It may seem a stretch that PR people can learn from Donald Trump, whose announcement that he will run for president was lampooned by many in social and traditional media.
But maybe we can. Trump’s threats to enter the presidential race over the years have come across as tired and transparent bids for publicity. But, like it or not, the guy understands his own brand and he knows how to get media coverage. Despite some operations failures, he’s a genius at image-making and self-promotion.
So on the theory that you never know where your next insight – or blog post idea – may come from, here are some, ahem, “PR lessons” from the Donald.
Control the story. I don’t know Trump, but I crossed paths with him several years ago when a client shared sponsorship credit for a major philanthropic event. He was surprisingly involved in the staging of the news conference and accompanying photo opportunities, down to the details. It was an almost Jobsian mastery of the optics, all for the greater glory of the Trump name. The same attention was paid to this week’s announcement – right down to the “extras” hired to cheer in all the right places (not recommended.)
Know your brand. The Trump brand character is synonymous not only with luxury and excess, but with American achievement, capitalism, and entrepreneurism. In fact, this presidential bid might just be a way to burnish his brand persona for the next series of product tie-ins or business partnerships.
Timing is everything. I doubt Trump would have run in the last election, in part because his fourth and final corporate bankruptcy was filed in 2009, and his holdings were likely hurt during the recent recession. By now, however, he’s flush again, even if the actual wealth doesn’t quite equal his claims. And he’s got pretty good media timing – just look at how he upstaged Jeb Bush in announcing his bid.
Define your enemy. Conflict drives narrative, after all. Trump has overdone this one, as he’s overdone most things. He’s picked fights or stoked feuds with dozens of personalities, from Rosie O’Donnell to Jerry Seinfeld (who called him “God’s gift to comedians.”) But when properly focused, telling your story within a competitive framework helps heighten the drama and engage the audience, just like the classic brand “marketing war” campaigns from Coke vs. Pepsi to Uber vs. Lyft.
Take a stand. Let’s face it, many corporate brands are cautious and even boring, particularly when it comes to the issues of the day, and understandably so. So when Trump lambasts public figures or opines about ISIS, it’s refreshing even when misguided. He’s not afraid to say what some others only think.
Own it. “I’m really rich,” is one of the reasons America should consider him, according to the Donald. He’s completely unapologetic about his wealth, his taste, even his hair. He may seem like a cartoon version of a wealthy mogul, but like the Kardashians, he’s living the dream. And he knows that his public currency is tied to a storybook style of affluence. Even as we dismiss the Trump campaign as a sideshow, we’re still talking about him.