The doctor's cure for over-exposure: a few weeks out of the spotlight

Nothing gives the British press more satisfaction than pulling someone down from a great height. Paul McCann, media correspondent, asks music industry experts if and how the Spice Girls can be saved from a media keen to write them off.

In their upcoming ITV special the Spice Girls are seen to ask Mystic Meg for some advice on the future. After sacking their manager Simon Fuller, being booed at a Spanish awards ceremony and suffering a week of press coverage predicting their demise, they could be doing with some advice.

Stuck with a duff product which won't sell, many companies turn to expensive advertising, but in this case marketing professionals counsel against it. You need word of mouth to be credible in youth markets so everything depends on public relations.

"They need to keep their head down and get off the front pages and onto the music pages," says James Hunt, director of the crisis management division at PR company Charles Barker. "They have to stop being the story and get their music to be the story. If they can concentrate on the music, and the music is good enough they should be able to ride this out."

Mr Hunt, who deals with the mess created by product re-calls or gaffe- prone senior managers believes that any product - and the Spice Girls are more of a product than any previous band - can survive a burst of bad publicity if its underlying values are considered good enough.

"Look at Perrier, after a radioactivity scare six years ago its is back as a premium water. The problem for the Spice Girls is that they have diluted their brand values by slapping them on everything from crisps to lollipops."

It is looking increasingly as if Mr Fuller deliberately over-stretched the girls' product endorsements because money from such deals didn't have to be shared with Virgin Records, which album sales did. Given the short- term thinking of their own boss, it is not surprising that many observers believe that it is all over for them.

But this is not new area for the marketing professionals in the music industry.

"There is a strategy to extending the life of bands," says Chris Ward of FFI Beatwax which advises Radiohead. He also thinks the Girls need to keep out of the spotlight until they have something of their own to promote like their movie or world tour. "A few weeks is an enormous amount of time for daily tabloids. This should blow over."

If Mr Ward were advising the Spice Girls, he would tell them to re-emerge after a period of purdah to maximise the publicity for their tour and get viewers for the movie and then he would scale them down. "Once you've played Wembley you can only go smaller after that. It is well established for bands to peak and then move their tours into a smaller venues, have more discreet publicity and try for a more credible image."

He believes that Take That illustrate it is possible for manufactured teeny bopper bands to gain credibility by parodying their own fame or becoming gay icons. "They've already had cover pictures on quite credible style magazines like Arena and I-D. Tt would be possible to gain a cool image again."

The other advice they could take from Take That is to split up. Rumours abounded before the departure of Fuller that he was preparing to launch Geri - Ginger Spice - on a solo career. Though confusingly, everyone seems to have heard that Sporty Spice is the only one who can sing.

In a perfect world the band would never have risen to the top so quickly. Chris Ward admonishes: "If you want to last a long time you have to have a slow build. It is common for record companies not to push a first album hard, so the second album will be bigger, and the third album bigger still. If you're not growing in the music industry, your career is usually dead."

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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