The Public Relations Enigma of Donald Trump

By Mitch Marier

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.58.24 AMThe 2016 presidential primary election season has turned the traditional political world on its head. The term political correctness has always been an integral part of politics. Common sense suggests that someone running for office is calculated in everything they do and say in order to avoid offending people. A large part of the political system can be boiled down to pure public relations. When the general population is your audience, managing their perceptions and expectations is a lot about what being a politician comes down to. Traditionally, public relations professionals and politicians incorporate the same fundamental principals in their lines of work. Never speak ill of the competition or engage in mudslinging.  The audience is always the focus so leave your ego at the door. Practice what you preach, because integrity is one of the hardest things to retain. These values have been the foundation of politicians forever, until now. Everything we thought we knew is being challenged because of one man. Donald Trump.

Whether you love him or hate him (and those seem to be the only possible options), his impact cannot be ignored. The 2016 presidential primary season has had more televised debates than any other race in history. Trump has more twitter followers than any other candidate by at least 1 million people. Some people in his own affiliated party, the GOP, are publicly campaigning to stop his nomination. I personally know of people who said they never paid attention to politics until this year, mostly because of all the stuff they hear about Donald Trump. The reasons why people despise the real estate tycoon are endless. However, success in politics is measured by winning elections. The brash billionaire currently has more delegates than any other candidate. So the question has to be asked, what is he doing right?

Knowing the Target Audience

While many people in the public and media have criticized Donald Trump for lacking ethics, respect and even qualifications, he knows they are not the people he has to impress. His whole campaign is targeted to a specific demographic of people. A lot of words can be used to describe his supporters but the common thread seems to be they are fed up with their current government. Trump epitomizes what people who want change yearn for. They see him as a force against the establishment. For someone who is unhappy with the way the government is run, they see Donald Trump as someone who will kneel down for no one to get the changes he wants. While many view Trump as an arrogant bully, he understands that his supporters like his unapologetic and abrasive approach.


Insert the old cliché “confidence is key” here. In this scenario, Trump’s confidence in himself, whether real or phony, is one of his biggest assets. In PR, we must inspire confidence to our clients. No one wants to invest in someone who is indecisive or shows any sign of uncertainty. When Donald Trump is on camera, he speaks clearly and directly. He is not someone who tries to cover up the message with jargon and buzzwords. He rarely elaborates on his actual policies, but his supporters obviously respond to the simple and certain way in which he carries himself.

Having a Track Record…Kind of

One of the biggest knocks on Donald Trump is his lack of political experience. In addition to never holding elected office, he did not go to college for political science. Many politicians in the past have come from diverse educational backgrounds, but they also held elected positions before running for president. While many people have tried to use this against Mr. Trump, he is always able to spin his background in his favor. Being a billionaire is something only thousands of people in the world can relate to. While Trump came from an affluent New York family and his father gave him a $1 million loan to help him get started, he portrays himself as self-made. A common Donald Trump apologist will say, “He is a business genius and he knows how to make money. We need someone like that running our country.”

Selling His Own Brand

Somewhere in between building a real estate empire and running for the President of the United States, Donald Trump made himself a household name. As a reality star on the television show “Celebrity Apprentice,” he was able to advertise himself and his image. While he was just as polarizing then as he is now, having a show on a network television channel awards you about as much exposure as you can possibly get in American media. People were able to form opinions about Donald Trump long before his political career. Maintaining a consistent brand has helped him gain trust and support because people know what they are getting. The tyrannical boss we saw bark out “you’re fired” on TV, is the same undiplomatic politician running for office today.

While most ethical public relations practitioners wince at the mockery Donald Trump has made of our political system, there is definitely a method to his madness. While pleasing everybody remains a utopian myth, most people in the public eye at least try. Donald Trump said to hell with that. He plays by his own rules, and as twisted and unconventional as they may be, they are successful to some degree.


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