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Updated 28 Sep 2020

Gillian Gamsy's dreamt big for bigger wins

From being ‘out-trumped’ by Donald Trump to setting up the ANC’s first media department post-1994 election, Gillian Gamsy has played in the big leagues. 

29 March 2014  Share  0 comments  Print

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Gillian Gamsy launched her boutique PR agency, Gillian Gamsey International (GGi) in the late 80s, at a time when women weren’t holding high-profile corporate positions, and seldom owned their own companies. And yet she’s not only made her mark, she’s done so with style and integrity. Here are her five top lessons for success.

  • Choose your path with integrity – and stick to it

“When I launched GGi, I made the decision to never accept any government-related work. At that time it was a risky move, but I believed in the power of convictions.

My determination paid off, and the networks and associations that developed from this deep-seated value system would ultimately lead me down a very fulfilling path. Without passion you’ll never achieve your goals. That passion has to permeate every part of your life.

Every decision I made was informed by whether it satisfied me both personally and professionally. I was always looking who could benefit from my skills, and if their values aligned with my own.”

These decisions would lead to Gamsey’s integral involvement in the new South Africa. Starting post Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, she was involved in fundraising for the first election, and setting up the ANC’s first media department. “No path to success is straight, or without hiccups, but if you believe in what you’re doing, you’ll achieve your goals.”

  • Get things done

“Never putt off tomorrow what you can do today. Tomorrow never comes, so do what you need to do today.”

  • Have passion – no matter what

“Everything you do should be done with passion and integrity. In this business (and in all business), your reputation matters. You can spend your whole life building a reputation, and then lose it in a minute. If you always work with integrity, you won’t go wrong.”

  • Never accept ‘no’ for an answer

“I firmly believe that you should never be afraid of aiming for the biggest goal you can think of. When I was looking for my first partnership in the UK for a big local event, I identified the biggest player in the market.

I was a tiny South African PR agency they had never heard of, and so they simply said no – no to a meeting, no to a partnership. But I’m tenacious. I wouldn’t stop contacting them, putting proposals together and finding out who the best person to talk to was until I got a meeting – and later a deal.”

  • Accept failures, and pick yourself up and carry on

“When you get knocked down, get back up. In the late 90s, flush from our success with the rugby world cup, I decided I wanted to create a world sports awards event. It took me months to develop detailed criteria, a sponsorship plan and a strategy.

I then started hunting for a partner. An ex-South African living in London with excellent contacts was recommended to me. We put a non-disclosure agreement in place, and I presented him with the entire plan so that he could start hunting for sponsors. I never heard from him again.

A few months later, I saw a press release for the Laureus World Sports Awards. He had stolen the idea, and the groundwork I’d done. I learnt that NDAs are worth nothing.

“Another memorable failure is when I got out-trumped by Donald Trump. I was in negotiations with CBS to buy Miss Universe. I had met with them the CBS team, working my way up to the CEO.

It was an enormous investment for me, both in time and money. At the last second, they pulled out of the deal. Trump owned the building that housed the set of the Today Show.

It was CBS’s most important show, and he had threated to cancel their contract if they took Miss Universe away from him. It was a real blow, and I could have let it crush me. Instead, I accepted that some things are beyond our control. I’d pick myself up, and carry my losses. It was worth the try.”

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