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The Kingdom Of freebies

Publicists know they have to give the VIP’s and media free this or that on demand otherwise they will sulk or jump like monkeys

 SOUTH AFRICA is a free country with a fast growing mahala culture to show for it.

Think again if you thought the poor or the needy are alone in demanding -after all that’s what they were promised- free amenities like water, housing and other needs to keep life going on.

The rich, famous and well paid have -since the dawn of democracy- demanded “their share” of free things and be warned because they are prepared to hold a grudge, hate and or maybe even kill for them. Don’t even say a word about the politicians – the majority of them are the Kings and Queens of freebies. A sample of the views of professionals in public relations, marketing, communication and event organising in the field of sports and showbiz paints a shocking picture.

A mahala culture has become an endemic epidemic that says a lot about the state of mind of many in our country and that is; we generally don’t value ourselves that much and the work of others. The number of individuals -within the media, government, showbiz and private sector-who insist on getting things for nothing and free access to events and shows is increasing by day. Add to that a shameless sense of entitlement.

Journalists will attest to being called by someone they know who will ask, more in a demanding tone, for tickets to be organised for them to go to this or that event. Scribes are blackmailed or flattered -depending on how you see it- with the words: “you are connected men, you must make a plan.” Often because some among us scribes will do anything to ingratiate ourselves to friends, girlfriends, the powerful and rich we unthinkingly perpetuate the freebie scheme by playing along.

Lucas Mahlagane founder of Awareness Creation Marketing has handled the PR and marketing of many, artists, products, shows and international tours like the TD Jakes Tour, Joyous Celebration’s annual tour and the Yolanda Adams Concert at Rhema Church.

You can imagine the amount of demands for freebies he has had to deal with.

“The worse thing is that people, including really wealthy people and well paid executives, who ask or demand these things can afford to buy tickets to shows or to pay for whatever stuff they insist should be handed to them. It’s like they are entitled to free things hence some of them go bananas if you tell them to pay their way. They will go as far as insulting or threatening you. There’s an incident, which I really can’t talk about, but it traumatized me for a long time. It involved some rich people who demanded more tickets for an event when I had already given them some. I seriously had nothing left because if I had I would have given them just to save myself the trouble. I’m telling you, people are addicted to this thing and they need to be rehabilitated,” advice Mahlagane.

“People demand them like it’s their breath of life, it’s strange,” suggests Marang Setshwaelo, a co-founder and CEO of Dreamcatcher. Her company has been responsible for media relations for events like Arts Alive, the 46664 Johannesburg concert and the South African Music Awards. “I have learnt to work with it (the freebee situation), people will ask you for ten tickets and I make it clear that I can only give two or four.”

Vanessa Perumal, owner of JT Communication Solutions, identifies the major problem as the A-listers – socialites, politicians and government officials like the MEC’s and premiers. “They don’t want to pay for anything and most of the time we give them free things just to appease them,” she says.

Perumal has done publicity work for the annual Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, the Eddie and Gerald Levert show and several other big events. “In terms of journalist I have never had a huge problem especially with the senior ones. The most ridiculous demand I have ever had was from a South African based Jamaican journalist who wanted to know when a special transport will pick her up and drive her to the venue, in Polokwane, of a function I had invited her to. She also wanted three CDs.”

It’s crystal clear, to borrow from the lyrics of one of Fela Kuti’s songs Pansa Pansa, that publicists are forced to give certain executives and “A-listers” “their freebies” otherwise they will jump and scream like monkies.

Thembi Mahambehlala has seen it all as a publicist in the last twenty years or so as she has worked for several artists and music promoters who have staged massive shows.

“Ordinary people who are die-hard fans and work hard for their money never ask for hand-outs. On the other hand the ones who make money in their hundreds of thousands and in millions are not ashamed to say: ‘my friend is in town organise me VIP tickets… and oh! don’t forget to add another two for my cousin.’ I mean how do I account for that to the promoter who would have hired me? At the end of the day I also have to be paid. It’s bad …it’s a really bad thing, I’m telling you. When some promoters have run out of tickets, allocated as freebies, they go buy more with their own money. I know of a promoter who will say: ‘I will go and buy them so that I don’t loose your friendship.’ He does that to try and embarrass people but still they don’t get it. What people don’t understand is that computicket charges the promoter for those tickets that are printed for free. People should know about these things.”

A festival like Tribute To Heroes, staged annually at Moretele Park in Mamelodi, Tshwane, issues out a minimum of 500 free tickets, which means a loss of R80 000 potential income if a ticket is sold at minimum amount of R160. The Tribute organisers may now and then find themselves in a position where they have to allocate an extra hundred tickets or more to meet the late demands of the rich and powerful who are presumed to have the combination to the safe for sponsorship.

At the time of writing Computicket was still charging R2,85c (two rand eighty five cents) per free ticket printed so that’s another R1, 425 loss of income for the Tribute Show promoter. It may seem like an insignificant amount but when the above-mentioned figures are added and the loss because of fong-kong tickets, that undercut show organisers, is included then there is a business-killing recipe right there.

The fact is somewhere down line of the give me mahala culture people’s income and jobs are affected negatively as Mahambehlala pointed out. And all this just because of the greed and selfishness of the wealthy, powerful and people who can actually afford to pay. The income lost and the effects -on business- of the increasing culture of freebies cannot continue to be taken for granted if there’s a serious committed to creating jobs.

Journalists, broadcast show producers and their presenters are -for obvious reasons- largely spared by all the publicists that are quoted above. A slight criticism or mention of them as being in the wrong might result in no publicity for clients of the communicators. But the fact is there are some scribes who don’t see any fault in calling a promoter to ask for ten tickets of a particular show or expect, if not demand, that they are wined and dined, often with their girlfriends, wives or friends, like kings. It’s the abuse of a kind of relationship that is viewed as a scratch my back and I will scratch yours.

The next time people who pay their way see some pompous and bragging spoilt-brat driving into the VIP parking area of an event in an expensive and or pimped car- wearing expensive designer label clothing and sunglasses- they should console themselves with the knowledge that the brat is probably a cheap skate who demanded and threatened someone for a free pass to be at the event or show.

*I have never in the over ten-years of my career demanded that I’m given things for free. But as a journalist I do get offers for free things all the time, of course there’s an agenda behind it, and yes I accept them and they have never blurred my judgement.


NB: This piece first appeared in the print edition of MusikMag

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