Lessons From Bonang Matheba's Success Part 1

Barely a month in South Africa goes by without Bonang Matheba being the centre of attention for some new achievement in her career or business venture. She is known as the Queen of all things media and she wears that crown effortlessly. I joked this week — after receiving an invitation to yet another Bonang event — that our South African entertainment industry should now be called "The Bonang Industry" as she seems to run this motha*. How does she do it? 

By all account and evidence, Bonang Matheba would not be the big star that she is — given the fact that beyond social media platforms, she does not command big numbers in terms of support. The Kardashians, love or hate them, are big stars because they bring in ratings for their shows' channel.

Bonang's claim to fame is as a television host. While her unique and now signature style of presenting is commendable, she has never been on a ratings topping show. The show that launched her career, LIVE on SABC1, was never on the Top 10 Shows of that channel let alone on tv generally. 

Her current shows are not ratings gold either. Top Billing is viewed by a measly 900 000 (as indicated by the latest TAMS ratings for Week 20 of 2014) and Clash Of The Choirs on Mzansi Magic possibly averages around 100 000 to 200 000 viewers per episode. 

With those numbers, Bonang is one of the least watched tv stars in this country — bearing in mind that the number one most watched show in South Africa averages just under 8 million viewers and the top entertainment and magazines shows average around 3 million. 

How is it possible that with those numbers, Bonang has managed to amass such success, become a formidable force in the business and be a influential cultural phenomena in this industry?

Queen B*'s success can be attributed few factors; Work ethic, Entrepreneurial drive, Good Management and Relationships, among other things. 

  • Work ethic
We all work hard so what separates her from the rest of us?— Bonang shows up!! Most people who have worked with Bonang will tell you that when it comes to work, she delivers. I have yet to hear someone say Bonang disappointed them on a gig by not showing up or not doing what she was contracted to do.

Having worked with her (and for her) on Lights Camera Fashion, I was able to witness this first hand. She was available for every meeting, and on time. When things were not done at the time that they were supposed to have been done, she would just take the phone and do it herself. 

TIP: This is not Hollywood, being a diva and unreliable will kill your career faster than you can say "iyo bangani iyo". Time is money. If you can be on time and deliver without wasting anybody's, then you will likely be called back the next time. Respect people you work with even the ones you think are not that important because today's assistant can be tomorrow's head of content for a channel that you are auditioning for.
  • Entrepreneurial Drive 
Bonang Matheba - the brand, is a business that is able to generate income for the star just as is for the channels and media companies she works with. 

TIP: Bonang and other few celebrities nowadays have pioneered a new phase in our industry of artists treating their careers as and understanding that this industry is a business ... if you are not making money, someone-else is making money off of you. 

You have to understand that with your talent you are selling a commodity. As you would with a product, you have to be remunerated for your talent. The first person that has to benefit from your talent is you. TV channel, radio station or any company are not doing you a favour. It is a transaction that has to benefit both parties. Know your worth and be able to negotiate a fair price for your "product", which is your skill.  
  • Good Management. 
This is at the crux of Bonang's career success. She has chosen her management team proficiently. Today you need a strong team that understands and can implement multi-channel marketing to be able to sustain a profitable brand. 

A common denominator between all the so called "IT Girls" in SA, who are bagging these huge endorsements, is the fact that they are managed by brand management companies. That is a plus in terms of opportunities by association and the fact that a brand management company will treat a star as business . 

TIP: Having your brother or cousin manage your career , with all its sentimental credits, only means that you will be limited to the contacts that he or she has. Sorry.  But being signed to a company that has other brands as clients means that when the company comes up with advertising campaigns for their clients you stand a better chance of being thought of in terms of being a brand ambassador for those clients. 

For example, in Bonang's case, she is signed to DNA Brand Architects which also counts Brutal Fruits, Nedbank, Woolworths and Revlon as some of their clients. Hmmm now ...who has Bonang gotten business deals with recently? ... think about it... take your time... GOT IT?. The same can be said for Pearl Thusi and others, they tend to get endorsement and business deals with brands that are associated with their brand management companies.   

Still on the issue of management; if you are an actor or presenter do not expect that your agent will get press coverage or endorsement deals for you. Rarely do agents in this country get involved in clients' careers beyond just sending them to auditions. If you want to be a brand that makes money beyond your tv or radio job then getting a separate management representation is vital.

It also important to choose the right management representation for you and what you want to achieve in your career.

One big career killer is to sign with a manager who wants to be a celebrity. A manager that walks the redcarpet and is always on camera will only be competing with his or her clients. The focus for the manager should be on pushing his or her clients to get media coverage, not themselves. 

Anyone who has attended any of DNA (they represent Bonang) events will tell you that you won't see the employees of the company hogging the spotlight from their guests or busy walking the red carpet. Even with the owner Sylvester Chauke, you will not see him playing a celebrity. 
  • Relationships 
What Bonang has managed to master is — the art of building a relationship with your support base. You see it with all the succesful people these days, from Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber to Lady Gaga, even Madonna has seen the importance of building a relationship with the fans in this social media era.

Relationship with fans; When it comes to her fans Bonang is one of the most engaging stars on social media to her fans especially on Twitter and Instagram. She engages her fans by giving them what they want. They want the fashion, she delivers. They want the behind-the-scenes of her seemingly glamorous life, she delivers, — thus keeping them feeling like they are part of her life instead of just being voyeurs

TIP: The importance of building such relationships is that the fans will reward you with loyalty. When Bonang calls on her fans to rally behind her they oblige gladly.  

Relationship with the media; Bonang understands the role of the media in her career. She knows that to keep the Bonang magic dust flowing she needs the media machine to support her. However, she also understand that there is a price to pay for that privilege. 

What stands out for me personally about her is the fact that she can take a constructive criticism. Bonang respects professionalism. She is able to deduce that not every negative review is borne out of malice. I know this for a fact because I had a conversation about it with her at a Woolworths event few weeks ago. Of course I already knew this of her because I have not always praised everything she does but when she started her own company and was producing her first TV show, she hired me.  

TIP: Being able to take criticism will take you far in this industry and the only way to attain that is to remove yourself from the bubble of the groupies and delusions of grandeur. People who praise everything you do just to buy your face do nothing for your career but hold you back from growing your craft or brand. 

You need to have honest feedback on your work so you can improve. Yes Ma'am and Yes Sirs are a distraction and only serve to perpetuate an illusion that is unsustainable. You have to be able to differentiate from an attack out of spite and a constructive criticism coming from a professional.


Summary: Bonang has managed to break the ceiling and attracts commercial success which has eluded most stars in our industry. She has redefined being a celebrity in SA.

I attribute her success to 4 fundamental rules of the game she has mastered;
  • Entrepreneurial Drive - she treats her career as a business
  • Good management - she has chosen the right team to manage her career
  • Relationship - she invests thought and action on the relationship she has with her fans and the media
  • Work Ethic - the girl delivers on her contractual obligations. 

More of my observatory account of the success of B* from a fan, tv critic and entertainment commentary perspective. 
  • The role of Social Media in Bonang's success
  • What sacrifices come with building a brand and career like Bonang's?
  • Queen B VS Bonang - the person and the brand, it can't be all perfect afterall
  • What has Bonang's success inadvertently taught us about our industry?

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