A few days ago, I met with a longtime client with whom we are privileged to share a model relationship of trust and respect. The president of the company had a simple question that went something like this: “I’m watching Trump and what’s happening. Should we be doing anything different?”
The answer was ultimately “no,” but it requires much more than a soundbite response. That’s because, as we have written about many times, there are significant differences between political and business PR. And in Trump’s case, his PR, such that it is, has followed a celebrity PR script for 30 years, which is closer to political PR but even farther away from business PR, as celebrity PR is all about making and keeping an individual famous.
There are examples in presidential elections for which everyone in communications has benefited. For example, 1992’s election of Bill Clinton proved for all that Baby Boomers were a force to be reckoned with in the marketplace. 2008’s election of Obama proved the power of the Internet, even to those still skeptical at that point. A similar broad lesson may be learned in 2016. But that is still very much unclear.
While Trump is obviously tapping into “something” in the marketplace (we’ll leave that to the political analysts and sociologists), it’s hard to imagine a business that would benefit from emulating his antics, so matter how successful in the political arena they may be to date. What kind of business would gain market share mocking the disabled or proposing that individuals of a different religion be banned from the country, as just a couple of examples?
What Trump shows us clearly, however, is that America’s obsession with celebrity is alive, well and perhaps more powerful that ever. Trump has spent countless dollars across a generation, building himself into a household name, wanting you to think of him as the embodiment of success and the East Coast lifestyle of the rich and famous. Through bragging biographies, tabloid marriages, talk show appearances and a highly-rated Prime Time network reality show, he has made sure you know who he is and what he wants to stand for.
So I told the client “No…but.” Their company should keep doing what it’s doing, clearly communicating at every opportunity who they are, what they do and how they’re different, remaining true to their values. Years ago, they capitalized on the culture of celebrity, using a household face and voice as a spokesperson for their country. That ran its course but is worth remembering. For now, I say, leave “The Trump Effect” to the game of election politics. The client agrees.