What does it take to become the public relations (PR) manager of the biggest-selling car brands in SA? #BabesWaseVW gives us a glimpse into her demanding and high-profile job
Whenever the automotive industry is mentioned, thoughts of cars and all things wheels come up. If you’re a keen follower of this publication with an interest in the motoring section, then you’re familiar with our articles on automotive advice, with guidance on which cars or motorcycles to buy, when and how — that sort of thing.
But since we are a careers-focused publication, this time around we wanted to shift gears a bit and give you a glimpse into a career in this fast-paced field through the lens of a young woman who went from being an intern at Volkswagen (VW) to becoming the PR manager of VWSA.
“The best words that describe me are intentional and unapologetic,” says Siyanga Madikizela. Affectionately known as Siya to friends and colleagues, her warm and cheerful personality is endearing. Growing up in the Eastern Cape wasn’t exactly a breeze, she recounts. Madikizela, the only girl in a family of four says money was never in surplus but a mother who valued education was enough to prime her for a life of triumph.
As a graduate from the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth and armed with a qualification in journalism, Madikizela had her intentions set on becoming a hard news reporter, but as we’ve all come to learn at some point in our lives, life has other plans, and such was the case here.
“The realities of unemployment kicked in and I was jobless for months after I graduated,” says Madikizela. “So when Volkswagen was in search for unemployed graduates to join their corporate business programme, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Her journey with the German-based automotive company began in 2011, as an eager-to-learn trainee in the communications department. “Working in corporate was completely different to what I thought I would do with my life, but the automotive industry intrigued me,” she says. Her devotion and resolute attitude would yield fruit in 2013, as she would emerge as the only individual from the group of trainees to make it to the company’s graduate programme. With a foot firmly in the door, Madikizela spent the next six years of her career at the VW’s Uitenhage facility doing corporate and internal communications for the brand.
In 2017 Madikizela was promoted to the position of VW’s PR manager. It was finally time for this ambitious woman to gather her belongings and leave the Eastern Cape for the city of gold, where her new role with the company would commence at its Sandton headquarters.
There are four things Madikizela is passionate about: people, writing, cars and travelling. “For me whatever I do needs to tick at least three of these boxes. My current job ticks all four and I love it dearly.” She loves it so much that she started calling herself #BabesWaseVW, a nickname which has gained steady traction with many of the country’s motoring media.
The life and career of a PR manager behind a big motoring brand seems appealling when viewing it through the life of Siyanga Madikizela, but it has its complexities. As she explains: “Being a PR manager for an automotive brand is incredibly technical and detailed, because you are the first port of call for automotive media. You have to know all the intricate details about each and every Volkswagen vehicle in the range — from power outputs, torque and braking ratios, to the history of each and every vehicle spanning the various generations. And considering how vast the Volkswagen range is, when I first started in the job I found this somewhat daunting, but I am used to it now.”
Working within a brand like VW means that one is afforded the opportunity to experience and develop in-depth knowledge of the brand’s vast catalogue of vehicles, from entry-level players like the Polo to the equally popular sports models donning GTI and R badges. VW is the best-selling passenger car brand in SA, so it’s no surprise that two different models can share the stage in a popularity contest. Thus it was important for us to find out which VW model #BabesWaseVW would pick if she was forced to pick one. “The Touareg. I love performance SUVs and the combination of it being the halo model of the Volkswagen range. Its power, space, premium design and latest technology appeals to me. The InnoVision Cockpit in the interior of the Touareg is one of my favourite features.”
As you might imagine, being a woman in a male-dominated industry isn’t without its challenges, and being young and black doesn’t make the road less bumpy. In fact, you’re almost guaranteed to face hurdles and challenges along the way — something many South African women face daily. But Madikizela says she’s here to change the status quo. “The biggest challenge is constantly having to show that women belong in this industry and that we have a crucial role to play in its success and development.”