08.11.2015

PR & Branding: A Donald Trump Story

When people think of PR in today’s media landscape, they often think of failures. Take your Cecil the Lion, Jared from Subway or Jessica Alba sunscreen scandals. When these stories break, the comments that inevitably follow are things like “where was this guy’s PR firm,” “time to hire someone” or “no amount of PR is going to fix that!”

Those of us in the know know that these most famous examples of public relations do not illustrate a solid approach. Many companies seek the help of a firm or expert when it’s too late and ultimately fail at regaining the public’s trust. What we can learn from this is that not only does a comprehensive public relations plan – including media training key spokespeople, building a comprehensive crisis communications plan, and monitoring and building media relationships on an ongoing basis –help manage issues when the worst happens, but also that PR is not always a simple game of avoiding negative attention.

“Good PR” – or consistent and positive media coverage for a brand – goes hand in hand with a strong brand, which is again consistent but not always about singing praises and pats on the back.

Let’s look at Donald Trump. I’m not here to argue for or against his merits as potential POTUS, only the building and maintaining of his personal brand. A strong brand comprises four key elements, and like him or not, he hits them all: 

  1. Unique – the recent GOP debate broke records for primary debate television ratings, and polls suggest that Drumpf had a lot to do with it. He stands out, and Jimmy Fallon has been showing us how recognizable his personality is. Of all the points in this list, I think this one is the most obvious.
  2. Understands target audienceTrump’s hitting hot button issues aimed at his target audience. He’s doing so in outlandish, Trump-like fashion, but his rants aren’t just rants. They are targeted and strategic.
  3. Clear values and beliefs, and consistency in delivering them – Trump has some strong opinions, and he stands by them even when they’re not popular. A possible kiss of death for a politician, but strong branding nonetheless!
  4. Builds trust with his community – on the surface, this one seems tougher to argue, since he seems to anger the public every time he opens his mouth. But don’t forget that Trump is a cutthroat, no-apologies captain of industry. It’s what he’s famous for. That approach might not get him to the Oval Office, but you can bet that his business triumphs will prevail long after the election cycle is over.

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that building a strong brand for one’s company or top executive goes beyond securing as much positive media coverage as possible. Regular features in the Wall Street Journal may seem like the pinnacle of public relations success, but not if your core audience finds their news elsewhere or if conversations about your brand are happening elsewhere that aren’t consistent in message. A solid approach looks at an organization’s or individual’s goals first, then builds around those goals. For Donald Drumpf, it remains to be seen what his bid will do for him in the future, but there is no denying it. The guy’s got a brand.

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