Lessons in PR: Should We Be More Like Donald Trump?
Donald Trump is breaking every conceivable PR101, 202 and even PR PhD rule and remains completely unaffected by it. In fact, the more he breaks the rules, the more popular he becomes. So, are those basic public relation rules that we all know outdated? His communication style is aggressive to the point of stand-up comedy; more propaganda, less public relations. But, for argument’s sake, should we throw out what we know and adopt the shoot-from-the-lip style Trump embodies – especially in the face of a crisis?
In a political nomination campaign, particularly in the United States, you can do the following, apparently without fear of law suits or reprisals:
- Attack competitors
- Call opponents liars
- Threaten to punch protestors in the face
- Be yourself – no matter what
- Make fun of the media who carry your message
Say Trump wins the election. Should you or your company adopt his style and become more aggressive in the face of attacks by the media or critics? Should you go on the offensive to try to galvanize your supporters? Should you simply thumb your nose at powerful media and treat it and your detractors with disdain?
Consider this: If “the Donald” was your CEO in a crisis and talking about your company’s critics or competitors as he is talking now about his opponents and others, how do you think it would affect your brand? I suspect his board of directors would be the first to say, “Donald, you’re fired!”
In the real world of business, you simply can’t do what “the Donald” is doing. Why? Because politics is not business reality. So, in light of Trump’s recent antics in the media spotlight, here are some lessons we can all learn:
Never attack your competitors
The first rule of good public relations is you never attack competitors. Exxon didn’t gloat publically when BP sprung a leak in the Gulf of Mexico. When Walmart parmesan cheese was found to contain cellulose recently, Safeway didn’t run attack ads about it. When you begin throwing stones it’s too easy for the media or the public to pick up some of those same rocks and toss them back at you.
Don’t call opponents liars
“The Donald” calls his opponents liars. He does this often. It’s his go-to pitch. In a heated public debate which your company may be involved in, calling opponents liars will galvanize opposition and lose you public support. When you lose your cool, you lose – period. The best strategy is to stick to your facts day in and day out and to let your facts ultimately win the day. Keep a level-head because the more nasty and out of control your opponents get, the more support you will get.
Don’t threaten to punch protestors in the face
When asked, many a CEO might agree privately, that in certain instances they’d like to punch a protester in the face. Now imagine a big project, like B.C.’s pipelines and Site C dam proposals. Imagine a CEO saying on TV, “I’d like to punch that protestor in the face.” They’d be looking for a new career immediately and the project would be dead.
You can be your own worst enemy
In Trump’s case, this means his shoot-from-the-lip style is not a good idea in a crisis. Being yourself is actually good advice for a CEO facing a crisis, as long as being yourself means you show that you care, admit your mistakes, are truthful and outline a plan to make things right. If you are shaken by what happened, allow it to show, allow your concern to show through – be human. But, if being yourself means you go on the offensive and attack everyone in your path, then save that for the boardroom.
Media don’t like to be made fun of
The media, including social media, carry your message. Making fun of media pundits, reporters, bloggers and analysts is never a good idea. It may feel to you like you are winning but the “win” is temporary. They always get the last word. You should correct factual errors they have made, point out your positive message, and then take the high road. The public is smarter than you think. They will get your message and understand when the media is being unfair.
The bottom line?
Everyone likes to copy a winner; business schools teach investment success models such as Warren Buffett’s. But, we also laud those who break the mold and go against the establishment. Case in point? Donald Trump.
If you copy Donald Trump’s nomination strategy in your business I would say that you do so at your own peril. Right now, Donald Trump doesn’t need real answers, he just needs one-liners, of which he seems to have an endless supply. When pushed into a corner he goes on a personal attack, calls someone a liar, raises a boogeyman or mentions 9-11.
A nomination campaign is not the business world or even the real world. It is more like reality TV. There is only one measuring stick: winning, and the focus is extremely short term. There is no tomorrow.
Successful businesses have a long time horizon to consider because the public won’t forget and you don’t get to completely rebrand every four years like a political party does. Unlike a new political leader, a new CEO doesn’t make all the old negative news magically disappear.