Words for the music.
19 November 2017 18:05 (South Africa)
Opinionista Fred Roed

Five PR lessons we can learn from Julius Malema

  • Fred Roed
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    Fred Roed

    Fred first started teaching people how to build their brands in the digital economy way back in 1998. Fred is currently the CEO of digital marketing agency World Wide Creative, with clients such as Honda, Old Mutual, Fancourt, Virgin, Exclusive Books and Ferrari, and is also the co-founder of The Heavy Chef Project, dedicated to demystifying digital marketing. Fred is obsessed with brand strategy and digital media - with side habits of pizza, Hawaiian shirts, movies, Danish beer and fine wine. Fred also happens to do a mean version of ‘Angie’ by the Rolling Stones at 3am in any randomly selected Korean karaoke joint (feel free to search for it on YouTube).

Juju is getting a LOT of press these days – and all without the help of a recognised publicist. We marketing folk can only sit back in wonder at the way he's threading his rhetoric through the fabric of South African consciousness. I took the liberty of observing his tactics over the past few weeks and distilling them into the following five lessons.

Lesson #1. First fear, then desire

It’s the oldest trick in the marketer’s book. Julius is currently the world heavyweight champion at using fear to sell his message. In other words, he paints frightening pictures via a stream of fiery speeches j-u-u-st before offering a solution to their woes. The idea behind this technique is to elicit wanton and irresponsible desire for an alternative, no matter how extreme. When delivering his messages, he swiftly drills down to the trigger points that evoke a required response. Regardless of his audience, Juju does this well. The poor fear for a destitute and hungry future; and are led to desire a nationalist state. The rich fear their gravy train to be whisked away, and desire Julius’ head on a plate. Our man intuitively knows that fear and desire drive all human behaviour, and he wields both like fire-sticks at a Vaudeville show. So, lesson one: figure out what scares the kak out of your target market, then butter them up with... well, whatever the heck you want.

Lesson #2. Hunt in packs

My wife was attracted to me the first time she saw me (at a pub in Hermanus 12 years ago) apparently because my cocky friends and I arrived at the place like a gang of thieves. My entrance, my wife says, kinda flipped the “on” switch for her. This is a common reaction amongst humans. It’s the Schoolyard Syndrome. We’re compelled by – and afraid of – the rabble-rousing wolf packs. Right now, Julius is the pack leader of the scariest breed in town. Notice how he never appears in the media without his henchmen. These are the guys willing to do his beckoning – nodding when he speaks; picking up his bar tabs; doing his laundry and beating up pitiful journalists if required. This is not a new strategy. Every notable public figure has employed it in the past, from Genghis Khan and Al Capone to Silvio Berlusconi and Kim Jong-il. Traveling en masse makes an impact. So for your next industry event, networking soirée, or business get-together, kit up your crew with some dark glasses and heavy leather jackets. Then hit the place like gangbusters and make some noise.

Lesson #3. Own your space (regardless of the circumstances)

I sat next to Julius Malema once on a plane traveling from Johannesburg to Durban*. It was a Kulula flight (I know, right?), and we were horribly delayed by a late passenger. Turns out the errant traveller was Juju himself. Not fazed by the irate glares from fellow commuters, Julius made his way to the vacant seat next to me and promptly fell asleep. What stood out for me most was his gait, his confident strut, as he strolled down the aisle. It was spectacular. He acted like the airplane was his own private VIP room, with the strains of “Staying Alive” playing in the background. Try this method the next time you go to a meeting. Arrive 30 minutes late, then prop your feet up on the table and feign falling asleep. You may not get the business, but you’ll feel liberated.

*Interesting side-note: Juju is a nervous flyer.

Lesson #4. Other people think it. You say it.

Ever since Malema first hogged the spotlight, people have been scratching their heads asking “how on Earth did this dude get here?” Yet despite the bloopers, flip-flopping politics and below-par woodwork results, Julius is consistently the most underestimated politician in Africa. In reality Malema has his finger on the pulse of the population, providing a voice for the voiceless. Listen carefully to his messages to his people and you will hear “I am like you” and, most importantly, “I understand you”. Out of these tenets, comes his innate ability to know exactly what his followers are thinking – and how to articulate it to an eager media. This is deceptively hard to do well, and is something that will keep him in the public eye for as long as he chooses – whether his hordes of opponents like it or not.

Lesson #5. Leave a mess behind you

Luthuli House last week was reminiscent of an Arsenal-Wimbledon football after-party in the mid-nineties. Burnt flags, empty beer bottles, stones and half-bricks strewn all over the place. How many parties have you been to where you’ve had the opportunity to have a jol like that? (Certainly not Helen’s party!) Julius knows that his people are frustrated – and nothing is as universally satisfying to a dissatisfied community as a good ol’ fashion riot. It may not be pretty but enticing this kind of behaviour serves two useful purposes: it gets you on the front page, and it strikes apprehension in your enemies. An angry crowd projects a message that's hard to ignore. A little hooliganism goes a long way. Try it. You may get your organisation expelled (or get expelled from your organisation), but as sure as anything, people will remember you. DM


  • Fred Roed
    fred roed wider
    Fred Roed

    Fred first started teaching people how to build their brands in the digital economy way back in 1998. Fred is currently the CEO of digital marketing agency World Wide Creative, with clients such as Honda, Old Mutual, Fancourt, Virgin, Exclusive Books and Ferrari, and is also the co-founder of The Heavy Chef Project, dedicated to demystifying digital marketing. Fred is obsessed with brand strategy and digital media - with side habits of pizza, Hawaiian shirts, movies, Danish beer and fine wine. Fred also happens to do a mean version of ‘Angie’ by the Rolling Stones at 3am in any randomly selected Korean karaoke joint (feel free to search for it on YouTube).

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