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Deborah Pead began her company Pead PR 15 years ago at her kitchen table, and has made it one of the most successful public relations firms in the country. She says South Africans have a stigma in New Zealand that they work hard to overcome.

1. What do you make of the 'PR Trout' label?

For me, that's a badge of honour and I like the fact that it was coined, I think, by [Herald writer] Steve Braunias which gives it a real integrity. Ha! It stands for someone who has stood the test of time and earned their stripes in the industry and still swims upstream.

2. Does promoting things for money get a bad name?

No, not at all. It's a fundamental right to expect to be paid for labour. As long as you are not coerced into compromising your principles our industry has no reason to suffer a bad rep. And we are entitled to refuse an assignment if we don't agree with the ethics of the brief. I'm as comfortable promoting the R&D from L'Oreal's scientists as I am in alerting Aucklanders to the ever-creeping exploitation of our natural harbour. Yes, we were working on the Pause the Port campaign - it's insane that we are going to exploit this natural jewel in our city's crown and for [port expansion] to happen on our watch is unthinkable. Our grandkids will point a finger at us.

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3. What, in your opinion, is the definition of a good campaign?

One that connects with an audience and inspires them into action. The Tui Catch is a brilliant campaign. No, it's not one of ours, but I wish we had thought of it. It works because it's so simple - people get it. I love the fact that the off-field catches are more important than the on-pitch fielding. On the front page of the newspaper you don't see a brilliant bit of fielding, you see the guy [in the crowd] who caught the ball.

4. How would you describe your childhood?

I had a privileged childhood in the bizarre days of apartheid South Africa. I was surrounded by teenage parents, on one hand, along with The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Pony Club. On the other hand I was aware of the exiled ANC, the Free Mandela campaign, police brutality and domestic servants. It was a childhood of extremes, a lucky childhood. But where that started changing was when I grew a few brain cells and realised that what I enjoyed wasn't the status quo for everyone. Becoming aware of the difference, and knowing it wasn't right, that was difficult because you experience a backlash from your own community and friends and family for standing up for what's right. Most South Africans carry a sense of guilt that we didn't do or say more.

5. When were you last embarrassed?

So often, but I try not to sweat the small stuff - it's not worth the angst. But only last week in a meeting with NZ Football they mentioned one of their ambitions was to get the All Whites to Russia in 2018. I asked, "What's happening in Russia in 2018?" If looks could kill, my colleagues would have slaughtered me.

6. What did your parents teach you?

My Irish mother's favourite expression was "tell the truth and shame the Devil" but my dad said "no one remembers who came second" and that put a lot of pressure on, to not only win but to achieve your goals. A lot of the pressure to be successful came from a fear of not letting him down. It's made me conscious of letting my kids have more fun along the way, and letting them know the love is unconditional whether they achieve or not.

Mum and dad's marriage failed and that taught me that family must come first. Seeing the total devastation that my parents' divorce caused - it created a [broken] family. I was determined that would never happen to my family and luckily my husband Carl has had the same goal.

7. What else were you determined never to pass on to your own children?

My father's anger and violence. He was very volatile and dealt with conflict by lashing out. I'm proud that my children have seen that there are more loving ways to raise a family and I am so proud of the young adults they have become.

8. How are South Africans different?

There are a lot of similarities - obvious ones, rugby, Southern Hemisphere, outdoor life, beer and barbecue. But South Africans in New Zealand have to work very hard to dispel preconceived prejudices and to make up the ground you lose when you emigrate. I think that's the same for most foreigners. You have to work really hard to re-establish your credentials, your loss of history, to prove yourself, and South Africans have that added baggage of the prejudice which is particularly acute in New Zealand because people were so vocal during times of apartheid. You always feel you are trying hard to prove yourself. Kiwis are so much more laid-back, have a weekend-to-weekend attitude, shy away from success in business. We're patriotic in sport but not so much in business. We do well - but we could do so much better.

9. When have you been down, and how did you pull yourself out?

My mother's early onset of dementia is a real challenge for us right now - it's hard watching a successful role model become vulnerable and exposed. Yes, it's made me very aware of my own mortality. It's another reason not to waste a minute. No, not to cut back on work - that just speeds up mortality. Retirement for me will not be sitting on a beach with my bum in the sand and feet in the water, it'll be work. Charity work probably. Working but maybe not with the same level of responsibility.

10. What are the principles you live your life by?

Balance. Anyone who knows me knows I work hard and smart, I value my friends, I play hard, I make sleep count, I moisturise, I've learned to relax on my weekends on our farm, I drink good wine. Also, it costs nothing to be nice, far better to make someone's day than ruin it.

11. How have you combined work and family?

You can do it all but there are sacrifices to having a fulfilling career and complete family life. You need to be well-organised, motivated, have a partner who respects that parenting is a joint responsibility and not the focal obligation of the mum. Both my children have worked at Pead PR and it's easy to pull rank in the workplace. It's when we get home we have the issues and they give me lip about who is unloading the dishwasher.

12. How do you feel about ageing?

I love it. Apart from the wrinkles and the constant maintenance - the gym, the natural ash [hair] - I'm loving the confidence you get. I'm so much more comfortable with the decisions I make. I don't have that awkwardness that you feel when you are younger, or the uncertainty. I have more courage in my convictions and I'm really enjoying that. I think I'm going to be a very good baby boomer.