The art of communicating by absence

As Mr. Grillo is specially keen to avoid even the simpliest contact with Italian journalists regardless which media they are part of, the result is that of having the country newspapers and televisions just plenty of Grillo news, most of them picked up from the International press and televisions whom the comedian turned politician is particularly happy to talk with indeed. The tactics of Grillo is not new to the Italian public and was made famous in a movie by director-actor Nanni Moretti where the main character, while deciding whether to go or not to go to a public event, like Hamlet asked himself: “would I be more noticed if I am present or absent?”. But in Grillo there is something more sophisticated than that. Grillo, and his spin doctor Gianroberto Casaleggio, are perfectly aware that the people who follow them on the web warmly appreciate their reluctance to talk to the traditional media. Dario Di Vico, a senior journalist at Italy’s leading newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, wrote that they built up a formidable “consensus infrastructure” on the Internet. On the web the dialogue is two-way, many people share and exchange opinions, but in fact is the leader who sets and manages the agenda. He is not obliged to answer questions, makes people feel engaged and can break down the flow of information into bits and posts. At the same time the leader manages to avoid becoming a target for one of one of the hidden factors of today’s reputation building: satire. It is difficult to make satire of a comedian who just talks on stage and on the web. While it was much easier to do that with left wing representatives such as justice and Rivoluzione Civile founder Ingroia as well as with Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of PD, the centre-left main party. Looking too serious is not a good idea in the entertainment era, even in times of crisis. And when a serious, old fashioned politician like Bersani tries to play the humor card the outcome could be devastating, as Bersani personally experienced when he tried to launch at the climax of the campaign a words joke targeting Berlusconi and it dramatically fired back on him at prime time comic shows. Finally, talking just to the international media, Mr. Grillo and Mr Casaleggio demonstrated that they know very well that reputation is a global, not local, issue.

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