Everything you do or say is public relations.
The attention over Donald Trump’s presidential bid provides an opportunity to step back and assess if there are lessons to be gleaned from this media hot mess. The answer – particularly for PR professionals – is an emphatic YES.
Lesson 1: Less is more.
What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.
– Abraham Lincoln
A successful PR campaign employs a thoughtful strategy to advance a relevant goal – business, political or otherwise. While Trump certainly has a clear media plan to engage on all fronts, saying anything that comes to mind translates to empty rhetoric. That’s not PR. That’s making noise and hoping news outlets bite (and they have). Time will tell whether Trump will succeed in his White House aspirations, though any PR strategy worth implementing takes time and nuance to cultivate a meaningful (and mutually beneficial) exchange of ideas to support goals in a substantive and intellectually compelling manner. Whether pitching a new product or running for political office, the most effective way to shape and share a message is to engage the media, not upstage them. Say anything that comes to mind, and those very words will come back to haunt you; or worse, people – including reporters – will stop taking you seriously or listening.
Lesson 2: Bite your tongue, not a reporter.
Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
– Mark Twain
OK, OK. The quote is a little outdated given the Internet, though the sentiment certainly holds true today. This lesson is perhaps the most difficult to practice because we are all human. It’s hard to resist responding to an opponent or reporter who attacks or provokes us. In the long run, though, it’s not worth it. Core messaging opportunities are lost, vital relationships are frayed, and nothing is ultimately gained. Most confuse taking the high road as saying “Don’t get angry” or “Don’t respond.” That’s not the case. Punch a pillow or blow-off steam to your PR adviser or trusted colleague, though when it comes time to engage the media, focus on facts calmly and confidently. Straightforward, informative engagement will ultimately resonate with target audiences in a more positive and productive way.
Lesson 3: Substance rules.
Sometimes we pay too much attention in Washington to public relations, as opposed to the substance.
– Spencer Abraham, Republican, former U.S. Secretary of Energy
There’s no dispute that Trump’s approach is working for him now. He’s ahead in the polls. Let’s check in again when it really matters: when people vote. Unless the candidate provides details on how he is going to make this country great again, there’s nothing there to support his goal of a presidential win. It’s one thing to capture the attention of the masses, though if there are no facts to support a campaign (or pitch in PR-speak) there’s no substance (or story) there, so the people will vote for someone else (or a reporter will move on) … and that’s not an effective PR strategy.