Beatrice Tonhodzayi | Outstanding Public Relations Leader (Women’s Awards 2017)

Beatrice Tonhodzayi (in the middle) | Outstanding Public Relations Leader of the year 2017 (Megafest Women’s Awards).

Communicating is my calling
There are words my Father used to say when we were growing up that keep coming back to my mind. He would ask my sisters and I; ‘how beautiful do you want to be?

This question used to come each time he returned from the office and found me and my older sisters with plaited hair. We called them mabuns when we were growing up back there in Highfield- ‘kujecha kwandakakurira. My father did not understand why I should go through the pain of hair plaiting and then suffer from a combination of headaches and nose-bleeding afterwards. He could not get it. But I wanted mabuns and would sit patiently while the plaiting took place every week or two.

As I started secondary school and mabuns graduated to ‘madreads’ and my father kept asking ‘how beautiful do you want to be? I began to realize there was a deeper meaning to his question. My father was and remains a man who believes in an education.

He always pushed my sisters and I to get good results. The same message was given to my brothers but it was more pronounced to his three daughters. To him; a woman with an education was equipped to survive. A fail in our home meant a beating. Hence once your results went below a certain level, you would cry before my Father came back from work, knowing that the encounter would not be pleasant. Thank Goodness; that never happened to me because I always got enough marks for a pass mark; at least.

How beautiful do you want to be? The essence of the question was simple. He was telling me that as far as he was concerned, I was beautiful enough. He was telling me that I did not need to do too much to make myself look a certain way. As far as he was concerned; all I needed to do was to concentrate on my studies and the rest would follow. He was telling me that it was not all about looks and I was good enough for anything I wanted to do and be.

So I decided to do both, keep trying to look pretty while studying and studying some more. I was a very outspoken child who knew that she had to either be on television or radio at some point in their life. I would recite poems at primary school and went on to sing and lead the Choir when I was in Form Six at Queen Elizabeth High School. Even then; I knew I would read the news one day or talk to the President or at least some Government Ministers; something that is quite routine in my career as a communications person now.

I was born a communicator which is why my path took me to enroll for a Mass Communications Diploma at Harare Polytechnic after my A- Levels and a Degree in Media Studies with the Zimbabwe Open University after that. God did not lead me onto TV and radio at first though. That would come later. He led me to the Zimpapers’ flagship where I started my career as a journalist, serving till I was a Senior Health Reporter and a columnist of note writing on HIV and AIDS issues.

From there I went to the NGO sector where again information and communication was my job as we disseminated information across the SADC region. I stayed for six years and left as a trainer, PR person and programmer. My first board appointment was to serve on the National AIDS Council Board as a media representative. I chaired the Public Relations Committee of the board. Public Relations just chose me.

Then Star FM came onto the scene and Zimpapers called me back. I was part of the pioneering management team at the country’s best and leading radio station; Star FM.  While there; I would produce and present certain shows especially those that touched on controversial issues that no one likes to talk about even though they like to do the stuff in secret. I then took up a Masters in Business Administration programme with MSU. I was keen to see and learn how a business is run. Administration began to call to me.

God refined me in many ways until I found myself at the helm of the Public Relations portfolio for the Zimpapers Group in the year 2016; the first time the Group ever had such as portfolio. Imagine trying to deal with internal and external communications for a listed company that employs almost 1000 people and that has interests in Digital and Publishing, Radio Broadcasting, Television Production as well as Printing and Packaging. Tough call right?

But to me it is about communication and relationships. My task is about building relationships and improving communication flows. I relish the thought of constantly relating with different stakeholders and trying to understand how and what they feel and always obsessing about how to best position a brand that I love and that has literally raised me from when I was a child to now when I am an adult.

My experiences outside the Group have helped me to look at it objectively but also to understand how people perceive the Zimpapers brand, with all the brands that are under it such as 12 newpsaper titles, two radio stations, dozens of celebrities as well as several skills sets and personalities.

Public Relations and Corporate Communications; to me are strategic functions which business leaders can only ignore at their own peril. Not knowing what people think or feel about your business is worrying. So is assuming that one way of communicating works well all the time.

I serve under the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Zimpapers Group and daily I thank God that he is a communicator who totally appreciates the importance of communication especially in a corporate as vast as Zimpapers. What we don’t know can kill us; that is why it is best to know. We only know by playing our Public Relations well and communicating effectively.
So I will keep saying what needs to be said; with a big smile and dressed to the nines while I do it. At times I may not be liked but then again; tough situations test how good your PR is.

In PR- they actually pay you to look good. I can be as beautiful as I want to be now; as I tell my Father time and again. Unofunda mukati mebhuku asi uchigeza futi!!

I love my job!!