She spent nearly 10 years as Cricket South Africa’s Media Manager, with plenty of time out on tour with the Proteas, before that came to an end in August 2019, when Lerato Malekutu went about setting up her own shop in the sports PR and communications space.
Q: How would you describe your work life since leaving Cricket South Africa?
A: Interesting! When I resigned, I wanted to expand my career horizons by opening myself up to do a lot of different things that I am passionate about. There have been challenges and it didn’t help that Covid put a stop to some of my plans of working on overseas projects, but that allowed me to really open up my mind to the possibilities out there. The work life ebbs and flows, some months are manic, where I find myself working 24/7 through weekends too, and some months are quiet, giving me the space and opportunity to regroup and refill the energy levels. I really wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s challenging to navigate the ‘how’ of moving on when you have been in the same environment doing the same things for so long, especially because I didn’t want to work in corporate. It took me a while to find my feet and I gave myself a six-month sabbatical to figure things out. I think I’ve figured things out.
Q: What were some of your learnings from your nine years with CSA?
A: The big learning for me, and this was from the close people around me, was taking accountability. Whether that is from the players and coaches, me in my workspace, or the leaders at the top. Working in a high-performing team environment leaves no space to hide and if you are a leader in your area of expertise you will get found out if you don’t take responsibility when it’s due. Actions have consequences and it’s so important to be bold enough to own up, even when it’s tough. That is how you gain respect. Secondly, go with the flow. When I first started, I would take the negative publicity around the team and the organisation personally – as if I was the one going out to bat – and it was unsustainable. The nature of sport is that it does ebb and flow, you will win, and you will lose. That has helped me in life too, giving me perspective about letting only the things that I can control affect me.
Q: Do you have a view on the governance challenges CSA has endured over the past couple of years?
A: It’s disappointing to see a game we all love being thrown into such disrepute. We need leaders who are going to put the best interests of the game ahead of any ego or hidden or personal agendas. I’m hopeful that CSA will turn things around.
Q: Who are your current clients?
A: My niche is sports PR and communications and I have been very fortunate to work with some impactful and game-changing clients in the industry, ranging from tech start-ups to awards events, athlete management and broadcast streaming services.
Q: Can you give us some insight into what working with Roc Nation Sports has been like, and how the Americans approach PR and comms?
A: It has been a rollercoaster ride and one of the most eye-opening experiences of my career. The president, Michael Yormark, is one of the most passionate and hardworking people I know, as are the staff who head up the business. What Roc Nation does is bring a full 360 service to their clients. There are subject matter experts in the areas of commercial, strategy, PR and brand, digital/social and philanthropy, all at the service of the players. The most important core is story-telling; an inspiring story is an inspiring story, and it doesn’t matter what country you live in or what sport you follow. Their mission is about championing the man, not the player. Players have short shelf lives, but the story can live on for years. That is also what brands want, authentic and relevant stories that their target market can relate to. It has been a brilliant experience being a part of their team and growing their business in Africa.
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Q: What’s it been like, setting up your own PR business, and what have been your greatest challenges?
A: Nobody ever really gives you the manual of starting your own business, it’s always trial and error as you navigate what works and what doesn’t work for you. Initially I suffered from the ‘imposter syndrome’, the usual doubts about your skill, expertise and achievements. I had planned to work at a few major sporting events, but Covid-19 put a stop to everything, so I had to pivot and find a different business model that could accommodate our current world environment. Needless to say, I believe I have found a formula that has really benefitted my home and work environment.
Q: What’s your view on ‘content’ and the role you believe it should play in any PR and comms strategy?
A: Content is king! The pandemic has given consumers a lot of power, and has rightfully challenged brands to be more intentional, authentic and creative about the way they communicate with the consumer. Some traditional PR platforms have moved to the back of the queue, with content taking the centre stage of most PR and comms campaigns. PR is about the relationship with the consumer and the brand, and at a time when the most eyeballs are online, it has become fundamental for the content offering to take precedence as the most engaging platform to communicate with the consumer.
Q: Is it fair to assume you’re working from home, and if so, how different has that been to working in a ‘team’ environment such as CSA?
A: I’ve spent most of my working life working in remote areas, from hotel rooms to change rooms, airports and even on the bus. I’m used to the remote lifestyle and haven’t really been too dependent on the office life. The freelance work-from-home life suits me well, because it’s something I’ve been doing for many years. I’ll admit that I do miss the banter and story-telling. I used to love listening to the ‘what happens on tour stays on tour’ stories.
Q: What does your daily routine look like? Early mornings or late nights?
A: I am 100% a night owl. I find I am more creative and I’m able to focus more as the day progresses, and some of my best ideas come at 1am. Early mornings are challenging for me. Besides catching up on sleep, I like to take my time starting the day with reading, gym, having some tea and easing into the day. It’s not always the case, but where I can I make sure my day starts as late as possible.
Q: How do you cope with stress and how do you unwind?
A: It’s taken me a while learning how to deal with stress as a lone soldier. Before, I had a whole team of 25 people to vent to and to offer a listening ear. Now I only have my mother and four walls. I’ve learnt that switching off for a while helps; reading a book for 20 minutes or watching 20 minutes of The Office. It doesn’t necessarily erase the cause of the stress, but it gives me motivation to go again and to find better solutions to solve the problem. Reading is my biggest escape tool, I’m a Kindle lady, so I am always switching between genres depending on my mood. I probably averaged a book a week during heavy lockdown last year and that habit has stuck. It’s the only way to give my mind a break.