It could have been a scene straight out of a film, except that it wasn’t, Terry Prone. Farmer Matt Rogers, from the Naul, in north Co Dublin, courteously responded to questions from journalists at his padlocked front gate.
They wanted to know what it was like to be part of a small family syndicate that won €175m in the Lottery. It was, he told them sadly, like being in jail.
“I was happy at the start,” he told the Sunday World. “But now, with all this... It’s a lot to take in.”
Then he remembered that his sister had previously telephoned him to tell him to keep it zipped, and realised that even this tiny comment would show he had failed to obey orders. He left the journalists and trudged back to his modest home.
I’ve been asked a lot this week about how I’d advise winners of Euromillions to manage the communication of their good fortune, and the first point I’d make is that it’s too late now. They needed to plan ahead. Before you buy a lottery ticket, imagine what it would be like to win. If you win a measly three mill, it’s not a huge threat to your way of life and self-definition, but if you win nearly two hundred mill, that is a very different kettle of potentially stinky fish.
The curious thing is that many of the people in radio vox pops last week took a positive view of the jackpot being won by a syndicate, on the basis that several members of a family would do well, rather than one being overwhelmed by the scale of the win. In PR terms, however, a syndicate is a bad thing. It goes back to the old mafia saying that three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. Winning the lottery is a secret you want to keep.
Look at the alternative. The National Lottery, according to spokeswoman Miriam Donohoe, will not pressure any winner to go public. Of course, the Lottery would be thrilled skinny if the winners in this case did go public. Her point was that the Lottery leaves it up to winners to be private or public about it.
Now, the best PR advice to the winners would be to be obsessively private about it. What’s the advantage to pictures of shaken champagne hosing out of a bottle and family members clutching an oversized cheque that has the scale of their win emblazoned across it?
Many younger people might not know what the cheque actually is, since so few people today use them. But winners stump up for the photo-shoot.
The more valuable part of their visit to Lottery HQ is the tutorial on how to manage their finances, but, inevitably, the one outsiders remember is the picture.
For years to come, whenever something bad happens to those winners, the picture gets rerun. So, if the marriage of a pair of winners fails, or one of their children is done for DUI, or a business they start falls on its face, up will come the photograph of the happy ‘before’ to contrast with the less-happy ‘after’. Hostage to fortune, innocently offered up.
Individual winners of vast sums can keep it a secret. Syndicates rarely, if ever. A syndicate multiplies the chances of someone wanting to talk. Each member of a syndicate has their own family, whom they tell and who are subsequently overheard sharing the news with a trusted friend, and that’s the secret blown wide-open, right there.
Syndicates never sit down, before they start buying lottery tickets, to work out contracts, applicable in the event of a win. They think it’ll be grand if it ever happens, but that it won’t happen. And then it does and it isn’t grand at all.
Those who were generally miserable and downbeat before the win went right back to being miserable and downbeat within a month or so, whereas the happy-clappy types stayed happy, but, significantly, only as happy as they had been before the win.
In the case of the family syndicate outed in the last few days, this reversion to the norm — or worse — may have come phenomenally quicker than that, because of the vicious circle of publicity.
If a good PR person had advised them in advance to keep their sudden wealth a secret, they wouldn’t have a problem. But because the word got out, the gate to the farm where one of them lives is now padlocked and the farmer feels like he’s in prison. This may get worse. We have to hope it doesn’t, but the odds of him and his siblings returning to anonymity are poor.
The family will be bombarded with begging letters. If those begging letters don’t get a fast, positive response, some senders will upload their rage, when they believe they have such a legitimate reason for dunning the newly rich family.
These will feed into the envy that is the backswing of the initial goodwill extended to lottery winners, and the family will suddenly find themselves not heroes, but something close to hate figures. Drunks will come up to them in the local pub and give them what for.
One of their options is to leave home. They have the money, after all, to live anywhere in the world, where they will go unrecognised. They’re so lucky, they’re in a situation like US criminals who cut a deal with the FBI to sell out pals, in return for plastic surgery and protected witness status, living miles away from their homes, unable to make contact with friends, hated by their uprooted children. Lucky them…
According to the Naul farmer, some kind of public announcement is due this week. He didn’t sound thrilled about it, and he’s right.
Unless the family has signed a contract with the National Lottery to publicise their win, they should pull out of the event.
They may feel badly about letting the Lottery down, but they didn’t know what they were doing when they committed to publicity.
Every picture, from now on, will cement their presence in the public mind with zero benefit for them. Ditto every interview. Media, mainstream and social, are like a pendulum.
The pendulum gets swung one way, with, for example, an interview about how unhappy they are with the loss of privacy. Next thing, the pendulum gets swung the other way, with columnists opining that they’re the epitome of moany ingratitude.
Even pulling out of further publicity won’t unpadlock the gate in Naul, but resolute silence can help a bit, if the family wants to retreat from the public gaze.
Begging letters and envy are the backswing of the initial goodwill extended to winners