By Tony Samson
PR PRACTITIONERS traditionally hired to raise the profile of clients to move them from zero to hero (especially in an election year) may also be employed to do the opposite. They work to cast a high-profile individual who is extremely wealthy or politically powerful, or both, into relative obscurity. The effort to keep somebody out of the news cycle (no news is good news) can entail “spiking” or killing negative stories before they’re posted.
Still, high-profile incidents are sometimes witnessed by too many people to escape comment and trolling in social media. Celebrities are in the unfortunate position of being in the spotlight even when just being noisy in a bar or not picking up their dogs’ poo in a mall. Can a photo and an upload in social media be far behind?
Even pedestrian events like arriving at a party with a different partner are given undue attention. Such mundane activities, or even less quotidian ones, when involving anonymous people do not rate even a dinner conversation. Anonymity has its benefits, mainly being ignored and left alone. “Anonymous,” after all, derives from the Greek word, meaning “no name.”
Scandals are associated almost exclusively with celebrities. Would a list of drug users be of interest to the public if the names are unrecognizable? Is the sex video of a barber taking liberties with a masseuse going to go viral? (It depends on his haircut.)
What advice can one give a celebrity in a messy separation involving time inside a cupboard and occasional violence (taking back gift of dangling earrings while still worn)? Video recordings of embarrassing moments make the flight to anonymity challenging, especially when the snippet has already gone viral. Denials just make things worse.
The best practice on anonymity belong to witness protection programs for whistle blowers who expose powerful criminals. Here are agents who can hide witnesses behind new identities and even some plastic surgery, after they testify against the mafia, bent on giving them cement boots for underwater attire.
Short of a WPP, here are some steps to get out of the news cycle and get back to being ignored.
Stop giving media interviews. Having a party and 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.
Travel abroad and be away for two years. This disappearing act (where did he go?) is an extreme form of media unavailability. The shelf life of a story is getting shorter anyway if not given more details. The media pack moves on to the next scandal to leave the previous one in peace.
Prohibit friends from defending you in public. (I haven’t really seen her lately. But knowing her, she may just have been playing some harmless parlor game like tongue hockey. Maybe she just had marbles in her mouth.) These friends tend to love the spotlight — I feel her pain.
It’s not that difficult to move from fame to no-name, from mags to ditches, from spotlight to no light. Even without any conscious effort, a fall from grace into obscurity happens in the natural course of events. The land of former celebrities or those with “ex” problems is full of vaguely recognizable individuals. (Isn’t that what’s-her-name?)
Celebrities at the height of their popularity often lament their state — I hope one day I can just go to the beach like everybody else and walk around without being mobbed by fans for selfies. Such a wish is sure to be granted in time, as new celebrities crowd out the old.
Still, even anonymous characters can hit the headlines with a big enough scandal. In 1995, a rogue trader, only 28 years old bet on futures of the Nikkei index and lost big time to bankrupt his employer, Barings bank. He spent six and a half years in a Singapore jail, and wrote a book on how the illegal trades were pulled off. After the brief stint as a celebrity, he is back to being anonymous.
In the new world of digital sharing, the effort to be anonymous takes some doing. Thankfully, the attention span of netizens is shrinking, making celebrity status, and the scandals that go with it, fleeting and temporary. In time, everybody becomes anonymous.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda