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What PR pros can learn from the Donald

By Erica Cottrill

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_2-253763-editedDon’t underestimate the value of entertainment

We could say a lot of things about Donald Trump, but one thing we know for sure is that he is having a blast.

Though initially he was lampooned by the media, the mega-millionaire business tycoon and unsolicited presidential candidate embraces publicity and can seemingly say whatever he wants: Gaffes are fine; name-calling works; insults are humorous. Through it all, his ardent followers cheer him on because of his Pied Piper-esque ability to attract enthusiastic crowds from Iowa to New Hampshire.

Below are some tips for crisis communications professionals that help explain his front-runner status.

Stand out from the crowd.

“Boring,” “complacent” and “non-functioning” are the labels for today’s professional politicians, and Trump has leveraged their shortcomings. He makes brash and loud statements about issues people feel passionate about. Is he crazy? Sure – crazy like a fox.

Craft a brand as an extension of your ideas.

The Trump name is associated with luxury and greed, so his PR team has re-positioned him as a leader of American entrepreneurship and achievement and as a man who has the experience to create jobs and opportunities. He stands by his controversial ideas, even if it they’re not popular. This approach – as a savvy, get-things-done businessman who can negotiate and stand up to Washington – brought in a swelling of supporters desperate for new leadership.

Create a compelling story.

As Trump attracts more and more exposure, his PR team embraces his character, which is rather uncommon for Washington politicians. His gaffes are ridiculous … and human. That is why he has so many followers. His team also promotes the positive. He has brought the immigration conversation front and center and has championed protectionism. He is positioned as an expert businessman with the economic skills to take us out of a slowing economy, whose vast empire of real estate holdings and investments feeds right into what people want: success. Although Trump has controversial ideas, he stands by them and sticks to the story – even if it isn’t popular.

Focus on winning the war, not the battle.

Beyond the Klum debacle and the many and varied insensitive comments he’s made about women, Trump really crossed the line with his tantrum at the GOP debate during his interaction with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. Although he resonates with a diverse group of people because of his bluntness, his attitude toward women will eventually hurt his candidacy. To attempt to counter that, he went on four Sunday talk shows to defend his positions. He also took to Twitter to defend his statement, adding that “political correctness is killing our country.” This is an example of a tactic you should not emulate.

Work the media.

As evidenced by Huffington Post, which will cover Trump’s campaign in its Entertainment section only, the media is amused by and enjoys crafting tales about him. His comedic value is tied to ratings, which shows that policy depth is not what’s important here; it’s about personality. Or train wrecks. Take your pick.

What should PR practitioners take away from all of this?

  • Be prepared when you are working with an unpredictable client. You cannot create a shift in strategy overnight, but you need to be aware when the hurricane arrives. Have a crisis plan in place.

  • There is always a breaking point. People view politicians as unresponsive to their needs. They want an authentic leader who is not afraid of political consequences and they won’t settle for less.

  • Trump’s PR pros are actively leveraging both the positives and negatives of his background and his campaign using a storytelling strategy. Trump’s story has star quality and they are putting it to good use.

Get to know Axia.

Axia Public Relations offers the tools you need to be successful in front of an audience, whether it’s made up of one or a thousand. Our Online Reputation Management  e-book details the art of managing your reputation and addresses the challenges that go with that task. Axia can help you establish a plan of action and proactively engage in your outreach efforts today.

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Erica Cottrill is an Atlanta-based public relations practitioner who provides strategic communications and public relations counsel to companies in the consumer and technology spaces. She has more than 20 years of experience producing results-driven PR campaigns. She directed the home and lifestyle division for one of the world’s largest PR firms, where she implemented PR campaigns for consumer, luxury, home and lifestyle clients including home furnishings, travel and real estate companies.

Featured image credit: Creative Commons


Topics: public relations

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