For Zoë Brown, the glamour of a budding career as a television and radio presenter has been underpinned by some single-minded determination and the sure belief that she could somehow break the mould.
Under pressure from her parents to get what they described as a “real” job after graduating from Stellenbosch at the end of 2014, she gave herself six months to break into broadcast media.
But, when she approached a leading talent agency in Cape Town, she was informed it would be impossible in that time. “I was told that I should allow myself up to two years for that to happen,” says Zoë.
“In South Africa it is tough to get into the media industry, especially if you’re not based in Johannesburg; and even then, you have to compete with big and established names,” she explains.
However, undeterred, she entered and won a gruelling televised search for a new SABC3 presenter. Six months later, true to her schedule, Zoë joined the team at the national broadcaster’s Expresso Breakfast Show.
“It’s important to believe in your own goals,” she says, “regardless of the additional commentary that will come along the way.”
Zoë’s interest in working in media was inspired by watching what she describes as her favourite movie, The Devil Wears Prada – the tale of an ambitious, naïve young woman who is prepared to perform almost any task, however menial, to become part of a leading US fashion magazine.
“The movie demonstrated that along the way people won’t support you, but if you work hard, it can bring you one step closer to your end goal. And my career has been a series of small steps to get to where I am today.”
Zoë took one of the first of those small steps at Stellenbosch University, while studying for her BA Hons in International Relations.
“MFM campus radio played a large role in developing my passion for the media industry and helped to prepared me for the world of work. I started off doing difficult hours – the graveyard shift between 3am and 6am – before graduating to a weeknight show.”
She also worked at Cape Town-based radio station KFM during her last year at Stellenbosch, reporting on the traffic for the Drive Time show.
“I’m proud of the fact that I never missed an academic deadline despite being swamped trying to balance being a student and radio presenter,” she says.
The hard work continues today. Complementing her morning television show, Zoë presents with Carl Wastie on KFM in the afternoon. A former teen beauty queen she also models.
With the glamourous media profile has come a certain pride in the media’s development in South Africa.
“Western standards and views have become the unofficial benchmark for the industry globally, but there’s a gap and an opportunity for South Africans not only to embrace but also to share the African point of view and way of doing things.
“We need to turn the spotlight on our cultures instead of waiting on the rest of the world to set the trends.”
Zoë also advocates increased responsibility in the use of social media. “My personal rule is: If I won’t say or do it in front of my Dad, I’m not posting it online.
“Unfortunately, social media has developed a culture of instant gratification. But I want to show young women (and men) that you can utilise social media platforms for causes and passions you’re interested in, instead of merely collecting ‘likes’.”
Zoë’s own causes include acting as an ambassador for WWF South Africa, promoting the use of paper rather than plastic straws. She also represents the Children’s Hospital Trust and the Sunflower Fund, at which she is a registered bone morrow donor.
Looking back at her time at Stellenbosch University, Zoë says it offered her the opportunity to take a less well-travelled road.
“There are times when it feels like I’ve stumbled across my career path, but in actual fact I’ve always wanted to avoid doing a 9-to-5 in an office. My mantra throughout my university days was: ‘Prepare yourself for something that doesn’t exist yet.’”
- By Mark Paterson -