Magic in Groot Marico

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Nestled in the North West Province, somewhere between the Magaliesburg and the Botswana border, lies the unassuming town of Groot Marico.

The town itself is small, basic, and desperate but surrounding this little dorpie lies natural delights that arise from, or sink below, the red earth and scrubby bosveld.

Author,  Herman Charles Bosman held this chunk of South African landscape in very high regard, and these literary nods are used as the basis for the small tourism industry ‘The Marico’, as the locals call it, generates.

There is no other place I know that is so heavy with atmosphere,
so strangely and darkly impregnated with that stuff of life
that bears the authentic stamp of South-Africa.

- Herman Charles Bosman, Marico Revisited 

Situated in the Limpopo River basin, the rivers that run past the town are the only perennial streams in the basin that produce clean, drinkable water. We drank it, it was pretty good, a bit fungal tasting, but our guts stayed inside us… so no stresses there.

We stayed at RiverStill Guest House, run by a guy named Jacques who moved to The Marico 20-odd years ago after he was diagnosed with cancer. The clear air, fresh water, and boundless space seem to have done him well; and he has created a beautiful place to stay at in the process.

The property is dotted with an arrangement of citrus trees and boasts a lovely herb garden that guests are welcome to scratch in for bits to spice up their suppers. There’s also a labyrinth, which provides both relaxation and reflection.

 

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The view from the centre of the labyrinth at RiverStill

 

RiverStill offers guests intimate and cosy stone cottages, equipped with fireplaces, private patios, and snazzy kilim carpets. All the cottages are a short walk from the milky turquoise river, where canoes and water swings offer ways to enjoy the slow moving water.

 

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Our cute little cottage

 

 

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The river at the foot of the RiverStill farm

 

And while the river is highly enjoyable, we came to Groot Marico to see the Oog (Eye). And man, we weren’t disappointed.

About 40 km from RiverStill, along a dry, dusty and bumpy road, passed farms and veld,, lies this otherworldly pool of water. Walk straight towards the bulrushes, situated on a private farm owned by J Z Palm, and soon you will discover it.

Waterlilies and pads freckle this pond, and in the spaces between them the sun shines through into crystal clear water to reveal more emerald vegetation.

Staring into the Eye you expect to see mermaids – or at least exotically painted fish – slink between the submerged plants. Unfortunately, no such luck. It was so still as we gazed into the Eye’s modest depths (save a Black Crake, who scuttled along the lily pads in a  comically paranoid manner), that we found ourselves just quietly staring, appreciating this marvelously bizarre natural wonder.

The source of the Marico River, The Eye, is actually is a large dolomitic hole in the ground. Bearing witness to the start of something as massive as a river with a basin of over 13 000 km is only outdone by the sheer beauty of the water, which is a popular spot among scuba divers.

 

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Our curious friend, The Black Crake.

 

 

We visited The Eye in the middle of winter, but the sun was out, so eventually our clothes came off, and we gingerly jumped in, quick to relax and luxuriate in the cool, clear water.

 

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Lilypads and luscious liquid.

 

The sheets of black rubber matting, wood, 43and carpet that the farm owner has placed along one side of the Eye, although rather unsightly, provided a good space to soak up more of the African sun and enjoy a picnic lunch. He has also erected a stilted structure for the the adventurous types to jump off of into the water, but it looked a bit rickety for our liking.

 

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Picnic at The Groot Oog (Great Eye) of Marico.

 

Driving back along the red dusty road to RiverStill, we felt we had encountered something incredible. Because we had; a natural wonder which seems so far removed from the landscape that surrounds it, that it creates an aura of mysticism and magnetism.

Back in our cottage, a bottle of red wine by the fire provided a perfect ending to an utterly magical weekend, and driving back to Joburg the next day, we felt renewed and revived. The Groot Marico had certainly treated us well.

 

For more information:

Groot Marico Tourism: http://www.marico.co.za/

RiverStill: http://www.riverstill.co.za/

Map

  • Note that there is one toll gate on the way from JHB that will run you about R80 each way.
  • It is advised to do all your shopping before you get to Groot Marico, as there are only small cafe type shops in the town.

 

 

 

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Lebogang Rasethaba; Mzansi’s authentic auteur

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First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in November 2015

Lebogang Rasethaba is the filmmaker who invited the world to the apartheid after-party with 2014’sFuture Sounds of Mzansi documentary featuring Spoek Mathambo. The film garnered serious media hype and awards, as has Rasethaba in his multifarious career.

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By Remy Raitt

The movie-making maverick delivers provocative pieces of film across the big and small screen, usually focusing on authentic South African stories. His work has featured on platforms like i-D and Vice, and his films have been ardently received at local and international festivals. He says his love for film springs from its ability to “open peoples’ experiences beyond what a lived-reality can offer”. “It gives interesting readings of society and allows people to connect with moments and emotions across different eras,” he says.

Rasethaba has strived to make these connections through documentaries, branded content, music videos, short films and adverts. At the IMC Conference in Johannesburg, he said the trick to getting this all right is “making content people actually want to watch”.

The filmmaker’s journey to honing his craft began as an imaginative teenager. “Like most creative kids growing up I was always drawing, taking photos, writing … but filmmaking gave me what other mediums couldnt, it felt like the ultimate platform for storytelling because of how closely it is able to mimic life,” Rasethaba explains. At 18, the native Joburger took on a degree at UCT after which he ventured to China, where he lived, studied and worked for five years.

But perfecting his Mandarin wasn’t the biggest lesson Rasethaba learnt on his sojourn abroad. “China made me realise the innate beauty of our society,” he says. “The most valuable lesson I learnt while I was there was being sensitive to different cultures, especially when framing ones that aren’t yours,” he explains. “As a filmmaker you need to be aware of your position and power relative to your subjects’ position and story, that’s why I am most comfortable making the films I make, its easy to talk about stuff that I get at a very fundamental level.”

This “stuff” he speaks of is usually the real stories of South Africa and the subcultures that drive them. Rasethaba says he’s drawn to capturing the country’s essence as he feels audiences, both at home and abroad, are yet to discover the real Mzansi. “A lot of the ways people think about South Africa are really f**ked up and warped. People here and people outside haven’t been able to interpret the nuances of how we function as a society,” he says. “I think, for the most part, we still don’t fully grasp the magic, the beauty, the treasure that is South Africa.” So this is his modus operandi; to honestly capture this magic and share it on screen.

This is one of the reasons Rasethaba began Arcade, a division of Egg Films, who produce content that doesn’t fit into the realm of traditional TV films. “We wanted to bridge the gap between filmmaking at a very pure level in the form of free-flowing real narratives, but with the polish and finesse of commercials,” he explains. “I personally like a raw, guerrilla style documentary approach, it suits the type of stories I am trying to tell. But on the flipside I want the stories to be crafted, detailed, thorough; I like the aesthetic of high production finishes that you get from adverts. Arcade is like the best of both worlds.”

Through Arcade, Rasethaba has produced slick, relevant branded content for the likes of Castle Lite, Absolut, Ballantine’s, the Soweto Marathon and Adidas. He has also filmed some of South Africa’s most cutting-edge music videos through Arcade for the likes of Sibot, Okmalumekoolkat and Sons of Kemet. His video for the latter is his favourite music video to date. “Have you seen that In the Castle of my Skinvideo?” he asks, “It’s a piece of art … The concept is something else, I lucked out there, the way it connects different cultures and creates new meaning and understanding of certain ideas. I f**king love that video.”

When asked who he would still like to produce a music video for, dead or alive, his answer is somewhat surprising. “Okmalumekoolkat,” he says resolutely. “We have made a bunch of videos together and maybe we have never reached the full potential of our joined creative abilities. I want to make a video as perfect as Alright for Kendrick Lamar, but for Okmalumekoolkat. He is a very good friend and I love his music, I owe him a perfect video.”

Another dream project is already in full-swing; Future Sounds of Mzansi II. Fans can also look forward to a new documentary that Rasethaba is making for MTV about the politics of race and identity in a young democracy.

And there’ll be tons more compelling content coming from this young filmmaker, who is clearly ahead of the pack when it comes to the class of creativity that is inspired by and encapsulates our country.

For more information, visit www.arcadecontent.tv. Alternatively, connect with him on Twitter.

ELLE names their 2015 Rising Star

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First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in November 2015

Young Moroccan fashion designer, Hamza Guelmouss’s life changed in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 25 November when he took home top honours at the ELLE Rising Star Design Awards held at Hyde Park.

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By Remy Raitt

The ELLE Rising Star Design Awards in association with Mr Price (MRP) is the largest fashion prize in Africa, and since 2000 has launched the careers of some of Africa’s biggest names in the industry. Guelmouss, the only non-South African out of the six finalists, walked away with R30 000 and the opportunity to work in collaboration with MRP and launch his own range. He will also learn from a mentorship programme at MRP’s head office in Durban, obtain online business coaching with GetSmarter as well as receive exposure in ELLE Magazine.

The Awards and fashion show began with a sneak peek of MRP’s new range titled ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’. Taking cues from the Nirvana hit, the outfits matched feminine florals with grungy denim and hi-top sneakers to create an effortless free-spirited look.

ELLE 
Magazine editor, Gisèle Wertheim Aymés, then took to the catwalk to express her belief in the power of design. “I was asked if I thought design could change the world, and I said yes, it can, one stitch at a time,” she said. “Design shakes the way one experiences life, and fashion allows us all to be a little wilder, to express ourselves and even be extravagant,” she continued.

Wertheim Aymés congratulated all six finalists, saying that although there would only be one winner, there were many successes, all with their own beautiful stories.

The judges of the stiff competition ranged from fashion designers, MRP trend experts, ELLE Magazine staff and fashion’s foremost fundis. MRP Trend executive, Amber Jones, joined Wertheim Aymés on the runway to congratulate Guelmouss on his astounding achievement, but not before all the finalists showed off their various collections to a fixated front row.

Blünke Janse van Rensburg (21) opened the show with bright oversized bows and shoulder pads with a line that used kitsch elements to express her daring style. Next, 24-year-old Cara Geach’s monochromatic sporty range exuded simplistic luxury. She was followed by Durbanite Siyabonga Ntini (22) who’s street-style inspired garments used mint and mango colours to exude a hip, preppy vibe. Twenty-four-year-old Bianca Messina’s range was inspired by the Bauhaus movement and rock formations and offered a muted and minimalistic aesthetic that was both sexy and sophisticated. Daisy Jo Grobler (20) looked to nature for her line, which incorporated knits, embroidery and floral fabric to create a feminine line that honours her own heritage. Guelmouss (20) was the final young designer to display his garments on the runway. His edgy range made use of non-conformist structures, predominantly in black, layered in a way that exuded urban confidence and androgyny.

Last year’s ELLE Rising Star Design Award winner, Tamar Cherie Dyson’s line closed the show. White and creams dominated the colour palette while architectural lines exuded a chic and elegant aesthetic.

The audience was then treated to an up-close-and-personal look at all the garments on show thanks to AFI Fastrack.

For more information, visit www.elle.co.za. Alternatively connect with them on Facebook or on Twitter.

 

The all-round agency

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First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in November 2015

It’s impossible to attend an industry conference or talk without the word ‘integration’ entering your earholes. And the reason for this is because integration offers more; it enables communicators to give their clients strong, centralised solutions. 

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By Remy Raitt

More and more agencies are realising the power of the integrated service offering; and are subsequently evolving with the client and their needs. Kevin Welman, the managing director ofFleishmanHillard says; “We help tell the client’s story, and we need the ability to do that at any time, on any channel, in any way and anywhere.” He says integration makes this possible.

Pick your sides

But integration doesn’t just mean waking up one morning and taking on every service offering known to the modern marketer or public relations professional. Welman says it’s critical to seriously think about what services your agency should, and can, be offering. “The starting point is really, honestly knowing what you do and what you don’t do,” he says.

Put your client at the centre

Erica Gunning, the managing director of the South Africa MEC Group says integration occurs because clients crave “one desired effect”. She says because integrated agencies provide a full picture of how clients can reach the consumer, it’s integral the agency can fully provide the response the client is looking for. Welman echoes this, saying that integration is not for the benefit of the agency, but exist because clients want integrated solutions that are centralised.

Not only is this cost-effective for the client but also offers efficient solutions. Adrian Furstenburg, the media liaison of Just Perfect says an agency that can offer integrated services from conception to completion not only streamlines the process but also keeps it “focused in one place, with a common objective – from beginning to end, which means that it can receive the dedication and cultivation it needs to have the desired impact on the market”.

Dig into digital

Gunning and Furstenburg agree that digital is the biggest driver of integration. “Digital is fundamental as it links everything to everything – literally,” says Furstenburg. But this doesn’t mean traditional is left in the dust. Instead, Gunning says the agency has to find smart ways to merge digital platforms and traditional media. “This adds value in synergy,” she says. “But you need to work out how to build your reach and how to drive digital, once you’ve figure that out it’s easier to drive the client.”

“Digital is not new, it’s just a different channel,” says Welman. He believes the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to digital is that it’s multi-faceted, and therefore it’s imperative that the agency works out what platforms they should be offering their different services on.

The integrated employee

Around the world, advertising agencies and PR firms are coming together or morphing their service offerings to provide integrated solutions. Gunning says this fluidity between the two helps eliminate any overlap. “It makes life much easier if the client partners with one agency who can take care of the full pitch.” She says these requirements have prompted the birth of the “hybrid strategist”. Gunning and Welman say that an integrated agency would work with a two-fold approach; with one person managing the relationships and communications channels, and a team of specialists behind them who offer depth.

Challenges to overcome

When it comes to integration, Welman says the challenges are vast. “PR traditionally employed that specific A-type person, but now there’s this overlay of highly creative people too. There’s a new range of personality styles and working methods.” But he believes there’s a simple solution: “If the agency knows what they stand for, you will staff-up in direct relation to this and it will all come together.”

Do you work at an integrated communications agency? Tell us about the ups and downs of this type of operation below.

Press release mistakes you might be making

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First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in October 2015

The press release is the pinnacle of the public relations profession. They present the facts to the media so that a client’s product or brand can receive optimal publicity. But, if you’re sending out press releases littered with errors or annoyances, chances are, journalists will can them before they’ve even reached the last sentence.

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By Remy Raitt

Instead of looking at how to craft the perfect press release, we’re going to look at things to avoid. These are common mistakes that can be easily overlooked, so read on to ensure you’re not committing any of press release faux pas.

Don’t create a title doomed for the trash

“The title of your press release is the first thing a journalist will see, so make sure it’s concise, enticing and gives a good overview of your story,” says Katy Cowan in an article for Creative Boom. Samantha Pugh of Pugh Public Relations & Corporate Communications agrees, adding that the subject line “should never shout ‘brand’”. If appropriate, Pugh also suggests customising the subject line according to the receiver, she says these changes may reflect personal relationships or the needs of the receiver.

Lara Doundoulakis, owner and director of ThreeSixOh PR & Communications says in order to minimise the chances of your press release landing in the receiver’s spam folder, avoid using numbers in the subject line. The same goes for whole words in caps and the excessive use of exclamation marks.

Save time. Don’t waffle.

“In your email you should begin with an opening pitch that shouldn’t exceed two or three lines,” says Pugh. She says this introduction must explain why the information you have sent is important, don’t waste the journalist’s time with waffling.

Underneath your email message it’s wise to copy and paste your press release, this will assist journalists who are strapped for time to extract the information they need without fiddling with attachments, says Cowan.

Don’t pussyfoot with your press release

It’s smart to include an attachment of the press release too. Cowan says avoid PDF’s as these are tricky to copy and paste from. And copy and pasting is something the PR professional should strive for.

“The press release needs to promote the brand or product but it should still come off as unbiased. If a journalist is strapped for time they should be able to just copy and paste the press release and it should be able to fit in with the other editorial content,” says Pugh.

Pugh and Doundoulakis agree that the opening paragraph of your actual press release is the most important part. It should explain why this information is important and relevant and it should make the key message of the press release clear. “I always like to justify whatever copy I’ve added,” says Pugh.

Language you should lose

Flowery and overly flattering language are big no no’s says Pugh, and according to Doundoulakis, when it comes to your competitors, ‘mud-slinging’ and defamation must be steered completely clear of. Doundoulakis adds that spelling and grammar errors are unacceptable, as is SMS language.

Press releases need to be factual and specific; Doundoulakis says phrases like “in my opinion” should be avoided, as should sweeping terms like “the general public”.

Lessons in layout

“Press releases need to look professional,” says Pugh. With this in mind, she suggests using a font size that’s at least a size 10, in a font that’s easy to read. Doundoulakis adds that cursive writing, the use of all capital letters or the overuse of bold, italics or underlined words should be avoided. For a clean and professional look, Doundoulakis suggests always using black writing, breaking the text up into easy-to-read paragraphs and using bullets instead of commas when listing more than three things.

When it comes to hyperlinks, don’t over-do it. Pugh says only add the ones that will assist journalists. Don’t forget to test the hyperlinks to ensure they take the reader to the right place.

Don’t photo bomb

Attaching photographs will save the journalist time and energy, but if you send the wrong sorts of pictures you’ll just end up ticking them off. “Ensure you use quality photos that aren’t blurry and not random, they must relate to the press release,” says Pugh. Doundoulakis mirrors this sentiment, adding that if you have numerous relevant photographs, instead overloading the email, rather tell the journalist about the available options so that they can request the ones they want.

What are some other press release faux pas that should be avoided? Tell us below.

 

If you schmooze you lose

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First published on http://www.mediaupdate.co.za in September 2015

Industry events, client functions and launches are goldmines for new business opportunities. A successful PR practitioner will use these gatherings to make new connections and develop existing relationships. But, at these functions there exists a line; on one side sits genuine networking and on the other is agenda-driven schmoozing.

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By Remy Raitt

The word ‘schmooze’ itself even sounds smarmy and when networking opportunities are squandered for self-serving purposes, more than just reputation points could be lost. Business leads and existing contacts could also be jeopardised.

What’s the difference?

“I feel that networking is the process of developing long-term mutually beneficial relationships with people, and schmoozing is more ‘light and fluffy’ in that it focuses more on small talk, one-sided benefits for the schmoozers and does not have the reputation for being the most genuine act,” says Gabbi Rego, director at urban espresso. She believes that blatant schmoozing can look like “ego-gratification” which comes off as insincere.

Networking on the other hand is just that; work. It’s a two-way street that should profit both parties. Inan article for Huffington Post, Colette A.M. Phillips says when networking it’s important to focus on what each side will be gaining from the interaction. “In fact,” she says, “when it comes to networking it’s better to err on the side of giving than receiving.”

The life span differs too

“Networking is an ongoing process,” says new business developer at Newsclip, Hannes Joubert. “If done right, it can definitely bolster your career as it builds report with your peers and other influencers in the industry.” He says schmoozers, on the other hand, are often seen as “fly by nights”. He believes they can come off as opportunists who don’t offer the people they are interacting with anything constructive, and therefore aren’t likely to leave a lasting impression.

Back your business, not yourself

The impression great networkers leave is that they care about their industry and want to share this with those they come into contact with through genuine connections. “Effective networking can open doors you never imagined,” says Rego. “It helps you expand your circle and contact base, and can be great for new business leads, if done tactfully and genuinely.”

Instead of sharing their own contacts or offering valuable insight, schmoozers are after fans, they want to impress without thinking about the end goals.

Playing the long game

Seeking this kind of instant gratification does not work in effective networking. Phillips says expecting to make instant friends or connections is naïve. “The most you can hope for at an initial meeting is to make a connection. With follow up and careful nurturing over time, a connection could blossom into a very fruitful relationship,” she says. “The key is to view networking as a long-term career strategy and to be diligent about following up with contacts.”

This follow-up contact should be done in moderation. She suggests jotting down some relevant information about your initial meeting, and then, after a week has passed, drop them a mail and continue the mutually beneficial interaction.

Networking is for everyone

Successful networkers also know that there is no such thing as one kind of worthy connection. While schmoozers may only target the big wigs and obvious hot shots, networkers make time for everyone. “According to the experts you should network laterally, vertically and horizontally,” says Phillips. “Never underestimate the power of the grapevine, good information sometimes comes from the places you least expect it.”

Do you believe there’s a difference between networking and schmoozing? Tell us in the comments section below.

Building a little black book of contacts

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First published on http://www.mediaupdate.co.za in August 2015

There is probably no profession where the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” rings truer than public relations. So, how do PR officers fill their black books with reliable contacts who will disseminate information timeously and professionally?

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By Remy Raitt

Y&R South Africa PR officer, Carine du Preez says that without the relevant parties to receive the information the PR officer packages, messaging would be lost.

But how do PR professionals make, let alone maintain, relationships with these crucial contacts?

Grab every opportunity

Owner of Red Pen Communications, Laura Durham, says any chance to meet with someone new should be seized. “Whether it’s a new person at a friend’s braai, the person sitting next to you on the Gautrain or even the receptionist at your client’s office. You just never know who is going to help you in the future,” Durham says.

According to Tank PR, being yourself during these initial meetings is paramount.

Meanwhile Du Preez recommends taking advantage of the host of professional tools available these days. “Paid-for media lists afford you the opportunity to connect to the relevant contacts by providing e-mail addresses and beats of journalists at the publications in which you are interested,” she says. “Following relevant influencers on Twitter is another great way to make contact and to get a sense of what might add value to journalists and the publication for which they write. Attending networking events, and joining an industry body like PRISA, are excellent ways to establish and maintain your contact list as well.”

Durham says social media platforms offer plenty of opportunities. “Don’t underestimate social media sites, particularly LinkedIn as it can be a powerful network tool. Make sure your profile is well-written, with a professional picture, and you’re ready to grow your network.”

Nurture and grow relationships

Making connections is an important first step, but without communication and appreciation these bonds can easily fizzle out.

Du Preez says respect is key. “Journalists receive hundreds of e-mails a day and harassing them to publish your story will simply be destructive,” she says. “It’s also incredibly important to ensure that your news or angle is of value to them personally, and you need to be clear on why you are approaching them before you motivate for a story.” She says, in terms of other suppliers, PR officers should also ensure they are clear on expectations, deadlines and processes.

Du Preez and Durham also recommend regular catch-up’s with contacts over coffee or lunch. “They can go a long way in ensuring relevance and comfort within the professional relationship,” says Durham.

But it’s important not to overdo it. Durham says over-the-top gifts and heavy ‘schmoozing’ will only push contacts away.

What these relationships offer

A solid contact list can offer PR officers a lot; “Quicker turnaround times, a higher dissemination-to-publication conversion for press releases, and good chats over wine at events,” lists Du Preez. “It can also lead to journalists proactively approaching you and the brands you represent with requests for comment,” she says.

Keep them safe

Keeping track of all your contacts is obviously important if you want to speak to them again. Both Durham and Du Preez recommend taking advantage of electronic devices that save details across devices.

Printing out an updated list every few months is not a bad idea either, as technical malfunctions cannot always be avoided and would be an awful reason to lose the connections you have worked so hard on making.

Are you a PR officer? How do you make and maintain contacts?