PR Manager, Content Producer and Social Media Manager, Maphuti Hlako, dreams to work with the Manchester United Communications Team, as she aims for international success in her career.
Born and raised in Polokwane, Hlako, was introduced to sports by her father, who would sit her down during football matches and let her in on the ins and outs of the game, as well as its history.
Earlier this year, Hlako, lived out one of her biggest dreams when she had the opportunity to work at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo as Press Attaché for Team South Africa.
Having started working in the sports industry 8 years ago, Hlako shares how she has been able to earn respect for herself and her work in a male-dominated industry through hard work and dedication.
The GIBS Business School’s Leading Woman graduate has no desire to limit herself and her abilities, expressing that should she be given the opportunity to work in front of the camera, she would consider it.
Having already worked at various sporting events and rubbed shoulders with best, Hlako has ambitions to add on to that list.
Speaking with Refiloe Sefume, Hlako reveals how she got into the industry and shares advice to young women looking to work in sports PR.
Thanks for chatting to us. Please tell us more about who Maphuti Hlako is?
I’m a passionate, proudly South African sports fan. I’m blessed to have a career that allows me to watch live sports and call it work.
Where does your love for sport come from?
My dad has played a huge role in my love for sports. Growing up, he would sit me down during a football match and explain the different positions and the role each player has in the team and the history of the teams. I was also introduced to different sports at primary school. I played netball and did athletics and was quite good so I followed the disciplines on TV. We didn’t have a lot of access but I was always glued to the TV during every Olympic Games to watch the best in the world take each other on.
How did you get into the sport industry?
When I was in grade 11, I applied for the Bcom Recreation and Sport Management course at the University of Pretoria – at first I was rejected because my marks were low, so I had to work very hard in matric to get good marks, and so I did and eventually got in to TUKS.
When I was in 3rd year, they ran a competition in our marketing class for 1 student to win a ticket to attend the Sport Industry Summit. To enter, we had to write a letter to motivate why we deserved to attend – me and two other ladies won and we attended the event, and there I met Bronwyn Roets, who would become my employer, mentor and friend. Her PR company Exposure Unlimited ran the competition which gave three young girls a lifechanging opportunity to rub shoulders with sports industry leaders. A few months after the event, Bron offered me internship – and that’s where my career kicked off.
You did athletics in varsity, why didn’t you go the professional athlete route?
My athletics career in varsity never really took off. I had a few training sessions, but I was struggling to juggle both school and training. I had to pick one career route, and I decided to focus on academics. It was a hard decision to make but I believe it was the correct one – I promised myself that I would spend the rest of my life working behind the scenes to support those that are lucky enough to do sports professionally. I’m so blessed to be living that promise I made to myself in 2010.
Thi year, you had the opportunity to do PR work for Team South Africa at both the Olympics and the Paralympics in Tokyo. How was that experience?
That was by far the best experience of my life. It’s still hard to believe that I got to live out my biggest dream. I got to work at the biggest sporting event, during a pandemic, in one of the best cities in the world – that’s quite wild! I’m so grateful that SASCOC trusted me with the responsibility of being Press Attaché for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. My life can never be the same after that experience.
What was it like being there first-hand when Tatjana Schoenmaker won a gold medal and Bianca Buitendag won silver?
UNREAL!!! Tatjana and Bianca are two of the most humble and inspiring women I’ve ever met in my life, and to be there with them when they achieved their goals was truly special.
What was also amazing was when SA women continued to up the medal count for Team SA at the Paralympic Games. Anruné Weyers set the Tokyo Olympic Stadium alight when she won gold in the 400m T47, followed by Louzanne Coetzee’s silver and bronze medals, as well as Sheryl James’ bronze. For me it wasn’t just about the medals, but it was also special was seeing so many of our athletes break records and set new PBs. I’m grateful to have witnessed it all. So many happy tears were shed during those special moments.
As someone working in PR, what more do you think we can do to raise the profile of women’s sports?
I believe we’ve made massive strides towards profiling women’s sports through platforms like gsport. We could further elevate women’s sport by having more written and video content. More books written by/about our sportswomen, and documentaries around their achievements. I can’t wait to watch a documentary about the Mamelodi Sundowns women’s football team!
What are your thoughts about the current state of women’s sports?
Definitely better than when I started working in the industry eight years ago. Now, on a regular basis, there’s a women’s match on TV. We’re seeing more brands sponsoring our women, more leagues being established, and more female athletes enter the industry. Hopefully we will see more of this on a larger scale.
What advice can you give young women who would like to pursue a career in sports PR?
Be relentless. It is a reality that we sometimes have to work twice as hard as our male colleagues, but hard work really does pay off. Keep going, and don’t stop until you make yourself proud.
What challenges have you come across working in a male-dominated industry and how have you managed to deal with these challenges?
I was 21 when I started working in the industry. And at that age, not many people give you the time of day, and it can be disheartening. But I had made a promise to myself and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to stand between me and my dreams, so I continued working hard and let my work speak for itself. Eventually people start to notice and start to respect you and your work. These things take time, but we’ve got to just keep going.
During level 5 lockdown last year, you started a IGTV segment titled, “How I Met My Faves.” What inspired you to start it and will we be seeing a Season 2 anytime soon?
I’ve always wanted to have a talk show where I sit down with the amazing people that I’ve met in the industry and just have heartfelt conversations. “How I Met My Faves” was exactly that. We chatted, laughed and inspired young people. The feedback I received was phenomenal, and who knows, maybe there’ll be another season on the big screen soon 😉
Do you have any ambitions to work in front of the camera as a broadcaster?
I’ve been to a few auditions in the past for sport presenting. So if the opportunity arises, I’ll definitely consider it. I’d like to learn as many skills as I can – I don’t want to box myself to just one thing, that’s why I’m not just a PR Manager, I’m also a Content Producer and Social Media Manager.
Who would you like to work with in the industry, locally or internationally?
Not a specific individual, but I’d like to work with the Manchester United Communications team.
Which women in the industry have inspired you?
I’ve worked with so many amazing women in the industry that inspire me. I’m inspired by my clients, by my friends and colleagues, the sportswomen that continue to represent our country with so much grace.
What is your greatest ambition for your career?
To work at as many sporting events as possible, small or big scale, locally and internationally. Meeting and working with new people is a big part of my career.
What’s next for you career wise?
There are so many exciting sporting events coming up in 2022 and beyond. I would love to work at a FIFA World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Cricket World Cup, Rugby World Cup, IAAF World Champs, Netball World Cup, etc. God willing, I will be able to tick those huge boxes off.
Photo 1 Caption: PR Manager, Content Producer and Social Media Manager, Maphuti Hlako, has dreams to work with the Manchester United Communications Team, as she aims for international success in her career. Photo: Maphuti Hlako (Instagram)