor and he has always managed to guide me through the chaos to help find a balance.
But to be honest, I’ll probably only be able to answer this question in retrospect someday.
Once you've completed this course, where do you foresee yourself in the future?
I am a lifelong learner and naturally curious about everything and, hope to complete a PhD before I turn 40. While I don’t hold the title of leader – I view myself as a leader and an authority in my field and, I would love to be in a people-centric position where I can add value to the lives of other women and help them reach their potential.
For anyone interested in pursuing a career in digital marketing, what advice would you share with them?
Don’t be a specialist – be a generalist.
Learn as much as you can about everything pertaining to your role and your industry.
If you’re a social media manager, it is not enough to just be able to write social media calendars, create visually appealing content and manage communities – analytics and reporting should be part of your toolkit. These days, we have social media managers and paid media specialists – as we move towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, companies will require one person to perform all those duties. So, upskill yourself.
As we celebrate Women's Month in South Africa. Do you have any words of encouragement for all the women out there?
Assert yourself – know that what you have to say is important and do not depend on validation from others to estimate your worth.
If you have an opinion to share in a meeting and a male counterpart talks over you or tries to diminish your input – find an assertive manner to address him. As women, we often allow men to dominate the conversation which causes us to keep our valuable insights to ourselves and we prefer to send our insights in an email after the meeting, work harder at not doing that.
Do not minimise yourself or your achievements in the workplace or in the world, for that matter.
Once you’ve made it up the ladder – do not succumb to queen bee syndrome. Reach down and help pull other women up to join you at the top. We are not each other’s competitors.
Empower other women and be an ally for gender equality in the workplace.