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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.

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Everyone, everywhere in this country and around the globe, knows of the high level of political acrimony in America — the right and the left are more viciously opposed than ever, as evidenced by the rude rhetoric heard on the street, in social and mass media, and right up to scathing Tweets from the U.S. President himself.

Add that acrimony to a weaponized America, in which a majority of countrymen are armed to the teeth, with few checks on who may purchase, own and carry guns, including military-type weaponry. We are a country with no will among elected politicians to restrict or repeal this mass weaponization of the public, despite one tragic incident after another.

What happens next? A Congressman in the line of succession to the Presidency is shot, along with several his teammates, by a heavily-armed radicalized civilian, while doing nothing more provocative than practicing for a Congressional baseball game between Republicans and Democrats.

This tragic incident will inevitably lead to increased security and separation from the public of elected officials. It will provoke increased political discord among opportunistic individuals and media. There will be a brief period in which some leaders call for reform.

But, the chances of this cruel incident leading to real and positive change, either in quelling the fruitless heat of political discord rampant across this land, or in prompting much-needed reform of our gun laws, remains predictably remote. Our political leadership and civilians are collectively our own worst enemies in both issues unless people of goodwill and common sense finally raise their voices and say “ENOUGH!”

Is this an educatable moment leading to constructive social change, or will this odd confluence of political acrimony and negligent gun laws drive even more wedges between the people and their leadership? We must do more than hope.

 

If 30% of Americans have passports, but only 3.5% traveled outside the country (not counting Canada and Mexico) last year, is it any wonder that we are a somewhat insular and myopic people when it comes to understanding how we fit in to a world order. Most who do travel abroad find that most people are friendly and hold many of the same values in everyday life as we do in the U.S., unlike what is portrayed in the news media.

Why do the media often focus on the differences with other peoples, rather than the similarities? It’s simple. New media’s normal mode is to report deviances from the social norm. That’s what makes news news.

Even if I wasn’t the husband of a travel agent, with a bit of an appreciation of other peoples and other cultures, I’d say, to the extent you can afford it, invest in travel. The awareness and memories you bring back from travel can and often do pay lifelong dividends.

 

Some 15 thousand journalists have been credentialed to each of the national conventions. You’d think they were printing press passes on cereal boxes. The media have spent a reported $60 million sending those reporters. And what do the people get? Largely, scripted political positions, echoed by hundreds of speakers and spokespeople, even those “sitting” in empty chairs.

These farcical, archaic conventions are made all the more ludicrous by this sort of media pile-on. Not to mention the millions/billions spenty on the whole election campaigns. If America is to get value from its government, it should start with reigning in the endless campaign process and associated wasteful spending. Then maybe the political leaders could spend a little more time on building consensus and delivering action on governing policies that would actually benefit the nation. And the press would have something substantial to bring to the public, who crave constructive, cooperative solutions to the nation’s challenges and in their own lives.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/04/2012-conventions-journalists-media-coverage_n_1854320.html

 

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