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From a Mentor’s Desk: Zanele Kumalo

From a Mentor’s Desk Zanele Kumalo

41-year-old editor of, Zanele Kumalo shares how she rose up the editorial ranks, as well as her success tips for young people.

What sparked your interest for media?

As a young girl, I had always imagined myself as a creative director of something because I have always loved the arts, from fashion to beauty and all things lifestyle. I had an interest in the historical and theoretical side of art and I studied fine art at Rhodes University and wanted a career as a curator amongst other things.

Tell us about your career after varsity to your current role now

After graduating I moved back home to Durban and waitressed for a bit and then worked at a clothing factory doing fabric sales. I then worked as a PA for a fashion designer for six months. I moved to Johannesburg to pursue a career in fashion while looking for opportunities at an art museum. A few months later I saw a sales position post at the Sunday Times and applied. During the interview, I was offered an editorial position, as a sub-editor and reporter. They thought I would be better suited in this role. I was there for eight months and was approached by Top Billing magazine, which was looking for a beauty editor and a Johannesburg correspondent. I didn’t have experience in magazines but because of my interest in beauty, I took on the offer. I was then approached by Oprah magazine to be their beauty editor. I then moved to Elle magazine as their beauty editor and Johannesburg bureau chief. Months later Marie Claire approached me for the same post and I worked there. When I turned 34 I decided to move to Barcelona, Spain for six months to see what the industry was like overseas. But mainly to take a sabbatical. I then came back and Marie Claire offered me a position as a features editor. I then left print-focused magazines completely and worked in content marketing. I worked for agencies such as TTP and John Brown as a content editor.

When I was approached to take on the role of editor at Grazia magazine, a weekly fashion magazine, I felt confident that all my previous experiences were perfect for that role. It took five interviews, including with international publishers to get the job. It was a great opportunity and I worked with a great team. Unfortunately, it closed down but luckily, Media 24 had a post for me at W24, so I joined their team and became editor a few months later.

What’s the role of a beauty editor?

A beauty editor produces the beauty content in a publication, from doing interviews to writing investigative features on trends and reviewing products in the beauty industry. They also represent the publication at industry events. They also have to work with the commercial team and build relationships with clients.

And a features editor?

They decide with the editor, what the theme for each issue will be. They then compile a content plan for the magazine and commission in-house journalists and freelancers for features. They also write features or columns.

From your experience, how does one build a brand for themselves to a point of being headhunted?

I strongly believe that you get noticed because of your work. The people I look up to and admire are those who are quietly minding their own business and working hard. You now also have to put yourself out there on social media but in essence, hard work is the main ingredient that will take you far. You must build good relationships with people in your industry. You have to be authentic and trust that whatever you are doing is good enough.

Share some tips on how to stand out and leave a good impression at a job interview

Preparation and practice are key. You have to do your homework and research the company, the industry and what the job description entails. You have to show a level of confidence, and importantly, practice. What I personally look for during an interview is someone who understands the brand as well as shows passion. How you express yourself is important too. Show a bit of your personality and put in effort in how you present for the interview.

What misconceptions do you think people have about the magazine industry?

That all you do is go to launches and events and that it’s easy. There’s a lot that goes into creating a story or even a snippet.

What are your views on failure?

I think failure is necessary because it teaches you humility and it helps prevent you from making other mistakes. There are very few success stories that don’t include some failures.

How do you define success and do you feel you have reached it?

When it comes to industry success, I feel I have reached it to a certain extent. Success for me means having opportunities to learn and grow and make positive changes in your industry.

What are your success tips to young people?

Stay in your own lane and forget what other people are doing. It has nothing to do with you. Find what it is that you love and work hard to achieve it. Nothing you do is ever a waste. If you make a mistake, recognise it and move on. Also, don’t burn bridges when things don’t work out. Always leave gracefully.

Connect with Zanele on:

Instagram: @misszan

Twitter: @misszan





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