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Award-winning presenter Zanele Potelwa’s top tips on personal branding

At the start of her career, Zanele Potelwa was told her brand wasn’t suitable for the entertainment industry. Well, look at her now!

22 March 2024 | By Wanita Nicol

With her effervescent personality, bold style, and impressive CV, Zanele Potelwa was clearly born for the entertainment industry. Yet, early on in her career, she was told her personal brand wasn’t the right fit.

As bizarre as that may seem now, Zanele agrees with the assessment. “Back then I didn’t have a brand,” says the 30-year-old. “I was a normal, early-20s young girl from East London, living in Pretoria. They said, ‘we’ve seen this. Nothing about you sticks out.’” 

Zanele decided to view the criticism as a lesson. “It was disheartening for me, but I picked myself up,” she says. “Now I can say to someone else that your personal brand is something you figure out along the way.”  

Fashion and beauty certainly play a big role in Zanele’s brand nowadays. Here are some of the other brand elements she’s picked up along the way...

Positive vibes only

"Joy and energy play a big part of my brand,” says Zanele. It comes across in her effervescent personality, but also in the work she does through the Zanele Potelwa Foundation. “I think it’s our duty as people who can look after ourselves, to help those who need a hand,” she says. “I grew up around people who were always helping. My mom helped people and my sister was part of Interact at school – and I always wanted to be like my sister! I want to be remembered for helping people and always leading with love. You don’t have to be a bad person to succeed.”

Hard work pays off

“Hard work is part of my brand,” says Zanele. She has put in the hours for everything she has achieved – literally. She’s often awake at 4am and working late into the night. Zanele was studying a BCom in economics when she landed her first job in broadcasting and, while it’s led to a successful career in entertainment, it irks her that she didn’t finish her degree. “I’m still going to finish my degree – it will be slow and steady,” she says. 

Traditional media still has its place

“It’s not always the case for people my age, but while I enjoy social media, I have an affinity for traditional media too,” says Zanele. “I can’t decide if I love radio or TV more. However, it’s my passion for people that makes me love both because of the people I get to meet and the people who consume the media we create.”