Five Critical PR Lessons Business Owners Can Learn From Donald Trump



Photo Credit: Michael Vadon

When confronted with an election like the one involving Donald Trump, you can either laugh at it or learn from it.  Savvy business owners are always interested in opportunities to learn a little more. With this in mind, there are critical lessons to be drawn from the rise of Donald Trump and from the man’s campaign. Many lessons can be drawn from mistakes made by the campaign, but there are many ways the Trump campaign has used an effective PR strategy to bring itself further prominence.


Not all press is good press


There’s an old adage that all press is good press, giving the impression that being in the public eye always benefits companies and individuals. Trump’s campaign proves that this is not true. The candidate’s polling numbers have taken hits after various missteps, including a week when Trump failed to repudiate the support of former KKK leader David Duke. As a business owner, most press is good, but any hits that inflict damage to the company’s integrity and brand are a negative in the age of corporate social responsibility.


Sometimes it’s alright to apologize and move on


If there’s one quality that’s defined the Trump campaign, it’s been the inability to acknowledge clear errors. When the candidate’s wife gave a partially plagiarized speech at the Republican National Convention, the campaign initially defined that the speech was lifted from first lady Michelle Obama. This kept the negative story in the news for two days too long. If the campaign had owned up to the mistake immediately, the story would have faded out of view. Business owners shouldn’t be afraid of owning up to mistakes as long as they have a plan in place to correct the errors. This can help to establish trust with the public.


Good PR starts with good human resource management


Companies are in a much better position to handle PR blunders if they’ve done their due diligence in hiring the right people. When Donald Trump’s campaign manager grabbed the arm of a reporter and nearly faced a criminal trial for assault, the campaign had a difficult time in its response. The campaign was hurt by the manager’s poor reputation and record, and it looked foolish for hiring him as campaign manager of a national presidential campaign. Organizations that hire the right people have a much easier time escaping otherwise uncomfortable situations. Those that hire poorly invite a second discussion about why the organization hired the unqualified person in the first place.


The media loves anything new and different


The bedrock of Trump’s publicity strategy has been to save money on traditional campaigning because of the candidate’s ability to command attention on local and national media. There’s a lesson in Trump’s ability to command the airwaves. For people who are stuck covering the same old boring stories day in and day out, something different will draw attention. Business owners who want more media coverage of a charity event should think about ways to set their golf tournament apart from the three dozen others a news station will be asked to cover. If it’s different, it gives news people an incentive to provide great coverage.


Controlling the narrative obscures weakness


Most organizations have some area of weakness they’d rather not expose to consumers or competitors. Restaurants might struggle to locally source their ingredients. Shipping companies might be using processes that harm the environment. Whatever the case may be, those organizations must look for ways to control the narrative. Donald Trump’s campaign has demonstrated the value of framing the conversation in ways that benefit the Trump campaign. Trump talks about the issue that work for him, and though he does not always avoid those issues he doesn’t know, he tends to steer every conversation back to what’s given him an edge. Businesses must learn to center publicity on their own strengths, controlling the narrative even during those times when the company is struggling with a weakness. Trump’s campaign has been a clinic in covering up considerable weakness for long enough to garner support. There is no reason why the average business owner cannot do the same.


For all of the well-founded political and moral opinions about the efficacy of the Donald Trump campaign, the truth remains that he’s provided the public with ample lessons on PR. Some of those are mistakes to learn from, while others are PR tactics to mimic. For better or worse, his campaign has been a sideshow that demonstrates some of what to do and much more of what not to do for those who want to maintain the legitimacy of their brand.