The PR field should love Donald Trump as he teaches lessons about the power of earned media. I’ve been at many social gatherings when the conversation shifts to the campaign, and all eyes turn to me, seeming to challenge/blame: “C’mon PR boy, spin this!”
Trump is a frustrated flack, he loves to mix it up with reporters, bluster and promote. This story covers how he micromanages PR – and this one (by NY Times Run-up columnist and podcaster Michael Barbaro) documents how Donald fell in love with the press hit at an early age: “He can still recall the thrill of a newspaper mentioning his name for the first time, as a high school baseball player. Trump said: ‘I loved it. It was the first time I was ever in a newspaper.'”
The campaign also teaches lessons about the value of press coverage vs. advertising. It instructs about the power of the brand – the mysterious allure of some people, companies and products. He is the muse, the media gift that keeps giving – fodder for countless stories (as well as comedians and talk show hosts). Les Moonves said Trump may not be making America great but is “damn good for CBS.”
But what about that old saying: there is no such thing as bad press?
Lynn Vavreck studied campaign ad effectiveness and reported the results in this NY Times Upshot story: Do Campaign Ads Matter? Her work is also a nice treatise on PR vs. advertising, as Trump has bet almost all on free media. She learned that ads seem to work, as Clinton’s lead is growing.
“All this suggests that Mr. Trump’s strategy, while efficient in terms of costs, may not be effective in terms of persuasion. He has let Mrs. Clinton dominate the ad war in competitive battleground states and it seems to be costing him votes.”
But one very important variable Vavreck did not explore was the sentiment of coverage. I think we can all agree, without doing tons of analysis, that recent press has not been good, and this has hurt Trump’s standing.
The situation reminds me of another truism: be careful what you wish for. You live by PR, you die by PR. Yes there is such a thing as bad press, and we just might be better off.