Whose Spotlight Is It Anyway?

I wanted to post this few weeks ago but I decided not to because I had a bit of a tiff with a publicist from one of our local channels. I didn't want him to think that this is about him. Funny enough though, the whole incident was actually another proof of the issue that I am raising here.

I had a conversation with Lunga Shabalala the other day and he was telling me about how great life's been since he joined Selimathunzi. During our conversation I realised something that had been bothering me for a while but have never really felt the need to express it.

Black artist management and publicists. The reason why that came to mind is that I had to recommend a manager to Lunga but when I thought of it, it dawned on me that there are very few black publicicts and/or managers in this country that know what being a publicist or doing PR means.

I am of the opinion that black publicists and managers are partly to blame for the failure of South African black artists to have lucrative careers in this industry. Often you will find that a “manager” is competing with his/her own clients for the spotlight when he/she should be in the background making sure that his/her clients get the recognition that will further their career.

In this country where publicists/managers are celebrities, artists are never the priority. It doesn't take a genius to know that, a working relationship of that nature can only yield bad results. Which then begs the question:
  • How will you be able to promote someone that you are competing with? 
  • How would you be able to sell a brand while you busy trying to push yourself ahead of the brand? 

Then there are those publicists who work for big brands where they have to deal with guests lists. That's where you get to wonder where some of this people get their qualifications from. I didn't study Public Relations but common sense dictates that as a publicist you represent the interest of the brand not yours.

Sadly, the norm at these events is for these publicist to fill guestlists with their buddies and snub people who would actually help promote the brand. You find that as a blogger or journalist you have to jump through hoops to be accommodated while people who will just be at an event for nothing but to show off their clothes will get priority, then you have to ask where's the logic in that?

I intentionally mentioned that this is a BLACK problem because it is. There is a reason why white artists who do the same jobs that black artists do tend to have viable careers that can support their lifestyles than their black counterparts.

Though the tide is somewhat turning, be that at a very slow pace, black artists are still slaves to fame without the fortune. Black faces are splashed on magazines and tv screens yet very few of those faces actually reap the rewards of that exposure. The reason for that is that many of them do not treat their careers as businesses.

They are just happy to be on TV and famous. Their agents, managers and publicists are just interested in making money off of their sudden fame without giving them the proper tools to build a brand with longevity.

Take Lira for example; her career sowed after she left her black owned recording company, Bonang has become SA's most successful personal brand and if you would ask any other artist that is doing well both career-wise and financially in this country- chances are they would have a white manager, publicist or agent behind them.

That's because white management companies understand that the client (or the brand) comes first. You will never see successful white publicists or artist managers on society pages hogging the spotlight from celebrities they represent.

The relationship between the manager/publicist and the artist is about making sure that the artist shines. At the end of the day, the bigger your artist get, the bigger your business as a manager will be. Sadly with our black folks, publicists are friends with their clients, personal issues interfere with work relationship, etc.


Oh this is a interesting one to tackle. Our publicists/managers are so into themselves you will find that when you criticise a show, artist or brand, instead of the publicist/manager communicating with you and trying to find out what your displeasure with his client or company is so that he/she can sort it out and improve, they get all personal.

Which then goes back to the fundamental rule of PR – IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU!!!. I swear any journo or blogger will tell you that they have been rebuked, snubbed or sometimes attacked for simply pointing out flaws which in an industry that relies heavily on perception should not warrant a negative response but rather a platform for dialogue so that the flaws can be fixed.

In this country the only motive for critising someone is perceived to be jealousy. We are all expected to swallow mediocrity with big smiles because if you dare to question it, you are a traitor or you jealous of your fellow black folks.

Whatever happened to “learn from your mistakes”? If our artists are not performing to the standards that can compete with international stars, are we supposed to just be proud? If when someone points out some flaws or inadequacies in the way we do things, we brand them a HATER - aren't we then shooting ourselves in the foot because if we only have “Yes-Sirs” around us we will never know if we are growing or not.

These are the questions I often ask myself when I see publicists/managers get viciously defensive when they are being criticised. I fully understand that it is not nice when someone criticises your work especially when you think you excelling at it, it's a huge blow to one's ego.

BUT if they can just understand that criticism can only help them and the industry to grow therefore we should embrace it. Of course not every criticism is constructive but when you know the person's credentials and know that they are not just criticising to settle scores then wouldn’t it be helpful for you to take a moment to understand why they have those issues and try to solve them instead of getting into a defensive and then a retaliation mode?

It's about damn time that our local artist (actors, designers, presenters, musician, etc) start taking their place in society as not just faces we see on our media pages and screens but viable brands that can use their names to sustain their livelihood.

That will not happen until the roles within our industry are defined properly and we start treating this industry as a business that require certain structures to be in place. If that fails then maybe we ought to go back to these tertiary institutions and re-look at the curriculum for PR courses.

The truth is that, the PR industry in its current state within the black community is killing our industry.

At this point I would not advice anyone to sign up with a black management company if you really want to see your brand and career grow. The only other option that one has is to have some family connection so that you can be assured that your best interest will be prioritised.

Connie Ferguson is managed by her husband, Reality Tv Stars Hlelo and Ntando Masina are managed by their brother and many other artists have gone this route and it seems to be working.

As for big companies that employ publicists, I think a tutorial for your stuff on who is important between them and the brand they represent should be mandatory. No publicist should ever think they are bigger than the brand and whatever event the company throws is about them and not the brand.

Journos and bloggers are also sometimes to blame. Why do we put publicist on our blogs or social pages? The fact that we photograph them is fueling the problem.  :)

Publicist: is a person whose job is to generate and manage publicity for a public figure, especially a celebrity, a business, or for a work such as a book, film or album. Most top-level publicists work in private practice, handling multiple clients.
Talent Manager, also known as an Artist Manager: is an individual or company who guides the professional career of artists in the entertainment industry. The responsibility of the talent manager is to oversee the day-to-day business affairs of an artist; advise and counsel talent concerning professional matters, long-term plans and personal decisions which may affect their career.


Anonymous said...

Amen!!!!! I am so forwarding this to my colleagues

Anonymous said...


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