HomeOpinion & AnalysisThe PR lessons that Donald Trump has dumped on us

The PR lessons that Donald Trump has dumped on us

Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States. No matter how ridiculous that statement alone sounds, it’s real! Hard to swallow, yes, loathe him or love him, he will be occupying the Oval office come January 2017.

public relations with Lenox Mhlanga

“But whether you intensely despise him or just mildly dislike him, one thing you’ve got to admit: Donald Trump is a phenomenon, the likes of which has never before been seen on the American political stage,” writes communications guru, Fraser Seitel, co-author of the seminal, Rethinking Reputation: How PR Trumps Marketing and Advertising.

And believe me, he had no clue that Trump would, even by the quirkiest imagination, be president when he coined the title of the book, which he penned with John Doorley. It was published in 2013, by the way.

“Trump has energised the masses by striking the proper public relations note for an electorate distressed by an uncertain economy and shifting cultural mores and exasperated by politicians who care mainly about their own re-election,” Seitel continues in an article published in Forbes Magazine during the campaign for the Republican primaries.

Seitel explains why what he calls “The Trump public relations positioning” has worked so well and left the political establishment shivering.

These are the hard public relations lessons Seitel says Trump has given us during a bruising campaign to get elected.

First, Trump is a bonafide celebrity. In a culture of celebrity, everyone knows Trump.

“He’s been a TV star, gossip-column item and page one bombastic big mouth for years. And he really does know Tom Brady and Barbara Walters and Kanye. Being a celebrity in 21st century America counts for plenty!”

The fact is that Trump doesn’t need to advertise as much as his opponents. He got wall-to-wall free publicity, largely due to his larger-than-life celebrity status.

Secondly, Trump tells it like it is.

He doesn’t talk political speak. He speaks directly with language that people understand. You may not agree with him, but you certainly know where he’s coming from and where he is going.

Not so with Hillary Clinton, observes Seitel, who couldn’t get out of her own way on the email controversy.

Compared to Trump’s US stance on the Mexican walls, Hillary failed as Secretary of State and on any other subject you might care to raise. The multi-billionaire, for better or worse, was always brutally candid.

Third, he takes on all critics.

Public relations consultants religiously tell their clients, “Always take the high road, and never ever bad mouth the competition.”

“But Trump doesn’t listen to public relations consultants; he listens to Trump. And he pulls no punches, even taking on sacred cows that other politicians won’t go near.”

And so, whether it’s conservative darling Megyn Kelly or war hero John McCain or sports legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar… the Donald let’s ‘em have it if he thinks they’ve wronged him. And he goes after them with barrels blazing, in a most undiplomatic, ad hominem way,” Seitel says.

As we all watched in horror, we wondered how he got away with it. Nothing seemed to stick to him. Look at how he survived the potentially fatal leaked recording of him saying very unflattering things about women. He might just be America’s first Teflon president!

Seitel further observes that in politics, as in sports and as in life, playing defence isn’t usually the way to win. A winner must control the agenda.

“When Hillary is forced incessantly to defend her emails (or Jeb his energy,) they lose momentum and it hurts their campaigns. But Trump, with much to be ‘defensive’ about, stays on offence no matter what.”

When, during his primary campaign, he drew outrage for booting Univision’s Jorge Ramos from a press conference, he never wavered about Ramos deserving the treatment for being rude (which he was).

When Latinos lambasted him for extreme immigration positions, Trump neutralised the backlash by meeting with the CEO of the US. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (who praised him) and the president of Mexico.

“When radio interviewer Hugh Hewitt tried to expose Trump’s general knowledge by asking gotcha questions about terrorist leaders’ names, Trump bashed him as a little known talk show host trying to gain recognition (which he was),” writes Seitel.

The point is that when it comes to being put on the defensive, Trump comes out punching.

Fifth, he is a true “outsider.”

The fact is Americans, like Zimbabweans, despise politicians, particularly national ones, and Trump milked this fact. Since 2002, according to Gallup, the public’s approval of the US Congress has descended steadily, settling today at an appalling 14%.

“Few can get away with it; with many believing, “Once a politician — whether governor, senator or mayor — always a politician,” Seitel says.

It probably explains why former B movie star, Ronald Reagan got elected in 1980. He went on to become one of the United States’ best presidents. Yet there is broad consensus that Trump is certainly no Reagan!
Trump is the consummate “outsider” who’s made fun of politicians and means it.

“He says what he wants, pays his own way, tweets at the drop of an insult, buys no ads, talks to any reporter, calls in to talk shows, throws journalists out of press conferences — and then invites them back in to ask questions,” observes Seitel like will all did.

I agree a 100% that (candidate) Trump’s is a public relations act never before seen on the American political stage.

As the saying goes, the problem with political jokes is that they often get elected. Yet with the election of Trump to the most powerful political office on the globe, you can rest be assured that no one is laughing.

lLenox Mhlanga is a communication specialist. He is an associate consultant with Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants and has experience working with the World Bank Group. He also is a part-time public relations lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology. He can be reached at lenox@magnacarta.co.zw or Mobile: 0772 400 656.

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