Donald Trump – love him or hate him – has officially won enough delegates to claim the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election. A businessman and reality TV star, Trump is arguably the most controversial and divisive candidate America has seen in decades.
Throughout the primary election season, many people have viewed Trump as a bigot – attacking competitors, calling opponents liars, repeatedly making sexist and racist remarks, threatening to punch protesters in the face, making fun of the media carrying his message. … The list goes on.
So, how has Trump, a man with little to no political background and perceived by many to have a history of unjust behavior, become the Republican candidate for president of the United States?
When it comes to PR dos and don’ts, Trump has broken virtually every “don’t” in the book. He has, however, leveraged social media, messaging tactics and differentiation to stay ahead of the race.
Embracing the power of social media and the ability to connect with supporters on an engaging, user-friendly platform is priceless. Trump, through Twitter and other social media platforms, has been able to connect with disenfranchised citizens who feel disconnected to the traditional world of politics. Trump is a businessman and celebrity first and foremost, setting him apart for supporters upset with the status quo.
For example, Trump joined Twitter in 2009 and has since gained more than 9 million followers and posted 32,000 tweets. He only follows 40 accounts, however, making it clear the platform is being used as a public relations tactic to amplify his story and invite conversation. In contrast, Hillary Clinton joined Twitter in 2013, has 6.94 million followers and has pushed out more than 6,000 tweets; however, she follows 669 others on Twitter. The transparency Trump displays on social media has not always been favorable toward him from a PR standpoint. Back in September, Trump tweeted “ask me anything,” and as you can imagine some of the responses were preposterous.
While social media can be a great asset to any entity, it can also lead to trouble if not used strategically. More recently, Trump has been using Twitter more thoughtfully to promote his political campaign and personal image – including but not limited to posts about poll numbers, political views, appearances, book signings and sports.
Another PR tactic that sets Trump apart is his ability to deliver clear and concise messaging that is bold and authentic yet communicated in simple language that the masses can latch onto. This proves extremely advantageous when combating complex controversial political issues. He uses language that the general public understands and, more importantly, can relate to – one-liners are easier for the general population to get behind and support in comparison to auto-cued speeches that are often refined until they hold virtually no clear meaning at all. Ultimately, despite how outlandish and factually unsupported Trump’s comments may be, they stand out.
This leads us to another PR lesson that can be learned from Trump: Know your core audience. Trump repeatedly commandeers conversations to hit those “hot-button issues” he knows he can get his supporting audience behind. That said, we wouldn’t advise a client to pitch unsupported one-liners that aren’t true. In the end, a client’s truth and legitimacy are too vital to risk by dangling misinformation out there like Trump does, even if the general public may take it and often defend it without questioning.
In the end, Trump is differentiated from his competitors in that he is not an experienced politician. He is the underdog (which many people inherently like to root for) and has positioned himself as a radically different possibility for president. He does not pretend to be something he is not; despite being viewed as unapologetic, vulgar and ultimately discriminatory, Trump is Trump – toupee and all. PR lessons from his campaign should be taken with a grain of salt. It is important to be yourself and not dodge the media, but you cannot survive on rhetoric and repetitively false messaging alone. And despite the fact that this has worked for Trump thus far, it’s bound to catch up with him. But then again who knows. After all, the pundits have been completely wrong about him up to this point.