Tamaria Motsepe was raised to help SA play a major part in a global society. Growing up in the shadows of apartheid death squads lent focus to her career plans during high school. Today, the innovative media whizz kid is at the forefront of the young consumer market across Africa.

Based in Johannesburg’s chic Rosebank Zone, her job is to keep the iconic independent radio station Yfm on the cutting edge of our youth culture. That takes more than shaping the image of its on-air talent and turning heads at redcarpet events. In her marketing playbook, it means keeping a brand as aspirational in the public’s mind as Armani and Moet .

“We at Y are a driving force behind many trends happening here in lifestyle and attitude,” says Motsepe. “These trends cross over from urban to rural areas and across the continent. We are no longer a radio station limited by our broadcasting licence to Gauteng. We are also hooked up via DStv and the internet and, most essentially for our credibility, by word of mouth on the street” Her own beginnings in a social revolution took place in Europe.

She was born in London, where her father, Godfrey Motsepe, took his family at the time that Nelson Mandela was jailed. Among the first African National Congress (ANC) leaders in exile, the Motsepes’ home in Camden Town was a staging point for what was to become the party’s diplomatic initiatives across the world.

“I was too young to properly appreciate what was going on back then,” says Tamaria. “But the South African network was very large and gave us a great sense of identity. I was always aware of being part of a much larger community. My parents instilled in me a commitment to a country and the liberation struggle.”

That lesson became real in 1980 when her late father was tasked to set up missions in the Benelux countries and in Paris. As the ANC’s chief representative, based in Brussels, he was hounded by agents of the PW Botha government. He survived several assassination attempts — as he later testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings—the last two in 1988. A sniper narrowly missed him through his office window and a month later Belgian police defused a 17kg bomb set to explode as he arrived at work. Two days later, his colleague, Dulcie September, was murdered in the Paris office.

“Those events did have an impact on me and changed my perspective on many things while growing up,” says Tamaria.

“Fortunately, I wasn’t at home at the time. I was 15 then, in secondary school in England, because my parents wanted their children to be educated in the O and A-level system while we commuted during the holidays to wherever my dad was based.”

Now 36, she relocated to SA in 1997 with a BA (Hons) degree, to be embraced by an extended family that included her cousin, today’s industrialist Patrice Motsepe. “My mum had passed away and my dad was then serving as high commissioner in Ghana,” she says.

“The deal had always been that I would give SA a chance. They were not going to spend their whole lives working towards liberating their country and have their children living somewhere else.”

Her flair for spotting trends in the entertainment market had emerged at varsity in Leeds, launching hip hop and R&B nights at the city’s popular Warehouse dance venue. Finding that Jozi’s kwaito generation was even hungrier to pick up on the latest hot trends, Motsepe opted to learn about marketing from a leading name in the global pop industry.

She joined Coca-Cola as the American brand launched its intensive “Hello” campaign in SA, geared towards tens of millions of emergent young consumers in the subcontinent.

“It was fortunate timing,” she says. “Southern Africa, and SA in particular, had been identified as a key market by HQ in Atlanta; I was fortunate to be mentored and trained by their top marketing and communications executives. It was, for me, almost a mini-MBA in every aspect of communications and consumer marketing.”

Her brief between 1997-2002 included Sprite’s basketball tournaments in Angola and Chicago, and Bafana Bafana’s run in the 1998 Soccer World Cup in France. Here in SA, Motsepe’s first marketing campaign in music turned the reality-TV format into a household favourite.

“Coca-Cola Popstars was a runaway hit on SABC3 in 2002 and my entree to our entertainment industry,” Motsepe says. “After five years, however, I realised I had to move outside the corporate space to develop my entrepreneurial skills. I wanted to be more hands-on with my projects.”

She made the transition without a ripple by working as a consultant on Popstars 2, and by teaming up with big-name publicist Penny Stein on tours here of am far more I interested in giving the people what they want than setting policy about how they are governed superstars Beyonce and Ja Rule.

A more profound change of lifestyle came when she fell pregnant, which led to Motsepe joining Ochre Communications, a major film and TV production company, part of the Avusa group.

“My daughter Jasmine is now five years old and her arrival brought important stability to my career development at that point,” says single mom Motsepe. “I’d turned 30, and after years of constant travelling I needed to find a media base from which I could put into play everything I’d learned about the consumer market in the 16-40 demographic.”

During three years as marketing manager at Ochre, her clients included Unilever, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, as well as TV series such as Zola 7, Gaz’lam and Mzansi. That portfolio, and her background in South African music, brought the call from Yfm in 2006.

“Joining the station as brand custodian, I expected it would take three years to get the brand to where I believed it rightly belonged,” she says. “For me, it is the barometer of trends for South African youth culture, urban and peri-urban.”

Yfm now has a 15,5% reach in the booming teen market, according to a one-off South African Advertising Research Foundation audience survey done last March. It ranks the regional station second in that listenership category between the SABC’s giant nationals, Metro FM and Ukhozi FM. Its overall daily listenership has also climbed in the past three years back to the 1,5-million mark it set a decade ago with a mix of kwaito, hip hop, hard-hitting chat shows and straight-talking phoneins on social issues.

Significantly, according to Radio Audience Measurement Survey 2006-09 figures, the station’s average household income share has also risen 53% since Motsepe’s arrival. “Any brand seeking to engage with the youth sector should by now be reviewing its strategies,” says Motsepe. “All your tools and platforms should be positioned for the sweeping changes taking place in the way it communicates. The economic downturn is not a factor, the young mindset is eager to accept risk, change and innovation.”

Her marketing plans are now fully interactive, bypassing the limitations of a regional broadcasting licence by using cellphones as an added vehicle; 80% of the public in urban centres across Africa use them. Apart from the craze for instant chatting via international sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the South African network MXit alone has 20-million visits a day.

Given this wider consumer interaction, Motsepe’s planning has shifted from the “Yfm” to the “Y”. “Digital media are vital to our growth and brand identity,” she says. “We’ve also recently introduced MobiYze, an iPhone application, which in itself reveals the upper LSMs (living standards measures) in which we are now active. With rising spending power, Y has become the conduit for diverse views across all young lifestyles in all languages.”

Tamaria’s sibling, Jackie Motsepe, developed her own marketing resume on SABC2 and SABC3 before joining the National Film and Video Foundation, managing the marketing campaign which supported the South African movie, Tsotsi, winning the Oscar for best foreign film in 2006. Jackie recently rejoined the SABC as its new head of international acquisitions.

Judging by Tamaria Motsepe’s past cycle of career change, it might be time for a new challenge. While deflecting the question, she does make clear that she has no intention of following her late father into politics.

“I never saw my dad as a politician,” she reflects. “He was a career diplomat who built his reputation in the liberation struggle. He made it clear to us when we were growing up that his job was separate from politics. “I am far more interested in giving the people what they want than setting policy about how they are governed.”

Right now, Motsepe’s vision is to be at the head of her own multinational operation in 10 years’ time. “It’s not far away, is it?” she smiles. “Let’s say I’ll be well on the way to that goal, at least”

Source: Business Day – Doug Gordon