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Corporate Storytelling

For those of you who don’t know, I LOVE LinkedIn. It is by far the most intellectually stimulating social media platform out there. And really awesome for networking.

Anyway, I was recently asked by one of my connections, Sarah Dilahlwane Makwele, to share a bit about my career journey, and I thought I’d share an excerpt with you guys here. You can read the whole interview over on her blog here

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SDM: Explain what your career field entails.

PG: I am a corporate storyteller; a specialist writer working in the public relations (PR) industry. I use the power of plain language to help increase a brand or business’s profile and visibility, and communicate their value and purpose to all stakeholders.

Without industry jargon and sloganeering, I help to establish company leaders as thought leaders, or companies as leaders in their industry; showcasing the brand’s heritage, the business’s expertise, and the legacy they want to leave.

Sharing authentic, engaging stories about how a company has impacted the lives of staff, customers, communities, and society at large is an incredibly effective way to garner positive public sentiment, and build trust.

Corporate storytelling runs the gamut from social media posts and press releases, to editorials (profile feature articles, thought leadership, op-eds), advertorials, blog posts, web copy, brochures, newsletters, company magazines, executive biographies, keynote speeches, presentations, as well as internal communications.

SDM: What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

PG: I didn’t start my writing career in the PR industry. I actually cut my teeth on magazine feature writing and newspaper journalism… Making the transition from feature writing and journalism to ghostwriting in the PR space was a little challenging, I won’t lie. Seeing a CEO or MD or some another senior executive’s byline on a piece you have conceptualised and researched and written, and watching them take full credit for what are essentially your words and ideas can be tough! But that’s the nature of the PR writing beast. You have to be prepared to check your ego at the door in order to let your client shine. That is what they’re paying you for after all.

SDM: How would you advise someone interested in your choice of career?

PG: Corporate storytelling is a specialised field of writing. It goes without saying you need to be a highly competent and versatile wordsmith; creative, detail oriented, and deadline driven, with strong copy editing, proofreading, and desk and field research skills. In my opinion, a lot of this stuff cannot be taught. It has to be learned. Which basically entails months and years of on-the-job practice. Honing your craft one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time.

I think the beauty of writing as a career is that it doesn’t have an expiry date. English as a lingua franca means that quality writing is an internationally sought-after skill, especially for clients with a global presence. And thanks to technology, more and more companies are offering remote (work from home) opportunities for full-time, salaried writers.

If you are a professional writer, you need to have a centralised web presence, somewhere for you to build your online portfolio, and showcase your growing expertise… If you don’t have your own website [like this], there are several portfolio platforms, specifically for writers, from which to choose. You could also create a portfolio (business) page on Facebook, or a publicly accessible portfolio board on Pinterest.

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New portfolio page up

As a writer, you absolutely need to build an online portfolio that showcases all your work in one, organized online destination. Imagine how hard it is for people to try and find examples of your work scattered across the Internet. Instead, they should be able to access all of your work in one destination that promotes your brand, your expertise, and who you are as a professional. This will make you more visible in search results and generate more business opportunities. Here are the portfolio platforms – specifically for writers – that will create the centralized web presence you need.

So read the advice in an article I found online. It was something I had been thinking about for quite a while already – gathering up all the bits and pieces from my very fragmented portfolio, scattered across Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn – and displaying them all in ONE place. But I hadn’t figured out where and how to do it, in order to tell my writing story the way I wanted it to be told.

So I duly went about checking out the six best portfolio platforms mentioned in the article, and eventually decided to give one of them a bash. Granted it was a free site, so probably not the best option, but the final result was visually just sooo dismal (hello, the 1990s called and they want their web page back!), that I ended up deleting the whole account and, in true Paula fashion, chose to do things my way instead.

And so now, after much brainstorming, collating, crafting, and dozens and dozens of tweaks – to get it looking and feeling just right (my husband calls me Goldilocks), I present to you my brand new Writer page, which is also now the landing page, on this website. Click here to see it!

I realised it just made so much sense to add ALL my writing experience – as both an author and a writer (yes, they are separate things – all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors), to an existing and content-rich website which, for all intents and purposes, is the online nucleus of my personal brand.

Anyway, as you will see from the collection of samples I included, my writer’s journey (separate from my author’s journey) has been a crazy and colourful one to date. As stressful as a writing career can be at times, there is honestly nothing else I’d rather be doing with my life, and I really look forward to seeing what the future holds 🙂

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When’s your next book coming out?

On Saturday I’ll be celebrating my one-year work anniversary at Meropa Communications. This little interview appeared on the company’s Facebook page today. Thought I’d take the opportunity to share it here, for you guys to get a better feel for what I actually do for a living (and hopefully explain why my second book is taking so long to finish writing!)

• Please explain your journey through Meropa?

I joined Meropa on 1 December 2017 as senior writer on a global blue-chip account. Our team of six is quite unique in the Meropa family in that we are based off-site, within an integrated ad agency which was specifically created for and is dedicated to this one client. The ad agency has a global presence, and we all eat, sleep and breathe the same brand. I have a hot desk at the Meropa office, and another one at our client’s premises, but for the most part I work in a fun and high-pressure ad agency environment. When I reflect on the past 12 months, I can’t believe how much I’ve learned, and how much I’ve improved as a writer – not just as a corporate storyteller, but across all styles of writing. I’m surrounded by interesting and inspiring people and have made some firm friends along the way. In terms of my now 18-year-long career in the greater media and communications industry, this has definitely been one of my most productive and rewarding years to date.

• What makes you a Meropian?

I am proud to work for such a well-established, ethical, and authentically African agency, with an empowered company culture, and a reputation for excellence. With an extensive and wonderfully diverse portfolio of clients, I find the scope for growth and development within the organisation very exciting.

• What do Meropians have for breakfast?

News, news, and more news. Whether it be via the radio, TV, newspapers, online, and yes, even the good old grapevine, it’s all fuel for the day ahead. Keeping abreast of topical issues and sensitivities within the societies and countries in which our clients operate is crucial to staying ahead of the curve, and producing work of relevance and value.

• What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned while being at Meropa?

Working in an integrated ad agency environment, and being exposed to all the different departments – creative, DTP, quality assurance, marketing, media, social media, client service, operations, and PR – has opened my eyes to just how many teams, individuals, and specialised skill sets it takes to run an operation of this size. I also think the value of new blood in an intergenerational workplace cannot be overstated. From what I have witnessed, Millennials are a lot savvier than we old-timers were in the equivalent early stages of our careers. And if/when we take the time to really listen to what they have to say, we’ll realise they have more to offer than we usually give them credit for.

• What has been your most memorable moment at Meropa?

In June I received the most amazing recommendation on LinkedIn from a high-ranking executive at our client’s HQ in the US, who flew out to SA for the launch of a big CSR initiative: “Paula – great to meet you last week – thanks for all your support for our event. I must say your speech writing talent is exceptional! I am very appreciative of the lengths you went to in preparing and the level of detail you included. I was super impressed. Perhaps our paths will cross again! Keep up the great work there in South Africa!” There’s not much that comes close to that warm, fuzzy feeling of one’s work being publicly acknowledged by a satisfied client.

• What’s your special skill?

Easy reading is damn hard writing. And I think the most valuable skill I bring to the table is being able to craft the most felicitous prose. I particularly enjoy writing op-eds, speeches, and human interest stories.

• Any additional comments you would like to add?

I feel like I have finally found my niche as a writer, and am incredibly grateful to Meropa for giving me the opportunity to do what I love for a living.

#FutureIsFemale #WednesdayWisdom #MeropaPride

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Winds of change

A little under a year ago I landed an amazing job as Senior PR Writer on the Meropa/Ford account. Over the past few days, my GTB colleagues and I have been coming to terms with news of “the biggest account move in advertising history”, namely Ford’s announcement of BBDO as its new lead creative agency, effective 1 November 2018.

BBDO is part of Omnicon, which is a rival group to WPP. WPP, which created GTB, is the biggest advertising conglomerate globally, and has been Ford’s lead creative agency since 1943 (JWT was acquired by WPP in 1987). Up until now, Ford has always been WPP’s flagship client, but this move signals the end of that 75-year creative partnership.

Although Ford is the second biggest automaker and the seventh largest advertiser in the USA, the company is under pressure to cut costs as profits shrink and its share price stagnates near a decade low. Ford’s current adspend is $4.1-billion globally. The move to BBDO will yield $150-million in cost savings for Ford.

It’s not only marketing that is affected. Over the next four years, Ford plans to cut $25.5-billion in cumulative costs across marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and other areas.

Fortunately WPP has retained the most profitable and faster growing parts of the business, and will continue with Ford’s media planning and buying, shopper and performance marketing, website development, CRM, and PR (which is where our Meropa/Ford team fits in).

WPP will continue with some of Ford’s advertising work in the US, Ford’s advertising operations in China, and Ford’s luxury vehicle brand Lincoln.

And Ford says it will be creating more than 100 in-house marketing positions globally.

So yeah, while the news did come as a bit of a shock to all of us, I think (pray) most of our jobs here in the GTB Johannesburg office will be safe.

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Unfortunately I’m not nearly as far along in my manuscript for Incomer as I’d like to be.

I’m still loving my PR writing job at the ad agency. But working with words for a living – eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, in a high-pressure environment – is mentally taxing. So the last thing I want to do in my downtime is write some more!

The same goes for reading. At the end of an exhausting day / week, my eyes are sooo tired from stringing together words and sentences and paragraphs, that I would far rather #NetflixAndChill than have to use my poor, over-exerted brain to read a book.

Annoyingly though, Netflix isn’t coming out with new content fast enough to satiate my voracious appetite for marathon sessions on the couch. I’m an unashamed binge-watcher. For me, very little comes close to the pleasure I get from sinking my teeth into a gritty British crime drama or Scandi noir series. Pure, unadulterated escapism! With some awesome armchair travel thrown in for good measure.

So this lack of stuff to watch has kinda forced me into reading again. Thanks to a brand new Kindle though – a 44th birthday pressie from the hubster last month – it’s making it a bit easier to get back into the swing of things.

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This is the first time I’ve ever owned an e-reader, and although I will always love traditional paper books, I really appreciate being able to change the font and increase the size of the text on this nifty little device. Plus being able to change the orientation from portrait to landscape. And being able to add notes and highlights that automatically get saved to my Goodreads page, which fellow bibliophiles can view alongside my full review. It’s bloody genius!

The personalised cover was a gift from my brother- and sister-in-law, who also engraved the stainless steel straws I asked my better half to organise as party packs for my birthday shenanigans.

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I’m not sure exactly why I decided to do something big this year (the last one was a Murder Mystery party for my 40th), but I’m glad I did! We had a long and boozy Sunday lunch with about a dozen mates at a local ‘Asian BBQ and rock ‘n roll bar’, followed by some drunken sing-a-long silliness in a karaoke pod in the restaurant’s ‘No Tell Motel’ upstairs. It was an absolute riot. And the turtle-friendly ‘Sex, Drugs, & Wok ‘n Roll’ straws in their ‘PG Rated Since 1974’ bags were a hit!

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So anyway, the very first ebook I bought on Amazon – on my birthday – was Lol Tolhurst’s memoir ‘Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys’.

This was a title that had been sitting on my ‘Want to Read’ shelf ever since I first heard about it almost two years ago – from a friend of mine, who’s a musician, and also a Cure fan. (Many of my most instant and enduring friendships – some of them going back almost three decades – were forged on a mutual love of the band.) ‘Cured’ was published in September 2016, less than four months after I released Umbilicus.

Then, just five days after starting Lol’s story, news broke that The Cure would be visiting South Africa – for the very first time in their 40-year career – and it honestly felt like all my Christmases had come at once!

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It’ll have been almost 23 years since the partner-in-crime and I – aged all of 20 and 21 respectively – first saw the band play. It was at Earl’s Court on 1 June 1996, when we were living in London on a two-year working holiday visa. It was an event of such significance in my young life (the first time I experienced Stendhal syndrome), that I am dedicating a full scene to it in Incomer.

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The protagonist in my autobiographical trilogy (Umbilicus, Incomer, Premature) is Charlotte van Katwijk. Her first name was inspired by The Cure’s 1981 song Charlotte Sometimes, which in turn took its name, and theme, from a 1969 novel by Penelope Farmer. And her surname pays homage to a very close friend of mine who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 27, just a few months after my wedding. She was engaged at the time, and her married name would’ve been van Katwijk. (She will actually be a supporting character in Premature.)

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Whilst doing research for Incomer a while ago, I came across this amazing blog post by Penelope Farmer aka Granny P. She describes the night in 1996, 27 years after her book’s release, and 15 years after The Cure’s song release, when she (and her niece Charlotte) finally got a chance to meet Robert Smith backstage. And get this – it was at the exact same venue, just one night before we saw them play! 

The upcoming concert in Jozi happens to fall three days after my better half and I celebrate our quarter-century anniversary (we’ve been married since June 2005, but have been an item since March 1994). So you’d better believe that these two old-timers are gonna make a whole dirty rock ‘n roll weekend of it!

I have a feeling we’re going to bump into a lot of old faces who will be crawling out of the woodwork for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the band play on home soil. (Robert Smith will be turning 60 just 5 weeks after this gig, and I’m quite sure they won’t be doing another world tour anytime soon.)

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Anyway, I know I don’t blog here nearly as often as I probably should. But hopefully the occasional plus-size post like this one makes up somewhat for my extended periods of absence in between!

If you’re interested in following my everyday adventures in pictures, you’ll find me keeping a ‘public photo journal’ of sorts over on Instagram.

Thanks for visiting! Love you long time. x

Charlotte Sometimes

I’ve been invited to do an author talk and book signing at ‘The Art of Goth’, a first-of-its-kind event in South Africa, in celebration of #WorldGothDay.

As a self-professed ‘old skool goth’, I was super excited to see an initiative like this happening on home soil.

The main objective of the event is to raise public awareness of the much-maligned and misunderstood goth sub-culture (not directly related to the Gothic art and architecture of the Middle Ages, nor the marauding Goth tribes of the 5th Century – just in case you were wondering). And to highlight the enduring impact of a once-underground scene on contemporary mainstream society – across literature, music, fashion, film, visual art, performance art, and entertainment.

Because Umbilicus is an autobiographical novel, and the protagonist Charlotte is based on the 21-year-old me, I deliberately wove in lots of little details about my lived experience as a self-identified young goth back in the early-to-mid-90s. My journey didn’t end there though. And in my talk, I will explore how the goth sub-culture continued to influence and shape my life over the following two-and-a-half decades, right up to the present day.

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When it comes to venues, this is definitely one to write home about. ‘The Art of Goth’ is being hosted at Melrose House, a beautiful (and purportedly haunted) Victorian mansion in Pretoria, built in 1886.

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Festivities will include guest speakers, a high tea, Victorian-style games, and stalls selling wares catering to those of us with a penchant for the dark and unusual.

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A quick heads up!

One week from now I will be returning to work full-time.

Yip, as much as I have loved freelancing (working from home in my PJs) these past few years, it’s time.

The small human has settled nicely into primary school (he starts Grade 2 in January), and my father-in-law (who came to live with us after my mom-in-law passed away) has given us the support structure we lacked before. He will take over all my weekday mommy duties, in return for room and board.

I’m really looking forward to getting back in the saddle (fully clothed), and earning a proper monthly salary again. Being skint all the time sucks balls.

OK, so what does the job entail? It’s a little complicated, so bear with me…

Ford Motor Company has its very own advertising and public relations company called Global Team Blue (GTB), with offices on six continents. GTB (rebranded from Team Detroit in 2016) is a subsidiary of WPP, a huge British multinational advertising and PR company, with its main management office in London.

In South Africa, Meropa Communications is the agency that services the PR division of GTB, and I have been hired as a Senior PR Writer on the Meropa/Ford account. Although employed by Meropa (in Sandton), I will work mainly at GTB (in Bryanston). I will also have a hot desk at Ford SA’s vehicle assembly plant (in Silverton, east of Pretoria). Basically, I will eat, sleep, and breathe the Ford brand.

As you can see, I am going to be a VERY busy little bee, so my Incomer manuscript will be going on the back burner with immediate effect. I need to focus on this truly amazing career opportunity the Universe has bestowed upon me, and give it all I’ve got!

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