As Brand South Africa’s Country Head for the UK, Pumela Salela (PS) is the custodian of her country’s brand and reputation, and her role is to market South Africa in the UK, attract foreign direct investment to South Africa, and mobilise Global South Africans (GSA) abroad. We spoke to her to find out more about her background and her work in promoting Brand South Africa.
ADM: We know you as Brand South Africa’s Country Head for the UK, but who is the woman behind the profile – who is Pumela Salela?
PS: I am an African first and foremost. A Believer. And a descendant of the Salela (Mpophoma) and Magula (Fuzile) families. I was born in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, the same province that Nelson Mandela was born in. He is my inspiration. I consider myself a free-spirited person who likes to travel, meet new people, and experience different cultures. I have travelled to about 34 African countries and have a vision of travelling to all 54, so I am left with 20 now! I like art and beauty and consider myself creative. I am a wife to a loving husband and a daughter of the Most High God.
ADM: What’s your professional background and what led you to become involved with Brand South Africa?
PS: Let me start with what led me to be involved with Brand South Africa. In 2003 I was awarded the Nelson Mandela Scholarship to study for an MBA in the UK. As Nelson Mandela handed the scholarship to each one of us he said: “You are my ambassador, you carry my name”. From the day Tata Madiba shook my hand I changed. I decided that whatever I will do in life will be for the promotion of my beloved country, South Africa. I completed my studies in the UK in 2004. As I left the country to go back to South Africa, I spoke to the land and the seas to say that “I will be back” and when I come back I will be representing my country. Fate had it that an advertisement was put in the national newspaper for this role in 2014 (10 years later!).
I applied and told the panellists that it was my life-long dream to do this job. I saw it as a purpose – a calling more than a role to fill. I went through a gruesome six months’ selection process and was selected by the Grace of God. I commenced my duties in the UK in March 2015, and will be in this role for a period of five years until 31 January 2020.
Professionally, I cut my teeth in the Media and Broadcasting space in South Africa, having worked for both print and electronic media (Unitra Community Radio, Network Radio Services, SABC (5fm Music Radio) and Media 24 (Fairlady Magazine). I later moved on ton core marketing through Unilever working on Lux and Dove brands. It was then that I was head-hunted to go and work for Trade and Investment South Africa (TISA), doing investment promotion.
My role involved travelling around the world trying to lure investors to invest in South Africa. Thereafter I wanted to understand policy-making, so I moved into the policy-making division of the Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa. I was appointed a director, leading South Africa’s development of the Business Process Outsourcing & Offshoring sector.
I worked very closely with the industry. The World Bank in Washington saw the achievements we attained in South Africa and gave me an opportunity to work with them in Washington DC as a Consultant in ICT-Enabled Services. From there I moved back to South Africa and served as a Chief Director in the Department of Economic Development. It was then that I came across the opportunity to work for Brand South Africa in the role of UK Country Head.
ADM: What is Brand South Africa all about and what is its mission?
PS: Brand South Africa aims to develop and implement proactive and coordinated marketing, communication and reputation management strategies for the country.
ADM: The concept of countries as brands is controversial territory in the field of marketing, with some views being very adamant that countries are countries, they’re not brands. What do you say to that?
PS: There is a theoretical point of reference to Nation Branding. Simon Anholt developed the Nation Brand Hexagon which countries use to measure their performance on a global scale in what is called a Nation Brand Index. The pillars for the Hexagon are Tourism, Exports, Governance, Investment and Immigration, Culture and Heritage and People.
ADM: Managing messages about a country, which come from a multiplicity of sources including powerful global media, sounds like an impossible task. Did you ever feel daunted by the task before you?
PS: Brand South Africa was established in August 2002 to help create a positive and compelling brand image for South Africa. At that time, the world was unsure about what to think of South Africa, with many different messages being sent out by various sources. This did very little to build the country’s brand and it was evident that to attract tourism and investment there was a need to co-ordinate marketing initiatives to make them more effective.
This led to the creation of Brand South Africa, whose main objective is the marketing of South Africa through the Brand South Africa campaign. There are many benefits to having a consolidated brand image, with the most important being that a consistent Brand South Africa message creates strategic advantages in terms of trade and tourism for the country in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
ADM: Can you tell us more about Brand South Africa’s campaign approach and how you have tackled some of the most problematic issues that affect tourism and investment into South Africa?
PS: We have a Team South Africa approach to the UK market where Brand South Africa works with all the entities that represent South Africa in the UK to ensure that we tackle problems together and speak with one voice. These include South African Tourism, South African Airways, Wines of South Africa, Department of Trade and Industry and the South African High Commission, among others.
ADM: The 2010 FIFA World Cup was by far the biggest marketing opportunity South Africa has ever had. With global attention trained on you, what did you do as Brand South Africa to leverage this event to maximise the benefit to your country?
PS: Independent research indicates that South Africa’s strength lies in its people. The World Cup was an opportunity to showcase the hospitality of the people of South Africa. It was also an opportunity to showcase how advanced South Africa is from an infrastructure point of view. The stadia built in each province were world-class. Most importantly, it was an opportunity for South Africa to showcase its scenic beauty and world-class cuisine that comes at a fraction of international prices.
ADM: As head of Brand South Africa in the UK, what does your role entail?
My role is two-fold: One is to position South Africa as a globally competitive nation where we highlight the opportunities that are available in South Africa. We encourage investors to consider South Africa as an investment destination. We also encourage collaboration between the UK and South Africa from sectors of the economy to soft issues such as culture. The second part of my role is to mobilise South Africans in the UK to be brand ambassadors for South Africa as they may be the only point of contact with the country for those who do not know it. We also have a Play Your Part campaign where we encourage South Africans abroad to plough back in South Africa whether it is through their skills, resources or the gift of their time.
ADM: Do you feel that the longstanding relations between the UK and South Africa make it easier to promote British tourism and investment to your country?
PS: Yes, they do. There are what we call ‘Friends of South Africa’. These are the people who helped us during the fight against Apartheid. They remain loyal to the cause of South Africa and wish to see South Africa thrive.
ADM: Please tell us a bit more about how you engage with the South African Diaspora in the UK and how that experience has been?
PS: We utilise any opportunity to engage with the African Diaspora, either as individuals or organisations. We have had roundtable discussions with South Africa Diaspora United, AFFORD, Africa 2.0, among others. We also celebrate national days of significance with the South African Diaspora. Where there is an issue that affects the African continent as a whole or South Africa specifically, we create themed discussions in order to tackle the issue at hand, solicit solutions and feed them back to South Africa.
ADM: Africans in the diaspora have significant advantages in terms of access to capital, professional and business networks, and transferrable knowledge systems at their disposal. What would you say to those who are seeking ways to impact the development of Africa and would like to be directly involved in the continent’s development journey?
PS: The biggest challenge facing Africans in the continent is lack of access, to technologies, to capital, research. While they may be positively disposed to the need for development, these challenges impede the actual delivery.
For the Africans in the Diaspora, it is important to have a dream of a prosperous Africa, an Africa that realises its potential given the wealth potential in trade, commodities, and so on. Those Africans in the diaspora could do well in ensuring that they keep active links with their motherland, continue to scout for opportunities and use their presence in the UK to find partners to assist in realising those opportunities. They are the perfect link. I also wish to encourage Africans in the Diaspora to be social entrepreneurs, wherein they utilise their experiences in the Diaspora to identify social problems back home. As they come up with innovative solutions to address the problems, they can in turn make profits while solving social problems – ‘Doing Business whilst Doing Good’.
ADM: Lastly, what can we expect from you and Brand South Africa over the next couple of years?
PS: Brand South Africa will continue to position South Africa and promote The South Africa – UK linkages. Brand South Africa is the brand that asserts Africa and South Africa’s interests in the UK.