This article is not about the mysterious death of the talented actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. It’s definitely NOT about who is guilty. Instead, this article is about a PR case study in image crisis and aims to set out some tips for PR managers.
The PR Challenge in Rhea’s case:
A lot of air time and article space being given to speculations around the tragic demise of Sushant. A media trial that has already declared Rhea Chakraborty as the prime culprit. The news media has successfully ensured that the public sentiment lies with Sushant’s family. Rhea’s fate is hanging as she the threat of investigations and impeding custodial arrest loom large. Whether or not she is implicated, Rhea Chakraborty’s career, personal and professional life lies in a limbo. Public sentiment is extremely negative towards her and media has already declared her as the culprit in Sushant’s death.
According to the Wikipedia page, Death of Sushant Singh Rajput:
“On 14 June 2020, Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead hanging from the ceiling fan at his home in Bandra, Mumbai, with the cause ruled as suicide. The official postmortem reports concluded that he died of asphyxia due to hanging. The Mumbai Police launched an investigation into the death, which was surrounded by rumours and speculation.” Source: Wikipedia.
Media Circus around this sad incident
We all saw the electronic media swooping down like eagles to “investigate”. Some TV anchors, YouTubers and journalists took on the role of detectives and one saw a flood of TV debates, investigative videos and sting operations that have been doing the rounds. Each person out to grab eyeballs for this high-profile case.
Today, almost every family in India plans dinner time around prime time news channels. Conversations around the ‘latest developments in Sushant Case’ have diverted attention from #COVID19 & other national issues. #JusticeForSSRTweet
How did Rhea get named?
On 25 July, Rajput’s father, K. K. Singh, filed an FIR at Patna, where he lives, against Rhea Chakraborty and six others, including her family members, for abetment of suicide. He also accused them of wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, theft, criminal breach of trust, and cheating. He alleged in his complaint that Chakraborty cheated Rajput financially and mentally harassed him. On 28 July, India Today reported that Chakraborty had been booked in the case. Source: Wikipedia.
Unison of Fake and Real News
Sushant’s sudden death successfully distracted the audience from the Corona pandemic and Indo-China controversy, many other national issues have been swept under the carpet. Since the incident, the internet and all other platforms are flooded with sensational stories that present their own version of the truth. Audience is now addicted to this topic and engages with it regularly. This has given a chance to rumour mongers to cash in on the wave. Almost every content creator has turned judge and declared their point of view in this case. Mostly blaming Rhea for the untimely demise of the young and talented actor.
The lines between real and fake have blurred, and one doesn’t really know what is the truth anymore. Each person is shouting louder than the other, claiming their beliefs to be right.
Because of the public’s emotions in the Sushant Singh Rajput & Rhea Chakraborty case, fake & real news have combined to act like a deadly potion of cocaine. Public keeps wanting more. #JusticeForSSR #RheaChakrabortyTweet
Negative campaign against Rhea
Everything that Rhea does or has been doing is out in the public domain and there seems to be no one from Bollywood who is supporting her. This includes her guide and mentor, Mahesh Bhatt and all her friends in the industry. Not a single ‘friend’ has come forward to speak in her favour. There have been videos circulated about the “real Rhea” that earned her a lot of negative press. Ever since Sushant’s father named her, a parallel social media campaign called #JusticeForSSR and #SSRWarriors have been doing the rounds.
How did Rhea react?
In a petition filed at the Supreme Court, Chakraborty claimed she had no role in the actor’s death and was falsely implicated by Rajput’s father. She also sought transfer of the probe in the FIR to Mumbai, saying that there cannot be an impartial investigation in Bihar. The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which investigates financial crimes, also registered a money laundering case over transactions worth of Rs 150 million based on the complaint registered by Rajput’s father. Source: Wikipedia.
What did Rhea’s PR team make her do?
- Release a video where she appealed to the public that the matter is sub judice.
- Made her give interviews and statements in smaller newspapers, TV channels and YouTube channels
- She wasn’t media trained and thus used casual language during interviews, appeared cold towards the issue
- Biggest PR faux pas: They arranged an interview with Rajdeep Sardesai where she maligns Sushant
Where has Rhea’s PR Team gone wrong?
The very essence of PR is that it must appear organic and not choreographed. A PR campaign should not look like a scripted drive to clean up the image of the person concerned. The PR team seems to have forgotten this while they are desperately attempting to clean Rhea’s image.
Rhea’s PR team’s efforts are going in vain because the campaign has no soul. It’s almost as if they themselves believe that she is guilty, which is why they are desperately trying to cover up using standard PR processes. #JusticeForSSRTweet
Team Rhea must understand that maligning Sushant will do nothing for Rhea’s public image
On 26 August, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), India’s national drug law enforcement agency, registered an FIR against Rhea, her brother Showik, and three others. Following this, Team Rhea is feeding hungry news scavengers with sensational news showing that Sushant was a drug addict.
My question is, how is proving Sushant’s addiction doing anything to uplift Rhea’s already damaged image? Morality aside, making Rhea blame someone who isn’t there to defend himself is carving a path of eternal doom for Rhea’s professional life.
What should they have done?
They should approach the campaign believing that Rhea is not guilty (even though investigations may prove otherwise).
The ‘Satyamev Jayate’ video by Rhea should have had an emotional appeal. Instead of making her speak the legal language, Rhea should have spoken about her relationship, stated facts and thus proven that she is innocent.
Take the example of Ankita Lokhande who had broken up with Sushant a long time ago has smartly built her image positively in the media. She took the efforts to reach out to the right TV channel and spoke her heart out. Why isn’t Rhea’s team making her do this?
The PR team should have realised that every interview with a smaller media platform is going to spread sensation – because that is how these platforms thrive.
They shouldn’t have approached Rajdeep Sardesai for the interview on India Today and Aaj Tak knowing that they don’t hold believability in the hearts of viewers. The channel holds a strong perception of being biased. Rajdeep is a controversial journalist whose past has gathered lots of negative sentiments among the public. The interview could have been scripted better to lead to a better and positive impact.
Failure to identify sentiment-specific platforms is one of the biggest blunders by
Rhea’s PR Team.
Team Rhea needs to understand where eyeballs are and what the audience uses the platform for:
Gone are the days where you could post your content on a popular platform and expect sentiments to swing your way. Today, audience behaviour is much complicated than ever before. Team Rhea hasn’t realised that the eyeballs have moved and sentiment on specific platforms exists in the online domain.
People watch a particular platform to believe and another platform for masala news. The entire thrust of Team Rhea’s campaign has been to gather eyeballs without realising that viewership does not equal to believability.
Team Rhea has spent a lot of time, efforts and money in approaching the masala news platforms in a hope that the news spreads like wild-fire. Well, the news spread, but the sentiments haven’t changed. A large section of the public still hates Rhea and has assumed her as culprit. Going to masala news platforms is only going to act like petrol in a wildfire.
Most Indian families begin their day by reading the updates on the case, scrolling through videos, and eagerly await the “truth” on the evening prime time television. They closely watch the Twitter trends and read views till late night.
What should Team Rhea do to save her public image?
Team #RheaChakraborty needs a refresher course in crisis management & PR. Best thing for her image right now is to keep mum till the investigations are over. Why is she adding to her problems by speaking to the media? Who is advising her?
We live in a nation where no one is guilty until proven. If they have held the client to a media trial, then the best thing is to take it head on.
The PR team must realise the extensive damage that they are doing to Rhea’s future by resorting to these age-old PR tactics. Times have changed and the approach to PR needs to change. #JusticeForSSRTweet
Pro PR tips for Team #RheaChakraborty:
- Always start with the premise that your client is not guilty, even though surrounding circumstances prove otherwise.
- Stay calm and look at the case objectively
- Don’t allow the emotions surrounding the case affect you
- Build trust with Rhea and take the facts of the case
- Separate judicial route from the PR route. Let the courts and investigations run parallel to the PR exercise.
- Don’t fall prey to the media trial. Rise above it.
- Think of long-term solutions instead of tactical steps to patch-up the happenings
- Lie low, don’t indulge in desperate attempts to “Tell Rhea’s story”. Understand where the winds are blowing. All these paid attempts will only lead to more problems for your client.
- If your client has nothing to hide, then get her on a channel that is resonating the sentiment of the public.
- Talk to Republic TV or Times Now & make Rhea Chakraborty tell her story. Resorting to scripted interviews is going to damage her case further.
- Have a solid back-up plan for both case scenarios – if proven guilty or innocent. Have a plan to salvage her image in both cases.
Rhea is a girl who lost the man she loved – instead of appearing sad and emotional; she is behaving like a convict who fears being prosecuted. It is fuelling speculations and leading people to crucify her even before they prove the charges in the court of law.
Would love to know your views about the PR pointers mentioned above.
Dear Readers, I, Mayura Amarkant, Founder of DiaryOfAnInsaneWriter have written the above article based on my experience as a Crisis Manager, having managed large-scale national crisis for brands and individuals. Indo-global SME Chamber recognised me for my work in the form of a national-level award as a Woman Business Leader in Digital Marketing and PR. The views expressed above are completely my own. This is NOT a sponsored or paid post.
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