LOWERING the profile even of a highly noteworthy personality, like the leader of the nation, is a new discipline. The low-visibility approach worked in the successful campaign that avoided unscripted interviews (we prefer to talk directly to the people), debates with rivals, and limited imaging in posters and ads.
Is tapering media coverage, along with suppressing independent media outlets, the new normal for political reporting? Should business personalities take this cue and keep a lower profile as well? Didn’t a highly publicized and already signed media deal attract the political sharks who sank it to the bottom of the sea?
Even the role of press secretary seems to have been redefined. No longer is it the daily source of news feeds on what the leader is doing or what initiatives he has been pursuing for the public good. Its role has been reduced to confirming or denying news stories circulating informally — yes, he has stepped down and changed his title.
Maybe PR practitioners will now be hired not to raise a client’s profile but to do the opposite — to move a high-profile individual to becoming a face in the crowd.
Snuffing stories before they get to media is known as “spiking.” This practice used to apply only to negative stories that hurt a client’s reputation or brand. There were even specialists engaged to snuff out stories, for a hefty fee.
Now, lower media visibility seems to be the goal. The price for spiking has overtaken the cost of posting “praise releases.” Avoiding coverage requires the same effort as raising somebody’s profile. The communications strategy has shifted to a quest for anonymity.
Anonymity derives from Greek (anonymos) meaning “without a name.” So, do media outlets care what some “nobody” does? Still, even those considered anonymous by media standards are known to their neighbors and distant cousins. Their notoriety is limited to a small circle — Hey, isn’t that the girl who works in a pizza parlor?
The best practices on lowering a profile (or “media tapering”) belong to witness protection programs. There’s really no need for name changes and facial reconstructions or settling down with a new passport in the Seychelles. There are simpler ways to achieve (or retain) anonymity.
Here are some tips on avoiding the glare of media.
Stay away from lifestyle magazines or programs. No need to show off your home on a TV program, including TikTok or YouTube, as part of a personality profile — this is my meditation room, where I breathe deeply. This only attracts envy. Can a legislative inquiry be far behind?
Avoid media interviews. Even friendly bloggers do not guarantee a crisis-free session. Anyway, they already have their talking points. And these can be about other people and some fake crisis like factions going at each other to gain the leader’s attention — Sir, which faction do you use?
When you go on official travel abroad, it’s fine to come home and announce signed deals worth billions of dollars. There is no need to give details on what these are or when they will happen. (Sir, the exchange rate is going through the floor.) Another trip is sure to be coming up anyway where some undisclosed reason can be withheld.
Dole out announcements of appointments. There are always new appointments or replacements. Are there still unfilled vacancies, or officers-in-charge that have been overlooked? (Did you hear about agriculture?) Here again, the factional wranglings are news fodder that shift attention from the one appointing.
Even photo opportunities need to be spaced out. There are no more “slow news” days. Every day is like that. There’s always a family photo handy, with no need to point out the occasion. It’s a family business after all.
It’s not that difficult to move from fame to no-name, from hot to not, from up there to nowhere, from high profile to “where did he go?” It’s not just the have-been’s that sink into anonymity. Even those with over five more years to go before the end of the term can take a media tapering route.
A low profile, especially when intentionally assumed, moves the lightning rod of public attention to other points in the media landscape. Businessmen who have always been told by their PR handlers to raise their image and build their brand must move back to the shadows.
When dramatic scenes occur, it’s best not to be on the stage… but among the audience.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda