Because they are so rare, multiple births are bound to cause a media sensation. Pop out six, seven, or eight children and you’re news, whether you like it or not. That’s the hard lesson being learned by single mom Nadya Suleman.
When the 33 year-old mother of six went into labor on January 26, she was expecting just seven children when a surprise eighth came along. What had been a routine set of septuplets all of a sudden became news, as having octuplets put Suleman in rare company.
After giving birth, Suleman did what would seem natural–requesting to stay out of the media spotlight–which may also have turned her labor into a public relations disaster. In today’s media environment, silence equals guilt. And although there is no crime in bearing children, Suleman is becoming the villain in her own media circus.
Having seen the results of the first, last and only set of octuplets born in the USA–where one died just a week after childbirth–you can understand Suleman’s reluctance to jump into the media spotlight. And although I have never given birth to a child, I can’t imagine the first thing a woman wants to do after leaving labor is to go on a media blitz–and as a single mom, Suleman had no husband to step in front of the television cameras and deflect the media attention.
Instead of learning about Nadya and her children first-hand, the media was told that the mother wanted to keep her privacy and would not speak to the media. The hospital released photos from the historic event–of the doctors and nurses. That’s great, but it does not make for a very sympathetic image.
Another axiom in the practice of public relations is that if you fail to define yourself, others will.
One of the first things we learned about Suleman was that she already had six children, was unmarried and lived with her parents. You don’t know whether to have contempt or pity for a woman who decided to plant even more embryos into herself when she clearly few aspirations beyond being a mother.
But Suleman’s mother, perhaps tiring of being the live-in babysitter sure had something to say. “It can’t go on any longer,” she told the Associated Press. “She’s got six children and no husband. I was brought up the traditional way. I firmly believe in marriage. But she didn’t want to get married.”
With the financial stress of raising children, multiplying the cost exponentially becomes a burden. So it seems natural that Suleman wanted to sell her story. In past media circuses, a mother of eight would be showered with offers–for interviews, for pictures or more. But, perhaps because of her initial silence, Suleman’s “offer” to speak to the press for a mere two-million dollars comes across as rent-seeking behavior, known commonly as greed.
Now, the New York Times is questioning Suleman’s ethics, and the Los Angeles Times is digging up her history of workers’ compensation claims–portraying the mother of fourteen as something akin to a welfare mom.
Suleman’s image has become so toxic that Pampers and Procter and Gamble are staying away, not offering her the gifts of diapers, formula and other parenting necessities that usually come with a multiple birth.
Suleman must realize that her desire for privacy has backfired, and therefore hired not one, but two Los Angeles-based publicists, whose client list is headlined by the Union-Pacific Railroad. (Insert your own cervical-themed joke here).
Suleman should have considered a celebrity publicist, like a Howard Bragman, or better yet, a crisis management expert like Michael Sitrick or Eric Dezenhall. Any one of them would have told her that the media does not like being rebuked, that if she does not define herself, others will and that silence implies guilt in today’s 24-hour news cycle.
In nine short days, the mother of octuplets has gone from a medical miracle to villainous vixen, a scam artist for the SpongeBob set, simply because she wanted to maintain her privacy. It’s a lesson for us all that in this digital age, we are all public figures, and if we don’t take care of our own image, others will do so for us.
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