I have always believed that everyone, whether they are a celebrity or an average person, has the right to express their political views. I remember back in the 1990s, when I was working as a newspaper reporter, there would always be a local eccentric who would run for office every election season, knowing they had no way of winning. But as one of my co-workers pointed out, it was their right as an American to run for political office.
But considering the stridently partisan nature of politics in this country, I am beginning to have second thoughts about this point of view. If I was advising a high-profile celebrity, I would tell them to keep their political views to themselves. That might sound like self censorship, but if you are a musician or a movie star your main goal is to get people to buy your products. And that means both Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
When you express a political opinion, you automatically alienate a certain segment of the population. And nowadays people express their frustrations with their pocketbooks by not buying your products. Case in point singer Kelly Clarkson created an Internet flame war, when she came out in support of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. I am sure she also lost more than a few fans. Alternatively, I am sure there are many people who refuse to watch George Clooney’s movies because he supports liberal causes.
Back in the 1980s, when Michael Jordan was a cultural phenomenon, he had an interesting way of tackling this issue. Jordan was asked to throw his weight behind Harvey Gantt, a black candidate who had a good chance of defeating arch conservative Sen. Jesse Helms. Jordan declined and said, “Republicans buy shoes too” (Later when Jordan’s pitchman career declined he came out in support of political candidates).
Some political purists might say that was a cynical move, but from a business and public relations point of view it made sense. Jordan wanted to make his appeal as broad as possible, thus enhancing his brand. Taking a firm stand on a political issue comes with a price. Muhammad Ali came out against the Vietnam war, and it almost cost him his career.
This is an important point to remember when preparing clients for media interviews during a political year. When asked which candidate you are supporting, it may be more sensible to advise your client to say, “I am an active participant in the political process and intend to vote for the candidate of my choice in November.”
Manny Otiko, founder of Otiko Communications, has worked in the public relations and journalism field for about 15 years as a journalist and a media relations specialist. His experience includes stints as a reporter at a daily newspaper, serving as a media relations specialist for a state agency and working for several Southern California public relations agencies.
Manny has worked with clients in the public affairs, technology, education and economic development fields. He has secured coverage in publications such as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, CNN.com and Men’s Health.
Manny has been published in The Riverside Press Enterprise, The LA Sentinel, The LA Wave, The Washington Afro-Am, IE Weekly and Our Weekly. He is an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Black Journalists’ Association of Southern California.
He is currently promoting Christopher Otiko’s medical thriller “Santa,” which is available as an ebook. “Santa” will be available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook and the Apple iTunes store on May 29. It is currently available via PayPal for $1.99. (E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.) For more information visit Author Christopher Otiko on Facebook. To read the first chapters of “Santa,” go to http://bit.ly/santaebook