It’s not quite true that publicity is good, even when it’s bad. Being in the headlines, except when winning a beauty contest or a boxing championship, can be traumatic for once private lives.
PR practitioners are sometimes hired not to raise a client’s profile but to do the opposite, to move a high profile individual to relative anonymity. If this is not possible, the other tack is to associate him with an unrelated field from the present one, like the saving of the monkey-eating eagle for someone being investigated for cigarette smuggling.
The urge to avoid publicity is necessitated by the unrelenting attention of media. Those in the news for the wrong reasons would want to flee the limelight for the backstage, if not the front row audience. Nonpayment of leases of public lands, celebrity couples breaking up and bringing up charges of unexplained wealth (for dividing), and exposed scams involving thousands of victims eventually want to sort out their problems out of the glare of media.
Political bickering arising from legislative intrusions on the promotions process and uncooperative heads of government agencies can result in a spate of investigations and expose’ of athletic personnel requiring a review of their job descriptions.
Even ordinary events like an unlikely couple making out in a couch at a party can be given abnormal coverage and invite prurient interest, when involving celebrities. These same activities, more scandalous in intensity and frequency, when involving anonymous couples do not rate a mention even in dinner party conversation, unless they involve office mates. Drivers having babies with maids only affect their employers — now, who will do the cooking?
What advice can be given to a celebrity in a messy separation involving time inside a cupboard and some torture (confiscation of dangling earrings while still attached to ear lobes)? If she’s too upset about all the media fuss, can she still flee to temporary anonymity? An anonymous former spouse wanting financial support from an employed celebrity will require different PR handlers: the first to raise her profile, and the second to pull down his.
Not all the possible flights to oblivion are readily available. (I’m going to Bolivia.)
Whistle-blowers for example can be hidden under a witness protection plan. But this option is too difficult to pull off. It requires a big case involving powerful people who can hire motorcycle riders. After they testify against some syndicate, bent on giving them cement boots for underwater attire, witnesses can disappear into another identity — fortune tellers in a product launch.
Discussing with reporters the alleged warm words from an absent and erstwhile partner/torturer does not douse media frenzy. Refusing to go to talk shows or give any comments for attribution and refraining from sending text messages to media help a scandal lose steam. The oxygen of a fiery story needs to be sucked out of the room.
Inaccessibility helps. Go on a trip abroad. This disappearance from the local scene is a leisurely form of media unavailability. The shelf life of a story is only 10 days — unless there are more than 40 fatalities. Also, this short attention span can get extended with new twists in the plot, like the discovery of “the other man” or the addition of some political twist to an otherwise only sleazy story.
Friends too should be asked to keep out of the cycle even when they profess to give their “full support.” These testimonials only make things worse. (She’s okay. She may just have fallen in with a bad crowd.) These public defenders tend to have their own agenda of raising their very low profiles — I knew her from school. She was the class tart.
Even without conscious effort, anyway, a fall from grace happens in the natural course of events. The land of former celebrities or those with “ex” problems is full of vaguely recognizable individuals. One only has to look at politics to understand the meaning of “has been.”
Celebrities at the height of popularity or media frenzy often lament their mobbed state — I hope one day to walk around the mall unnoticed. It does not take too long for a new batch of younger talents from the celebrity factories to get the mob’s attention. Then the erstwhile celebrity can go malling without need for security against fans wanting their pictures taken with her.
Obscurity, for most of us blessed with it, offers some benefits. Nobody pays attention to our mistakes… unless they involve celebrities.
A. R. Samson is chair and CEO of Touch DDB.