Ignorance is bliss, until it isn't
Updated: Feb 28, 2019
Remember being scared at night as a child? Remember closing your eyes and pulling the blanket over your head to stave off your fears of the boogeyman lurking in the shadows? ‘If I can’t see the monster, the monster can’t see me’, you thought, as a way of comforting yourself. It’s cute really, until you find yourself doing this when you're 25, 40 or even 60 years old.
The thing is, bad things happen, and simply not talking about something or ignoring it will not make it stop existing. And yet, people, fully grown men and women, hide under their blankets hoping it’ll all just magically disappear if they close their eyes for long enough.
Problems don’t go away by themselves, much like bedbugs. Pardon the analogy, but when you’ve had a husband in the bed business for this long, you listen (on and off anyway). If you have bedbugs, you can’t ignore them. They multiply. You really need to throw the mattress out or if you are terribly attached to it, you can imprison it in a sealed cover – but the bugs do not go away. Ever.
Since you can’t throw your problems in the garbage heap or seal them in a vacuum pack, PR is a good option. That’s right. Good old public relations, both undervalued and often maligned, but essential. When you have less than savoury news to share, recognise that it’s not going to stay secret for long. And if you don’t know how to manage it, which is where PR comes in, you will have the situation explode in your face.
A simple example that stands out in my mind about the benefits of dealing with an issue head-on is a 21 year old Bollywood actress’ spoof on herself on YouTube a couple of years back. This was one of the best PR moves that Alia Bhatt could have come up with.
Alia had made a rather unfortunate gaffe on a popular talk show where she named a 12th century North Indian king as being India’s current president. Not surprisingly, she was subjected to relentless attacks on social media, print and TV. With the very clever YouTube clip making fun of herself, Alia dealt with her mistake directly. She had people laugh with her, not at her, and the world became a far more forgiving place (and moved on to the next target of ridicule).
Moving from the personal to the institutional level, ignoring the monster in the room has greater consequences. The March 2014 Malaysian Airlines crash, besides being a huge tragedy in itself, will also go down in history as one of the biggest PR disasters ever. Conversely, Air Asia’s handling of their December 2014 crash was widely held to be a PR winner, the big differentiators being response time and Air Asia CEO, Tony Fernandes, taking centre stage to deal with the crisis firsthand.
It seems obvious that in times of crisis, you need someone on top to take responsibility and to be lucid, clear and above all, honest in their communications. Too little too late has been the ultimate nail in the coffin in many a case.
Funnily, even in everyday situations, the ostrich way of life seems to find favour with an alarmingly large number of non- ostriches. Working in media as I do, I find this throws up interesting challenges. Irrespective of how much we may shout from the rooftops that misinformation or rumours spread mainly because of restrictive information policies or deliberately-obscure information, we live with it.
It seems that the overarching logic is that if you don’t write about it, it didn’t happen. This means that if we are told not to write about a hailstorm in Qurm and we don’t, then there was no hailstorm in Qurm. Doesn’t matter if Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat feeds are parading hail as big as golf balls. I feel the need to mention here that no one told us not to write about hailstorms.
I remember the time we wrote about a bank reporting a loss and how their so-called PR person went crazy over the ‘insult’. Of course he didn’t think about suggesting another article assuring shareholders about the future of their investment or customers about continued improvement in service.
Now is the time to read the pin that showed up on your ‘Deep sayings’ Pinterest board: Ignorance is bliss, until it isn’t. Read it, absorb it, sleep on it and then hopefully, get with it. Otherwise sooner or later, the boogeyman will get us all.