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Bring on the Clown

Learn about PR from the man whose hair, ego, and finances are all about puffery.

Donald Trump

CEO, the Trump Organization
New York City
October 24, 2004

It’s hard to tell if Donald Trump truly is a ruthless, self-serving billionaire with a weakness for Ottoman decor, or if he just plays one on TV. Either way, one thing’s certain: Nobody beats Trump at PR.

So it was that, at the behest of his front man Howard Rubenstein — the closest thing public relations has to Vito Corleone — Trump found time one recent Sunday to school 4,100 PR pros in the art of self-promotion at the Public Relations Society of America’s fall conference.

Accompanied by his now-standard royal trumpet fanfare, Trump trotted out his usual Darwinian script on how to make it big in business: Always hit back, only harder; don’t trust anyone, especially loved ones; and never underestimate the power of a good prenup.

But that’s not why Trump was addressing the flacking masses. He is himself the king of hype, with a genius for winning attention for Donald Trump and thus the Trump Empire. Why that is became clear in a streak of mean-spirited, profanity-laced, misogynistic asides that, true to form, melted everyone’s heart.

LESSON ONE: DISH DIRT, LIBERALLY.

Mid-riff on humility, of all things, Trump got big yucks for this digression: “I was walking down the street with a very young and beautiful woman named Marla. Did anyone ever hear of Marla? I have. Trust me, it cost me a fortune. It wasn’t worth it.” Trump isn’t above dissing himself, either, if it will score him a few points for color. “I think I get terrible press,” he observed. “If there’s half a sentence that says ‘his hair is terrible’ or ‘he looks like s — t,’ I take it very personally.”

LESSON TWO: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.

Part of Trump’s PR power is his black-and-white view of the universe. He hews to a simple character narrative of brash-businessman-with-a-big-ego that makes even SpongeBob SquarePants appear complex. “All my life I’ve been successful,” he began. “All my life.” When it comes to business, Donald is always, always doing “great,” despite an occasionally contrary opinion from his accountants in Atlantic City.

LESSON THREE: THE EXPLETIVE IS MIGHTIER THAN THE IDEA.

Trump regaled the crowd with his savvy strategy for managing headlines when the media thought his real estate empire would collapse in the late 1980s. “I said to the press [long pause], ‘F — k you!’ “

LESSON FOUR: SEX SELLS. MENTION SEX. A LOT.

Trump knows that settling into a stable relationship would make his PR hits drop faster than the fat diamond he just gave new fiancee Melania Knauss. In the course of a 30-minute address, he managed to make at least 15 references to women and/or the woes of marriage.

The look, the ego, the swearing, the sex. Crass, sure — but in that way, brilliant. He nailed his message, and he won 4,100 fans. It was all part of Trump’s signature (and carefully copyrighted) strategy: not just style over substance, but style as substance. Sadly, it works like a charm.

Why are the so-called Presidential debates more of a grab-ass sideshow than a discourse on the issues? It is the overarching commitment of the mainstream and cable networks to what has become known as “infotainment.” Old fashioned “news” has become totally polluted with entertainment value, in the quest to make news shows generate substantial ratings and be profitable. Back in the days when there were fewer news choices on TV, and in the era of public television, the news programs were not known as “shows” and  could stand on their own. Now the formula must contain fun and blatantly heartwarming segments, in addition to the sensational “if it bleeds, it leads” content on disasters, fires and mayhem. The hell with issues that a democratic society should care about, such as economics, education, jobs, legislation, et al.

These so-called televised Presidential debates, of course, are not debates at all; they are “showcases” for the potential candidates, and at the most, political forums. The interviewers focus on provocations and personal attacks, and not on straight forward exploratory questions on the main issues. They seem designed to take of time and space, and sell commercials, rather than provide useful information. Yes, the audiences are probably larger than they would be if boring “issue” questions predominated, but thoughtful viewers are left with a thin gruel of content.

What is needed? Separate “information” from “entertainment,” subsidizing the “news,” to the extent necessary with profits from the entertainment divisions of the media. If the journalists and the journalism are of a high calibre, the news does not have to be boring, even it it is substantially devoid of laughs and sensationalism. And please, a debate should be about two people being challenged to discuss their views on real issues. Anything else is not a debate. Maybe a “showcase” or maybe a “forum,” or maybe just a free-for-all. Just call it a “reality show,” and put “infotainment” where it belongs, and stop wasting our attention span on political trivia.

From today’s Milwaukee Business Journal:

Fans of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s print edition can take heart: The CEO of the newspaper’s owner predicts continued publication of a hard copy “for a long, long time.”
Milwaukee is the media market where Journal Media Group (NYSE: JMG) has the greatest daily newspaper penetration with consumers, so the print edition will remain safe for the foreseeable future, said the company’s CEO Tim Stautberg.
“I suspect in a market like Milwaukee, it’s a long, long time (for continued printing),” Stautberg said at a joint luncheon Tuesday of the Milwaukee Press Club and the Rotary Club of Milwaukee at the Milwaukee County War Memorial.
Stautberg has been CEO of the new publicly traded company since April 1 after the closing of a transaction involving Milwaukee-based Journal Communications Inc. and Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Co. Prior to taking the helm at Journal Media Group, Stautberg was the top newspaper executive at Scripps.
Journal Media Group consists of the Journal Sentinel, 13 former Scripps daily newspapers and a number of community newspapers.
The print edition of daily newspapers remains the preferred way of attaining news for many consumers, Stautberg said. He said 45 percent to 50 percent of adults still read newspapers.
“To me there is still a habit that is very important to a lot of folks in the communities where we operate off reading a physical product,” he said. “I like to remind folks that a newspaper is actually the first mobile app.”

Well, I’d thought the Chicago Sun-Times was a newspaper, if not a very good one at that. Now they are not, as they have fired their entire 20-person photography department saying they need to produce more video! (see story link below)

I love journalism, and was trained as a journalist, and have even taught it at the college le level. I also love the internet, and use it to stay in touch. While I can’t get direct delivery of a newspaper, I subscribe to the Chicago Tribune digitally, and see it in its print form on the screen, and can dive in and blow up stories and photos easily. Same with the New Yorker and the Economist and the Wall Street Journal.

The Sun-Times? Trash, even digitally.

http://soa.li/O3a8Qja

Chicago Sun-Times lays off its photo staff
The Chicago Sun-Times has laid off its entire photography staff, and plans to use freelance photographers going forward, the newspaper said.

My most costly magazine subscription is “The Economist” magazine (Economist.com @ $138/yr, with some lower deals available), but I think it’s the best buy, because of articles like the current (July 9-13) issue’s 14-page special report on the future of news, called, in its inimical British way, Back to the Coffee House.

In their lead story, the magazine reviews steps individuals can take to mitigate their worries about the transformation of the news business: “As producers of new journalism, they can be scrupulous with facts and transparent with their sources. As consumers, they can be catholic in their tastes and demanding in their standards.”

This special Economist in-depth section on the future of news brings the historical and social context of news into sharp new focus, and in my humble opinion, as a lifetime student of journalism, deserves to be required reading in schools that teach journalism, public relations and communications (reprints are available). As The Economist enjoins: “The coffee house is back. Enjoy it.”

In its May/June issue, the Columbia Journalism Review features an article called “The Second Age of Public Relations,” which seems to conclude that PR is gaining on journalists and journalism in both numbers of practitioners and in influence, and treats this as an insidious development.

Maybe, from their perspective anyway, to some extent it is. While I trained as a journalist and have taught journalism at the university level, I have spent my entire career in public relations. I have never willingly lied to a journalist. I will admit to occasionally working in the gray area between truth and lies, but only to the extent of representing the perspective of my “client,” because as everyone knows, there can sometimes be multiple “truths” or perspectives on an issue.

Here’s is my response to the article, which I posted on the CJR website under the article in question.

PR people, like lawyers, represent their client’s interests, whether the “client” is a business, a not-for-profit organization, an arm of government, an individual, a candidate, or even the media itself. If PR people are ethical, their stock in trade is asserting the truth, at least the truth as seen from their client’s perspective. Good PR people are first reporters — they report about their client organization to outside constituencies, often through the media, but sometimes directly. Good PR people work with editors and journalists based on mutually understood rules of truth and fairness, and yes, there are occasions when both sides violate or circumvent these rules. And yes, PR is about a lot more than media relations, and can span the entire realm of communications and relationships. Many journalists will concede, if they are candid, that they can only do their job well with the assistance of good PR people. The writer’s notion that PR is gaining on journalism is perhaps a somewhat distorted version of the truth — too much journalism is descending into infotainment, and journalism is being reinvented as a much more direct and diffused form of reporting through so-called social media.

Posted by Charles Ebeling, APR on Tue 3 May 2011 at 12:38 PM

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