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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tarkan's PR War [1]

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

"Have you heard of Tarkan?"

This is the question most asked by Turkish press reporters of foreign celebrities that come to their country. It is no secret he is a standard by which others in the domestic side of the music industry are measured.

Even though Tarkan's critics might say that he hasn't managed to aspire to the iconic status his successes have afforded him yet - apart from his English language venture - he hasn't sold out his art for the fool's gold of celebrity. A stunningly artistic venture like Karma after his pop entrée of Ölürüm Sana indicated that the pop singer was more than just a light starter.

This is why his albums are always eagerly anticipated by the greatest indication of his public celebrity: the fan community that rally round him at every turn.

PR Problems

There is no doubt that Tarkan himself is a celebrity, after all, we all call him by his first name, but his public relations team doesn't have much to celebrate.

Last summer went by with the expectation of a Tarkan album dangled in front of waiting fans. The music artist himself gave a report early on that he was hoping to release a new Turkish work in the summer months of 2007 - one to change the face of Turkish pop music. Yet, August gave way to the autumn months with no sign of a new release to show that Tarkan was back in Turkish - and as some die-hard fans believe - back on track.

The enigma of a retail date is nothing new in the history of Tarkan's releases, be it Turkish or otherwise. But, why are fans constantly pushed down this far too familiar dead-end? As each scheduled date passes by, why is the wait for a new Tarkan release always a mixture of disappointment and months filled with supposition and rumour from every corner of the Turkish celebrity press?

Why is Tarkan's team so ineffective as to combat his struggle with the Turkish media, or unable to advise Tarkan on what to say?

Communication

PR activities include helping the public to understand the artist and his music mainly through promotion.One definition of PR includes activities to ensure the artist has a strong public image. Such activities include helping the public to understand the artist and his music mainly through promotion. Often, PR is conducted through the media, that is, newspapers, television, magazines, and the such.

The fact that Tarkan is a perfectionist when it comes to the production of his music, but rarely gives any attention to the PR machinery that works around him - and doesn't exert any energy to create a dynamic presence on the Net - is one possibility as to why frequently there is a breakdown of communication between Tarkan's camp and relations with the media and his fan community.

Where is the average fan going to get information about Tarkan if the update of official Internet sources (such as his artist site, official MySpace page and music label HITT's site) is woefully inadequate? Press releases are few and far between, so the celebrity media can seemingly print what it likes with almost no rebuttal from Tarkan - unless a journalist happens to catch him at the airport.

Information on dates for an eventual album release handed out by people in his PR team to the press - which Tarkan obviously has no idea about as he constantly changes his mind - suggests that the artist and his PR team rarely meet to consult plans for promotion.

Let's look back to the year 2006-07 and consider:

  1. the confusion surrounding the Turkish language album launch, with two delays this past summer, newspapers printing different dates and even presenters on Turkish TV throwing out dates such as mid-December 2007 for its release), but no person from the Tarkan camp able to clarify a date;
  2. the lack of warning that Tarkan's appearance would be a no-show at this year's Turkish republic celebrations (despite news of his concert gathering wide coverage in the domestic press);
  3. the Eva allegations and the subsequent harsh criticisms by Turkish gay rights movement Kaos GL;
  4. his treatment of the domestic media.

Through it all, Tarkan's camp stayed silent. What does this communicate to the public? At the very least it left fans wondering whether their idol was an abusive unpatriotic homophobe who - possibly even worse - had no idea what he was doing in terms of his music.

If one trawls through the abundance of Turkish press clippings about him, even the casual reader can find favourable sound bytes. After people meet him (out to dinner in one of London's top Turkish restaurants for instance) we continually read how "humble and down-to-earth" he is and about his attentiveness to his fans. Why is such positive news not "spun" by his PR team to the up-run to his latest work? Why is it instead such information is drowned out by celebrity gossip on how much the singer is spending on the construction of his bathroom?

Tarkan is not a stranger to PR spin. After all it was one such activity that saved his public image in Turkey from his early 1990s live TV fiasco, where he said he had to go and "pee". Possibly the singer needs a strong manager like Ahmet San again, and not simply a middle man like his manager for home affairs (and one-time production assistant at Tarkan's old record label Istanbul Plak) Uygar Ataş - I mean the papers can't even spell his surname correctly: is it Ataç, Ataş or Ateş?*

However, the fiery relationship between San and Tarkan suggests that this is where the real problem lies. Tarkan cannot handle a strong manager; he wants more than creative control - he wants complete control.

If, then, Tarkan is going to keep things strictly close to his chest, it is his responsibility to make sure these breaks in communication are fixed, or else delegate to people he can trust. He needs to be able to let go of some strings, so as to let his team do their job - which is to get the message of his music across. With a long hiatus between each album, arguably his music alone will not do it.

It is no doubt these PR problems are a large minus in Tarkan's career, which also gives fire to his critics. However, novelist Mark Twain once said that "words are only a painted fire; a book is the fire itself."

Will Tarkan eventually put the book straight, with his pluses managing to outweigh the minuses?


*UPDATE: After managing Tarkan's affairs for 17 years, Uygar Ataş and the singer parted company in November, 2010. A month later it was reported that Ataş had signed up to manage Turkish female pop singer Demet Akalın. (December 2010)

Main | End of part one | Part two | Part three | More Mayhey articles

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