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Friday, November 30, 2007

Tarkan's PR War [3]

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

One facet of good PR includes communication via promotion. For Tarkan to win the war on PR, this requires not just building good relations with the media, but keeping up relations with the "grass-root" fan community, too.

Community Relations

The fan community provides promotion through word of mouthThe fan community provides promotion through "word of mouth". Now, with the advent of Web 2.0, interest groups utilise social networking to spread the word. A well thought out PR plan reaches out to such communities with multifaceted community relations programmes, designed to spur involvement and cooperation.

Providing various ways, such as discussion groups and forums, for users to interact with their interests online is a more personal way to connect with a fan base, rather than simply through routine media channels. It also has the advantage of being a more trustworthy source of information - as it comes direct from the official camp - while the owner can better control the usage of his/her image or works, too.

Take the author of the Harry Potter phenomenon, J.K Rowling, for instance. She may not need the extra promotion of book readings and other activities that she uses (look how she incorporates fan interaction in her website), but it helps to keep interest alive in her work and also rewards loyalty by giving something back to the fans.

Tarkan's Greatest PR Machine

Tarkan has the advantage of a loyal fan base – not just the hardcore of Tarkan fans that have worshipped at the altar of his music for years – but also the huge amount of people who have bought, listened and loved his songs on and off since his success in Europe. Girls will learn Turkish just to understand his songs; imagine the kind of people that learn Italian to understand Dante, except for totally different reasons.

Most of the negative news that came out of Turkish media channels between the years 2005-07 was balanced out by the favourable stories from his tours and concerts, and from news spread to forums by loyal fans whom steadfastly supported their star. Fans are the first to inform others. Look at the breadth of information at the Tarkan-related pages at Wikipedia; if the artist incorporated his own Wiki-source section at his official site to allow fan-input, not only would he get site content for free, the fans could feel - at least in part - an acknowledgement of the large role they play.

Between all the negative press, there has to be channels that give voice to more positive aspects in Tarkan's career. Even without these, fans have planned and carried out their own successful "meet and greet" with their star, have managed to make their own contacts within Tarkan's camp, and have tried to keep the community informed and up-to-date with the latest developments.

If it wasn't for the persistence of dedicated fans communicating via their own community would the general reader have access to any information at all?

For example, how would people hear of such Tarkan appearances as the Ayhan Günyıl project? And what about Tarkan's latest works? As his camp stay resolutely silent against the barrage of rumours circulated in the press, it is the fan community that tries to sift through the gossip and distinguish the fact from the fiction. While the Turkish press slammed Tarkan's English album in 2006, fans would email into Tarkan Deluxe with "news" to the contrary. I was forwarded one mail for the blog's Tarkan news section in which a fan had written that Tarkan's English track Bounce had been placed in compilation "hit" albums from Romania to Germany, and Sweden to the Czech Republic, thus arguing that the song couldn't be seen as a flop at all. Even though no division as to domestic and international sales were made, here at least was one fan trying her hand at PR spin*.

Isn't this in effect Tarkan's greatest PR machine, that the artist must surely tap into?

His PR team's failure to tie into this valuable source of fandom has created a steady increase of frustration amongst fans that want to get closer to their idol, or simply want to know more practical information, such as dates for tours and new releases. It's certain those that work for Tarkan don't seem to have acknowledged that they have a problem.

Out of Touch

If you keep the lines of communication down, there will always be problems. News about Tarkan from official sources is still hard to find. A new official artist site has been "coming soon" since March this year. Even when it was running, it was rarely updated. It wouldn't be too dramatic to say that at times like these the fans seem deserted.

No one understood the lack of promotion for his English album, either, with frustrated fans wondering why a project that had taken 10 years to complete was not given the backing it deserved. If the people who had poured money into the project didn't believe in it, how could fans persuade others to buy into a concept of "coming closer" when Tarkan seemed so distant with them?

It would be too easy to say that Tarkan's domestic problems simply came from a misunderstanding about his English works, however. Other artists, such as actor Haluk Bilginer (who has starred in Hollywood, BBC and Turkish productions and more recently in a successful TV advert where he played Atatürk) - has managed to balance both his domestic and international careers with success.

If being distant wasn't bad enough, or dividing the fan base with an English language album, alienating a large group from the community didn't help matters, either.

Tarkan's comments on homosexuality in the Eva report - or rather his lack of response afterwards when his words were pulled out of context - not only showed the singer as being out of touch, but showed just how much he was out of touch.

Tarkan's image had always been perceived as one that bridged differences with music, and here it seemed as though he were condemning a minority group for their differences. In stark contrast to being voted the top gay icon in 2001, he was nominated for a Tomato award by a gay rights movement in 2006, and fell to eighth place in this year's top ten listing of gay icons. It arguably didn't project the right image.

What could Tarkan have done? One form of good PR would have been to state the intention to include the Istanbul gay scene in his next music video, or to allow the participation of this large part of his fan community he alienated last year in the promotion of his new album. Or the star could simply have apologised for his statements. What did he do? When he was questioned on the issue after a concert, he had the journalist removed by security - showing himself to be angry and abusive on public TV, and acting out of character once again.

Now, more than ever, Tarkan needs to be in touch, online and with his fans. And with the next generation of community relations already on the cyber horizon - which will be the artist speaking directly to the fan - the artist needs to get on board right now.

Room for improvement

Is Tarkan projecting the right image to his fans?What does he need to do to get the fans on his side in the PR war? The singer needs to produce a very robust package of community tools and marry his music to the social web techniques available with official Wikis, blog pages, and the like. He needs to promote discussion via an official forum or fanclub, give loyal fans exclusive samples (and remixes) of his works and ask their opinion. This in turn will also attract the media - and may help his difficult relationship with the press - as it will be the only place on the Internet to find out the latest buzz on Tarkan by listening to what the fans and artist are saying in unison.

Such a space that syncs creativity with the public can also be a magnet for talent - and a chance for Tarkan to find the next top DJ, his next backing singer, or even his next web designer.

On the occasions he will want to showcase a latest album, he will be able to do it by exclusively hoisting it into the limelight of his official sites; providing a user interactive showcase that essentially shows only one channel matters, the official one. For example he could place "hidden" media in his album CD or DVD packages that will only be "unlocked" by accessing his official site.

There is more than just an element of truth in this; more visitors tend to hit the official site than the myriad of smaller sites. And so Tarkan can push the ferment of creative activity into the public eye this way, because it makes the product seem more compelling and content-rich, and it will be showcased where it will get the greatest volume of eyeballs.

This doesn't mean to stifle fans from doing their own thing, or putting up their own sites or forums. The contemporary ideas like building a Wiki or blog, is that they are about user investment in user-owned channels, instead of about getting celebrated by the official channel. So, incorporating such techniques in Tarkan's own site will show that they give importance to fan interaction. Such tools will also help the artist gauge what is popular, and what is not.

Plus, this will not only acquire new fans, more importantly it will retain the loyal ones. The cost of retention is far lower than the cost of acquisition, and the longer you have retained someone, the likelier it is that they will stay effectively forever.

Tarkan Will Silence His Critics

Yet finally, we should remember that fans will stay not merely because of good PR strategy; they will stay for the reason they came in the first place - for Tarkan. The fact that the singer has such a devoted fan base - without the necessary PR spin - is testament to the star himself.

Everyone capable of passing breath through their vocal chords can sing, and singing isn't simply about purity of tone or PR. It's about the individual sound a person makes which stamps their identity on a song and has, since it began, made a song the thrilling, divisive, unpredictable, controversial, ecumenical entity that, at some point in our living, changed our lives.

And though there may be rules in PR, there are no rules in music, except your own. PR just helps gets the message across to translate into sales, but it is Tarkan that translates himself into the music.

A star should be free to dazzle, challenge and shock. Artists that are great rock and pop stars are so precisely because they didn't sound or behave like anyone else. This is what Tarkan does, and why he breathes life into pop when bland, homogenised products with a thankfully short shelf life are in danger of killing it.

That's why even if the Turkish celebrity press win their battle, as long as Tarkan keeps on singing - and as far as the die-hard fans are concerned at least - he'll always have a good chance of winning the war.

* Information and links provided by Sanda Vladescu in an email dated December 2006, to Tarkan Deluxe.

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