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Friday, November 23, 2007

Tarkan's PR War [2]

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Putting aside the English language album that initially polarised his fan community, the fact that the artist has until now always released albums that satisfied the critics and fans is arguably the one major plus that aids to cancel out the casualties Tarkan suffers in his PR war with the Turkish celebrity press.

There's nothing like the arrival of the latest Tarkan song to shake up his domestic market and bring a healthy dollop of competition to those that try to compete with or emulate his works.The arrival of a new Tarkan album is exciting, and part of that excitement has always been in seeing what it does to the rest of the Turkish music industry.

There's nothing like the arrival of the latest Tarkan song to shake up his domestic market and bring a healthy dollop of competition to those that try to compete with or emulate his works. However, due to Tarkan's insistent trek towards American shores, for years in the Turkish pop sector there has been nothing like a new arrival. Some musicologists thought that if not Tarkan, maybe his protégé Murat Boz would breathe some new life into the industry. But, if recent reports are to be believed, the ex-backing singer has made the grave error of starting to believe his own hype and acting to stereotype.

Hype is no stranger to celebrity. For example, zap through the Turkish TV magazine channels and one finds that celebrities of television and pop music are quite proficient at having Olympian volumes of sex, with more partners and in more unusual places than you might ever imagine. That's part of the zeitgeist of the world in which they travel. Distinguishing himself from this type of "promotion" can be read as another plus. For although Tarkan has the image of a hyper-sexualized person, he has left behind the hyper-sexualized lifestyle of most celebrities. Against all rumours that emerge in the press to the contrary, the artist has been in a stable relationship with lawyer girlfriend Bilge Öztürk for more than half a decade. He is also seen as one of the first - and few - "green celebs" who prefer a simpler, environment-friendly lifestyle.

Along with his humble habits, Tarkan is also distinguished for his perfectionism. Even if inept communications from Tarkan's camp might suggest a lack of understanding towards the upkeep of important relations with the media and the community, it's his careful attention to detail towards his albums and concerts - and by always working with talented people in the Turkish music industry - that shows his respect for his fans and his work.

While most pop albums depreciate over time, it is only the great ones that appreciate over time. If Tarkan is still regarded as number one by his fan base, despite inadequate efforts at building media and community relations, it's because his works have stood not only the slings and arrows of lesser artists and reporters, but the test of time as well. This is the real thing that sets him apart.

Yet, the memory of the masses can be very short-term. Are Tarkan's qualities on their own enough to ensure good relations with his public? Or does Tarkan need a strategic PR plan?

Media Relations

Media relations are critical to an effective PR plan. The key to communication is making the right connections. It's important to develop a strong understanding of the media and how best to communicate with them. Once you develop these basic – yet key – fundamentals, you will improve message adoption, which in turn will generate better results.

It involves obtaining favourable publicity, building up a good image, and handling or heading off unfavourable rumours, stories, and events. Due to its news quality such promotion is advertising without the adverts. It's a necessary spin that has to be utilised for a product to be make itself known in any modern industry.

Moreover PR isn't just about publicity. Promoting the latest album is just one facet of good PR, but it also has a lot do do with protecting and projecting the right image. In that respect, PR is also creative thinking and forward planning.

Projecting the Right Image?

In terms of PR, 2005-07 were troubled years for Tarkan.

Starting with the pre-release leak of his English language songs by a Turkish DJ, the Turkish media began a stronger-than-usual barrage of negative reports about the singer. Stories included the release of a "kiss-and-tell" book about Tarkan and his first manager Alpay Aydın who led an openly gay lifestyle, rumours of rifts between Tarkan and his manager Uygar Ataş and news of low domestic sales for his English language album. The first Turkish edition of US magazine Rolling Stone ran an article proclaiming that the saviour of Turkish music needed saving himself. Even an ex-PR agent for Tarkan began to fill her newspaper space with scathing criticism about her one-time employer.

The irony didn't end there. The pluses that distinguished Tarkan from the rest of the music industry's acts were being minimized by the singer himself. The English album project, which had taken 10 years of toil, had been released without much fanfare, making the song-leak-fiasco look like some publicity stunt "on the cheap". Furthermore, his English songs weren't received as warmly as his Turkish works; indicated by low album sales and almost no radio or club air time for his songs (a protest in part against Tarkan who wanted to take legal action against the DJ that leaked his songs). It looked like he was no longer the Turkish definition of success.

Tarkan tried to make some connections in the media by giving a few interviews - where he even admitted to the breakdown of his relationship with the media, calling it "a crisis of trust". However, the articles that attracted the attention were the ones unable to focus on his works. Possibly as a reaction to Aydın's book, they managed to become interviews about his personal sex life, instead. They centred on how much he loved his girlfriend and his uncharacteristic insistence on not being gay. In a Bulgarian interview, he crossed the line by apparently making negative statements about homosexuality and managed to offend a large section of his fan community, further polarising those who had previously supported him. No one knows if his true meaning was lost in translation.

Declaring in one interview there were no Turkish TV talk shows he could go on, while appearing on Euro-trashy German channels and their talk show circuits, hardly helped endear him to the domestic media, either. It was still fresh in people's minds that when he had made a rare appearance on Turkish TV, it had been unusually bad. The singer who gave so much attention to detail was nowhere to be seen in the Miss Turkey 2006 performance. A crowd of his peers watched sedately, as Tarkan lip-synced to three of his English tracks and then scampered off to give his girlfriend a public kiss for the cameras. Becoming known as "Tarkan's PR kiss", it seemed that Tarkan was using another previous plus negatively.

In a clear move to soften the damage, he gave the green light that a 2007 summer album was on the way. He made the usual statements about how he missed being in Turkey. In addition, news came out he would give a huge show to commemorate the creation of the Turkish state. For a while, there was the excitement that Tarkan was on the way back. However, none of these projects were realised.

Obviously, what comes out of Tarkan's mouth is seen as canon by fans. A major rule in media relations is never make promises you cannot keep. Nothing will muddy a media relationship faster than if you promise something you cannot deliver. Always follow through, but if you won’t be able to come through, let the correct channels know as early as possible.

A press release is a fundamental tool in PR, but rarely used by Tarkan. When the artist should have spoken up, he - and his PR team - preferred to stay silent instead.

Plus, when Tarkan could have used advice over the complete breakdown of media relations, possibly his greatest mentor Ahmet Ertegün (who will be paid tribute to by 20 thousand people at a December 10 Led Zepplin reunion gig) died in 2006.

The Importance of PR

The last few years don't paint a pretty PR picture, and fearing a consequent effect on album sales, it wouldn't be too hard to imagine that the postponement of his albums could be seen as an apt retreat. Tarkan thinks too much of his works to allow them to be the latest casualty in this PR war.

While all this is a far cry from his Karma and Dudu periods, where prestigious journalists were naming him "man of the year" or discussing his fortune in comparison with rapper Eminem's rise to fame, another contributing factor is that those were periods of great wealth in the industry.

A Tarkan album may shake the industry, but it doesn't make it.

Now, with uncertainty over whether the heyday of Turkish music that generated so much revenue can make a comeback from piracy - by successfully entering the digital age - it isn't hard to surmise that PR is going to be more important than ever.

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

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