From the Karoo to marketing tech companies

by Margaret Harris
Judith Middleton is the CEO and founder of public relations and marketing agency DUO. The wannabe farmer’s wife tells Margaret Harris that she first studied hotel management, but soon realised her passion lay in corporate communications for technology companies.

How do you explain what you do to someone who knows nothing about your industry?

We translate complex tech solutions so they are simple and easy to understand. We then use these messages to promote our clients’ business solutions via media, digital channels (for example, social media, video and blogs) and any other relevant marketing platforms.

What drew you to this profession?

A passion for the tech industry. But I did not appreciate the expense of engaging marketing and public relations consultants, especially in the start-up phase. We created our own business model which allowed for entry-level budgets.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I wanted to be a farmer’s wife, because I grew up on a farm in the Karoo and I could not imagine living anywhere else. My mom was a complete inspiration to me as a child, mentoring and supporting the local community to enhance their lives through various projects she set up to assist and empower the underprivileged or unemployed. I wanted to continue her work.

What did you study?

Initially I studied hotel management on the recommendation of a school counsellor, but soon changed to a public relations diploma and then found the courage to do a BA majoring in psychology and communications through Unisa while working abroad.

What was your first job, and what was the most important lesson you learnt from it?

My first worthwhile job — after endless temp positions in London finding out what I didn’t want to be — came when I returned to South Africa and worked as the marketing manager for the Cape IT Initiative.

It was deeply rewarding being mentored by the managing director, Peter Frampton, who taught me how to serve customers with complete integrity.

What about your job would you prefer to outsource to someone else?

I outsource human resources because it is not something I instinctively love. Keeping abreast of legislation and best practice is challenging and always on the bottom of my to-do list, although [it is something] I cannot afford to neglect. I prefer to use a trusted professional to guide me. In addition, as an owner of a business, one tends to take every human resources transgression personally. Having a trusted third party helps keep processes neutral and minimises conflict.

What about your job makes you most happy?

I love the fact that public relations and marketing can affect the bottom line; my challenge every day is to prove this to our clients. I love that we are a niche business-to-business tech agency and can afford to be this specialised. What I love most is the privilege of working with CEOs every day. Learning what they do and why, is my MBA on steroids.

What mistakes at work have taught you the biggest lessons?

I once contracted an expensive web design agency to build a new “world-class” website. The rationale was to invest in our “global shop front” so that we could attract international customers. They were absolutely shocking at just about everything, including design, project management and customer relations. I made sure every member of our team learnt from this how not to treat a customer. I learnt that the price tag has no bearing on quality output.

If you didn’t do this job, what would you do?

I would set up another business and sell products online. E-commerce is in its infancy here and I see real potential.

What would people find surprising about your job?

Public relations and marketing are perceived as soft, noncommercial skills, but if you are good at your job, you can, without doubt, earn a seat at the boardroom table of your clients. I challenge you.

Useful resources:
Business Times
Business news and analysis supplement with a popular, people-orientated approach.
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