Sally Obermeder, 43, is a co-host for Channel 7’s The Daily Edition, a best-selling author of Super Green Smoothies, and a creative director at Swiish – a health and lifestyle website she launched five years ago with her sister, Maha Koraiem. Sally chatted to us about the difficulty of making it in the television industry, and reassessing her career after battling breast cancer.
After I left school, I went to university and did a commerce degree majoring in accounting and marketing. When I finished uni, I worked at Westpac for two years before working in a recruitment agency for a year as their in-house accountant. It was then that I realised I didn’t like accounting and asked instead if I could become a recruiter. I worked for one year as a recruitment agent and realised I didn’t like that either.
I decided to take a few months off and do some temping work where I ended up temping in the dealing room at BT. Once I was in the dealing room I realised I loved it. I stayed at BT as a temp doing some really shitty jobs, but it was because I loved it; basically I was just trying to find an avenue to stay. Eventually a job came up in funds management at BT and I took it! I realised I loved finance, more so than accounting so I stayed for seven years.
But eventually I realised that what I’ve wanted to do my whole life was work in television – so I left. While I was trying to get a job in TV I became a personal trainer to help pay the bills, and set up a personal training business. But I realised I should probably make a Plan B in case I couldn’t get into television and studied naturopathy.
I was around 30 years old when I left BT and every single person I knew – with the exception of Maha and Marcus – were like, “What the fuck are you doing?! This is ridiculous, you left a perfectly well paying job that you spent 10 years building; you’ve worked all this time to get a good job, security, to work in a big firm, to get a good job title, and you’ve essentially just walked out so that you can do what again?” But I didn’t care.
For the whole three years of trying to get a job, while I was doing courses, community television, practising at home in my lounge room, people kept saying, “I don’t think this is going to happen for you.” And I was just thought, you know what, that’s ok that you think that. I don’t think that and I don’t actually need you to encourage me because it’s my job to encourage myself.
Eventually I got lucky. I got a job at Sydney Weekender as a researcher and a couple years after that I landed an on-air spot for Sydney weekender for one day a fortnight. The day I got that job was amazing, but I still knew I had a long way to go – it wasn’t the end. That first role was kind of just the very very beginning. I think you always feel like you haven’t made it, I always feel like there’s more to do.
After almost four years at Sydney Weekender I left with no job to go to but I knew I needed to leave in order to go to a bigger show. It took six months of trying to get a job before I landed a role at Today Tonight as their entertainment reporter, where I stayed for nearly five years until I gave birth to my first daughter, Annabelle, and discovered I had breast cancer.
I was in treatment when I started to think, if I survive what is it that I really want to do. Do I even want to go back to work at all, and if I do, what do I want to do? I decided I definitely wanted to go back to television, after all, I loved it. But I wanted to do something else as well. I wanted to start a business with my sister, Maha – which was something we have always wanted to do but our paths were never quite on the same page. So after one of my surgeries I called Maha and told her I wanted to set up a website all about having a great life, at an affordable price – which is just so us. She was just like, “Uh, yeah, ok. But aren’t you still in the hospital? Are you popped up on medication?” I thought, yeah probably. But I was serious – I wanted to work together. And it was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had.
At that point I had finished my chemo but I was still doing surgeries and radiation so I just started to map out if we did this, what would it look like and what would we do? We picked a day and said, right, let’s go! You’re never going to get it right, you are always going to be changing it as you go anyway and that was something that I had realised from having the personal training business. You can spend a lot of time getting ready but eventually you’ve just got to jump off the cliff and do it. We just started and it grew and grew. We learnt from our mistakes, we got better at working out exactly what our reader wanted, we got a better understanding of who our reader was, better at taking photos – it was the skills you need to learn on the job.
My time at Today Tonight really helped with Swiish because the thing you really learn is, what is the headline for this story? What is the tagline that’s going to get people in? What’s the sexy part that’s going to get the person across the line? It might be a lipstick, but what is it specifically about it? And you learn to really dig around, to separate the good stories from those that are a bit more mundane.
I made sacrifices to get to where I am, especially when I was trying to get into television. I was thiry-something; everyone was buying houses, going on great holidays, having kids – and I couldn’t do any of those things. I had no money, Marcus and I had all this debt, we were basically scrimping and saving every cent because we were barely getting by while everyone else was living it up. But I didn’t care, that’s just the sacrifice you make.
I definitely have regrets. I wish I started what I wanted to do sooner. That’s true on one hand but on the other hand, you just don’t have the life experience. Inevitably, the things that you’ve been through can work to your advantage. For instance, Maha and I have come from different corporate backgrounds, but in a business, those two backgrounds mesh together so well – nothing is ever wasted experience.
I think it’s because I have a few different things that I have my dream job. I really love the diversity of them, I love that they’re slightly similar but they’re also slightly different. They’re all very challenging in their own different ways and I like that. I like that it forces me to think and there’s no day where I think I don’t know what I did today, I didn’t just shuffle some paper and come home. I’m always on a sort of adrenalin rush – you’re very alive and it’s very rewarding.
If you want to get into television, I think you should go for it. Be your own cheerleader, I think that is one of the most important things – and persistence. You really need persistence for anything that you want to do because it is tough, it’s tough but that’s what also makes it rewarding.