What PR Pros Can Learn From Donald Trump

Donald Trump may be narcissistic and arrogant, and he will probably have run out-of-steam before the presidential election next November. But whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit he’s a phenomenon, the likes of which has never been seen before on the American political stage.

The former reality TV star and billionaire businessman has attracted extraordinary amounts of publicity since first throwing his hat into the presidential ring. He’s come under fire for his beliefs – many of which are shocking and extreme. But for most of the campaign he’s led the polls among the Republican presidential candidates. So he must be doing something right, right?

What’s his secret?

One thing’s for sure, it’s not his charm. Most of the coverage he receives — especially since he called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States — has been highly critical. But it’s this critical coverage that reinforces the narrative of his campaign: He’s anti-establishment and anti-spin and he crafts it masterfully through the press.

Here are some key takeaways from Trump’s electoral public relations blitzkrieg.

He has a defined brand

Wealth, capitalism, luxury. These are the pillars of the Trump brand, which has been carefully crafted for decades. He doesn’t just build stuff; he builds colossal and magnificent stuff. And as most people know, he loves grabbing a bullhorn and telling everybody about it. He’s also renowned for being bold and brassy, with a take-no-prisoners attitude.

His unfiltered comments, bluntness and outsider status are all part of his brand, which has been cultivated through press and media interviews and public appearances. The Trump that we’re seeing on the campaign trail is exactly the same. The only difference is he’s talking about politics instead of business deals.

The takeaway: Your brand needs to stand for something. Lots of people are not fans of Trump, but even those who oppose his candidacy find themselves grudgingly admiring the consistency of his brand message: with Trump, what you see is what you get.

He speaks the truth

Following on from the last point, Trump has said a lot of outrageous things during the campaign, from inflammatory remarks about Mexican immigrants, to accusing 2008 presidential nominee John McCain of not being a “war hero”. But every new media gaffe or media whirlwind just seems to boost his performance in the polls. Why? Trump’s core supporters respect him for speaking the truth, even if he’s not saying it in a polite or genteel way. Most political candidates are so polished that it’s almost impossible for their real feelings and emotions to come out. Trump is in your face, with unvarnished depictions of life as he sees it. He’s not afraid of what anyone thinks about him, and it shows.

The takeaway: Don’t be afraid to stand for something as a brand, even if it’s controversial. Too many companies try to be inoffensive in a failed attempt to be mainstream and appeal to “everyone.” It’s better to speak your mind and focus on gaining respect from the niche market of media and customers who love you the most.

He’s authentic

Trump’s off-the-cuff attitude and refusal to patronise the media proves that he’s not just saying things to manipulate people and influence their votes.
He may not be politically correct, but he is authentic. Given the rarity of authenticity in politics these days, his frankness has resonated with a population who are looking for an alternative to the waffling, double-talk and lack of follow-through that permeates today’s political environment. That being said, Trump’s frankness has also isolated large pockets of the electorate with inflammatory remarks about Muslims, women and immigrants.

The takeaway: Candour and authenticity help spokespeople feel relatable, but these traits should never come at the expense of isolating or offending others.

Trump’s PR approach combines the best of Entrepreneur PR and Personal PR – both of which focus on building a solid brand and establishing a positive reputation in the media.

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