It might sound like the title of JK Rowling’s next novel, but the case of Donald Trump and the PR paradox is one that has people in America and across the pond scratching their heads.
Almost every week the Republican nominee candidate has been embroiled in what would be a public relations disaster for lesser men. Whether it’s a row with Fox News, a broadcaster that you’d ordinarily expect to be his soulmate rather than his sparring partner, or mocking the wartime suffering of fellow Republican John McCain, Trump has moved from ruckus to fracas and back again like a carefully coiffed bull in a china shop.
Yet his Teflon sheen has so far remained intact, and he has just romped home to an emphatic New Hampshire win, meaning the most unlikely of Republican nominations is still a distinct possibility.
How is this possible? The short answer is that, for a man who claims not to play by the rules, Trump actually uses the PR handbook to good effect.
Here are the key PR reasons why Trump has been such a success so far:
- He’s a big brand – like Coca-Cola, Nike or David Beckham, Trump is a name that rings a bell with everyone, even before his foray into presidential politics. People are more likely to trust a name they recognise.
- He’s a big personality – in the world of football, there’s a reason why Jose Mourinho gets twice the column inches of Carlo Ancelotti. Mourinho is loud and brash, controversial and distinctive. The media love it, and people love it (or hate it). Either way, they get invested in the narrative, which means they care.
- He’s different – in a sea of competition, you’ve got to stand out. And with his distinctive style, message and hair, Trump certainly does that.
- Hammering home the top-line message – good PR means a consistent, simple message. In politics, you usually require more of the nitty-gritty as well, but Trump hasn’t bothered with that. He focuses on the big picture, hitting the same key messages time and time again. Ask someone what Trump believes, and they’ll be able to reel it off from memory. Do the same for Jeb Bush, and you’ll get little more than a blank stare in response. People remember Trump’s views, and when they can remember, they can agree.
- The personal touch – look at Trump’s Twitter account. Maybe he writes each tweet himself, maybe he doesn’t, but the important thing is that we believe he does. When he talks, people feel like he’s addressing them personally. Compare that to Marco Rubio, who in the New Hampshire debate ended up sounding like one of the Stepford Wives, reeling off the same platitude on a stuck loop.
- Know your audience – though appearances can be deceptive, Trump doesn’t build policy on whatever thought struck him at breakfast. Each of his messages, however extreme, is targeting a specific segment of the audience. If you know your customers like fast cars, you offer them a Ferrari, not a unicycle.
What’s most evident from all this is that none of the points are separate. They all interlink and feed each other, and this is no accident. It’s good PR strategy, and it’s something Trump will have carefully fostered, however haphazard it sometimes seems.
It hasn’t stopped him from making missteps – shunning the Republican debate in Iowa meant he lost his place in the public conversation, and eventually lost the state – but if he continues to utilise the principles of effective PR, he’ll continue to make waves.