Violetta Ngina, fondly known as Thee Host to her fans has been on a meteoric rise to stardom. She is a pop culture show host with 5 years of experience in the mainstream media industry. Starting off as a sales and events executive at Homeboyz Radio, she has worked her way up the corporate ladder.
At Jalang’o TV, she keeps her viewers glued with weekly updates on what goes on in the local and global showbiz. Previously, she was KTN’s E-Curve host. Her career has seen her interview top international celebrities, from Bishop T.D Jakes to Alpha Blondy.
Ngina has also hosted countless events as an emcee, with one of her biggest highlights being the master of ceremony at the Pulse Music Video Awards 2019. We had an exclusive sit down with her to talk about her career so far. She shared wonderful, practical knowledge she’s gained in salary negotiation, budgeting, personal branding, offering value to clients and so much more.
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You definitely want to sit tight and read on till the end; the wisdom you’ll gain from this chat will be worth it for many, many years to come. Be inspired!
Career Fodder: You started your career at such a tender age. By that time, you were already interacting with bigwigs. You were not yet a presenter. How did it prepare you for future roles in terms of your interactions with people?
Violetta Ngina: I joined the media at 20 years old. At the time, my mind was fixated on being a presenter. As it turned out, it didn’t work out that way. I was so mad, I mean, there were some younger presenters on TV already.
However, when I got to Homeboyz Radio – which is the first place I ever worked – my boss, who is someone I highly value, Mr. John Rabar put me in the sales department. I used to deal with direct and agency sales. Slowly, he introduced me to events, but I remained full-time in sales because events are not regular.
I would meet clients, sign running orders and make sure that their adverts are running on air. Looking back, I am so thankful that I didn’t start off as a presenter. I got to learn the inner workings of a media house. I know how you make money and spend it.
Running behind the scenes, doing the job that people don’t get to see prepared me to even run a media house. By the time I was being trusted with being in front of the camera, I already knew everything that you need to know.
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So now, I’m even careful; when presenting a show, I’m thinking, how can I make this show appealing to a client? If we get the deal, how will we spend the money? How do we get a bigger cheque next time? I’ve also interacted with agency people who actually give you business.
CF: That’s a very impressive career trajectory, I must say. So for the last 12 months, you’ve been super busy. You have been hosting events, shooting for Jalang’o TV, and even hosting live sessions with fans. You are a mom. How do you balance parenthood and your career without sacrificing either of them?
VN: There is no formula to achieve that. I think knowing how to prioritize is key. I have to make sure that my career is taken care of, and my son gets quality time from me. But, sometimes it is quite hard.
You may have an event that requires your presence for the whole day. Thank God there’s a curfew that finds you at home by 10 PM. When there was no curfew, events would run the whole night, and you had to do rehearsals the whole day.
By the time you get home, your son is asleep, and you have an early morning the next day…he’ll still be asleep. There are moments when you get seriously guilty because you are spending more time at work than with your young one.
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But I think the thing that has been helpful in making sure I have a proper calendar for weeks or months ahead. So I try to drop him off at school, help him do his homework, clear my schedule during weekends or limit my bookings, and say no to certain projects.
So he knows that Sunday is a day out in the park, to have ice cream, talk, visit the barbershop, and much more. I make sure my weekends are open for him. Bedtime stories are also very important, even if it’s only for half an hour.
CF: How has Jalang’o TV impacted your life?
VN: Quite a lot. I’ve been here for a year and two months now. Working with Jalang’o is a big deal. He’s one of the most successful people in our industry. My work has been more visible; more people are aware of who I am.
Working with him is also an everyday learning experience. He does like 10 jobs and still takes more does it so well. It’s learning to do so many things at the same time by watching him do it.
Meeting his network and getting to work with these people is incredible. He’s backed by amazing clients and that has put me in a space where solid brands want to work with me as well.
CF: You’ve mentioned that you’ve gotten lessons from working with Jalang’o. What are these specific learnings you’ve had so far?
VN: There are several. One of the major ones is that the media is not all about glamor. It’s not that fancy. A 19-year-old might wish to be on TV thinking it’s a purely fancy job. They think it’s all about being on the screen, getting to take nice photos, and attending flashy events.
It looks like that, but it’s not like that. It’s actually a serious job that has a science to it. For example, when you are an influencer with 2 million followers, people think that you automatically have to be paid millions to market products. No, there’s a science to it.
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Whether you have 1 follower or millions, you have to learn how to do presentations, how to curate a show, produce one, how to talk when presenting, I mean, if it’s just talking then anyone can be a presenter, right?
But it’s not just talking. It’s how you bring out your words, take your breath, at what point are you taking that breath? How is your body language?
And that’s why if people like Caroline Mutoko, Edward Kwach, Angela Angwenyi…Jimmi Gathu…if they all decided to come back on air, they would kick some of us out of the job. These people learned the science behind the job and they did all that and were successful without social media.
That means that everyone who listened to them on the radio did so because they genuinely wanted to hear them speak. They had something concrete to say. It wasn’t because one of them did something crazy online, gained millions of followers, and found their way into radio or TV.
So, while it’s a good job – fantastic things happen to you – please appreciate the fact that there’s a science behind it.
CF: Now that you’ve mentioned scenarios where people get jobs just because they did something outrageous, and you’ve also had your own different path in career development. So what would you say are the dos and don’ts you’ve known so far, as per your experience?
VN: Let’s start with the dos. Firstly, be very confident. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting out or established, just be very confident. It is attractive. There are some people who are talented but are shy and timid.
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Then there are other people who are actually still learning but are super comfortable and confident. They are the ones who get the opportunities. Also, be vocal. Let people know what you want.
Sometimes, opportunities are passing around you. Let people in the room know, for example, ‘I’m an emcee as well.’ If you decide to not talk, appear calm and collected, chances pass you by.
Work hard on your craft every day. There is no shortcut. You have to wake up, stand in front of the mirror, rehearse. Do what you have to do.
Have people that you look up to, hopefully, that you can access and ask them a few things here and there when you’re stuck up. It can also be people that you cannot access for now – maybe Hollywood talents – that you can draw inspiration from.
Learn from their mistakes so that you don’t repeat them, do what they did better.
Most important: it’s not about the money. First, we have to build a brand. Sometimes, you have to do projects for free with reputable companies just to get your foot in the door. Do it.
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It will reach a point where you’ve built something so beautiful, that you will never have to negotiate your rate card. Do it with passion; the money will come…it will trickle; when it rains, it pours.
Also, your brand needs to possess an identity. For example, when a client meets me, I don’t need to explain what I do. Your brand needs to speak for itself. So if I find myself negotiating for pay, and at the same time explaining what I do and how I do it, then there’s something that is still missing in my brand.
The other thing is, don’t burn bridges. It’s such a small, connected industry. You can go to an event and meet all the people you worked with within your previous jobs. You may host a gig and the agency that pays you is headed by someone who once gave you a job ten years ago.
Don’t let the wins get to your head and the losses to your heart.
CF: You’ve mentioned rate card negotiations, and now I’d like you to touch on salary negotiation. How have you managed to get paid for what you’re truly worth? Any tips?
VN: For me, I think I am at a point where my brand is really speaking for itself but I’m still building. I like to define myself as a pop culture brand. That means, I’m speaking to an audience that is fresh, I’m communicating with the youth, who want entertainment, are up-to-date, smart, and aspirational.
That is my brand. My presentation and content are also around that. The biggest percentage of people who watch my shows are in the age range 25-38 according to social media statistics.
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It’s good when you know this data because it helps you understand what your audience really likes, the demographics, and so on.
So it’s easier to convince whoever is paying me that my audience is engaged and stuck with me. They are a representation of who I am. It’s only fair for them to pay me a certain amount of money; I have what it takes to market their products and get the show perfectly done.
CF: That’s a really good point of reference. Most people just refer to their last paycheque…
VN: The thing is, my brand is very specific. Just because I am a presenter, I’m not going to wake up one day and do a show about farming or tech. I know I’m not gonna give enough value for that.
So when I go to an arena that’s not my area of expertise, I cannot demand a big paycheque. The good thing about my field is that there’s always going to be things to do with lifestyle and entertainment.
Look at Oprah, she’s still giving us interviews with celebrities, it’s just a different angle. And how old is she? She’s 67. So I wouldn’t do a project where I will be number two and justify good pay.
CF: You recently launched a YouTube channel. The branding is on point, by the way. Thumbs up. What should your fans expect from it?
VN: I launched the channel because it’s vital for me to occupy that space as early as I can. It’s good to post photos of what you’re eating, but if you are able to grow your social networks to a point where people are paying you for what you do, that’s fantastic.
My YouTube channel is another way for me to occupy more real estate in the digital space. The content will be curated around the life of me, Thee Host. There are a lot of people who follow my work and I’d love to show them behind the scenes.
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Because I get a lot of appreciation DMs and people are keen to see how I do what I do, I’d love to show that side that others don’t show you. From starving the whole day because I have shows back to back to a designer being late and I need to be on stage in two minutes…and I have to find another way to make the outfit work…
When the scripts are just not working…I just want to show it all, plus the events I get to emcee.
It will be a place where any aspiring presenter can come and be like, oh so this is what happens? Uh-huh? Great! Oh no! They can then figure out if they really wanna do this or not.
I also want to collaborate with different people, feature a variety of personalities, and expand my networks on a global scope.
I want to be a representation of my country on a larger scope when it comes to media. I want to be in South Africa hosting, proudly Kenyan. I’d love to collaborate with fellow presenters and writers from Ghana, Hollywood, so my mind is thinking of so much beyond Kenya.
CF: You’ve already done big interviews locally and internationally, from DJ Pierra Makena to T.D Jakes. I’m curious, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
VN: Is it possible for someone to even process where they will be in the next 5 years? I mean, I don’t like it when someone asks me, where will I be in the next 10 years, haha. Who even told you that you’ll be around by that time?
So, we are going to make plans for now. We have goals, yes, but the short-term things I can see and process right now. One of them is a media tour in Africa. There are specific countries that have built a robust entertainment industry, namely Ghana, South Africa, and Nigeria.
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One thing about me that people need to know is that I’m a great writer. So I’m currently working on projects that will put me in those meetings, seminars, and forums that have writers and presenters on a global scale.
If invited to the BET Awards red carpet, who am I to say no?! I wouldn’t make a 5-year-plan because I feel like it can happen sooner than that.
CF: You said that you have a stylist, and many upcoming presenters may feel that it is a major expense that they cannot afford. Thus, they end up not valuing how they present themselves. How can they get to work around that challenge?
VN: This job is called showbiz, and I want them to understand that show comes before the biz. Unfortunately, this is a space where you’re gonna be judged by how you look. However, you don’t have to break a bank.
When I was starting out, I knew how to pick clothes; I have good taste, even if I am thrifting. So, you can get a nice top at 300, 500, or less. Just put your pieces together after identifying what your style is.
Are you edgy, vocal, or girly? Just have a theme around your outfits. Have a way through which people can identify you when they see you. It has to be very presentable. In the beginning, you don’t have a lot of money to waste on outfits but it’s not an excuse to look shady.
This is the showbiz; we want to see you looking good, then we can talk business. Once you present yourself like that and the more your brand grows, OMG, stylists will be looking for you left, right and center.
They will want to work with you because of how you present yourself, how you look, and also because many people admire you. They will want to tap into someone who is really admired by people.
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That is all from how you present yourself, how you talk, treat people, how you dress, and how you look. Can you command the attention of people even before you open your mouth? Figure out what works for you, start small, stick to it, and then collaborate.
A quick pointer: when you get invited to host events, they put in a budget for styling, so you know.
CF: Finally, who has been your biggest support system and how have they been an anchor in your life? I’m sure pulling off such achievements requires support.
VN: I would say, my family. Even when I’m overworking, they take care of my son for me. I’m the loudest kid in the family and the fact that they enabled me to be myself is priceless. When I was starting out and I needed finances, they would always come through for me.
My son of course; just having someone who gives you purpose is amazing. Then there is John Rabar, who chose to trust just a 20-year-old me with the money part of his business. He is key and fundamental to me.
Also having people like Jalang’o around…he’s my boss but more than that, he is someone you can always talk to and look up to when you need any sort of advice. Then there is my closest friend, Daniel Weke, he encourages me when I have bad days and just wanna quit.
There are so many people but those are the ones I would give a lot of credit to.
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