All summer long I’ve avoided posting anything about Donald Trump. Like many, I haven’t taken his candidacy for president seriously. Ignoring him has been difficult, given how the news and entertainment media have been somewhat obsessed with every word the billionaire utters.
I feel badly for the other Republican candidates. I’ve blogged about the GOP’s efforts to re-brand the party and how it was reaching out to women, young people and Spanish-speaking voters. Trump has effectively undermined this agenda with his brash and careless comments. And the unprecedented 17 other Republicans running have been unable to effectively get their message out because Trump is literally sucking up all the air. He has become a ratings winner, so media programmers are devoting more time to him than all other candidates combined. Could you name most of the other 17 running? I couldn’t.
Conversely, the Donald Trump Show has worked to Hillary Clinton’s advantage. While we don’t know how serious the investigation of her email will become, without Trump, Hillary’s issues would be receiving far more attention. It’s attention she doesn’t want; she’s still the front-runner and she’ll need far more positive coverage to stay ahead. As public relations students and practitioners understand, grabbing an audience’s attention and making positive impressions is crucial to success whether for a candidate, product or cause.
When I teach PR history, I talk about P.T. Barnum, the shameless 19th century promoter of his circus. The National Review’s John Fund recently wrote, “(Trump) is the P.T. Barnum of American politics, a brilliant self-promoter who knows exactly what he’s doing and who changes his opinions constantly to match what he thinks audiences want to hear, much as Barnum used to switch out circus acts between towns on his tour.” Now Trump is out-Barnum-ing Barnum; as a presidential candidate, his domination of the news so early in the race is unprecedented.
There are PR lessons to be learned here, both good and bad, as the Summer of Trump is sure to be found in case studies textbooks someday. I wonder what the final chapter will look like. Your thoughts?
Among the many great pleasures associated with teaching at Hofstra are the friendships I’ve developed with students outside the classroom. We work on projects and research, plan and attend events, and travel to conferences and programs together.
One such student was Annik Spencer. A New England native, Annik was a highly motivated undergraduate who was involved in clubs and campus activities, and worked at several internships while earning a high grade point average. Her strong networking skills led her to an agency job at CooperKatz in Manhattan when she graduated. Annik continued to participate in student-related events and we even shared a meal or two to catch up.
Needless to say, I was shocked when Annik called me early this summer to tell me she had breast cancer. Her mother died of breast cancer at age 36 when Annik was just four years old, so she has fought back aggressively by having a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and other treatments.
True to form, Annik has faced this crisis with a positive attitude and determination. She has tremendous support from family, friends and colleagues. She’s also using her PR skills by creating a web site, “We Fight with the Color Purple,” where she shares her fight with family, friends and followers. The homepage notes, “To show our support, we’re asking everyone to paint their nails and/or wear purple bracelets. Purple has always been a special color to Annik as it was her mother Ricanne’s favorite color.” She regularly details her treatment and her emotions, and provides visitors with a place for comments and reassurances that she’s going to be OK. There’s also a link to help to ease the financial burden on Annik’s family.
Communicating well is helping Annik get through this. Her online grace and eloquence give the readers insight to her charisma and strength. Annik’s prognosis is excellent and she’ll be a PR superstar for many, many years to come. Your thoughts?
The most infamous hunter in the world, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, has become a public relations hot potato.
Dr. Palmer was clearly feeling the heat after it became known to the world he had hunted and killed beloved African lion Cecil and paid $55,000 for the privilege. With social media as the conduit, the public’s outrage has been fierce, and the dentist has since gone into hiding.
After J. Austin & Associates, a Minnesota-based PR firm, was hired by Palmer it issued a statement on his behalf which included an apology: “I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.” But a couple of days later Jon Austin tweeted, “Yesterday another PR firm asked to help distribute Dr. Palmer’s statement. Having completed that task, we’ve ended our work on this issue.” Meanwhile, someone at Palmer’s office posted a sign on the door referring all related queries to Minneapolis agency Spong PR, but Spong tweeted that the dentist was not its client: “To confirm, Spong does not represent Walter Palmer. Please direct all media inquiries to Jon Austin at firstname.lastname@example.org.” With that, no one seems to know whether Palmer currently has PR representation at all.
An important maxim in the PR profession is that you have to believe in–or at least be comfortable supporting–your client. If you’re not convinced of the message’s truth or value, you shouldn’t expect others to be. Dr. Palmer may yet find another PR firm to help him repair his reputation and restore his dentistry practice. But public relations agencies and consultants would be wise to stay away so as not to be tainted by the hatred people are feeling for this killer. There’s so much toxic anger in the court of public opinion that any PR firm issuing statements on behalf of this client will be likely be vilified, boycotted and suffer consequences by its association. He’s a rotten potato who’s much too hot to handle. Your thoughts?
Last week I boarded an 8:21 train to Penn Station on an 85 degree morning. The train car had no working air conditioning. Aggravated, I expressed my disappointment on Twitter: “Thanks @LIRR for sticking us in a 30 year old car with no A/C on one of the year’s hottest days.” Moments later, the Long Island Rail Road tweeted back: “Our apologies Professor Morosoff. pls let us know the train and car # you’re in so we can report AC for repair.” Although I was surprised, most large organizations have become PR savvy and respond to tweets which could affect their reputation. This was a smart use of social media.
This week Nicki Minaj tweeted her disappointment that her hit “Anaconda” wasn’t nominated for the MTV Video Music Awards’ video of the year. “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well,” she tweeted, adding, “When the ‘other’ girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination.” Taylor Swift then tweeted, “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.” Minaj explained that she was only addressing a lack of recognition for minority artists, but Swift, who was nominated, took it personally. On Thursday, Swift tweeted, “I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki.”
Using social media to “warn others” was raised in the ethics column in last week’s New York Times Magazine. The writer asked if it was OK to post a photo of a car’s license plate after it was spotted driving erratically. The ethicists agreed that posting the picture could lead to “major controversy” and even a lawsuit.
That person’s posting was only satisfying him or herself and accomplishing nothing. Taylor Swift’s overreaction ultimately caused her embarrassment. I was venting my anger, too, but my posting was designed to accomplish a result that might benefit others. They’re three examples of why you should examine your true motivation before you express online disappointment. Your thoughts?
This was a busy, unpredictable week for public relations practitioners. From the upstate jailbreak to the church massacre, Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriages and Obamacare, plus Taylor Swift and Apple and more, there were incredible news events, each creating a need for professional communicators to move messages quickly and correctly.
Now, one might suggest it’s the media’s job to dispense information with speed and accuracy. But for those who still don’t understand PR, it can be noted little gets to the media without assistance from an “information broker,” a liaison between authorities and reporters. During last week’s major events, PR people coordinated news conferences, issued statements, prepped politicians and experts, gathered information, posted and tweeted, and served as reliable sources.
For example, after Dylann Roof admitted murdering nine people in South Carolina, law enforcement, religious institutions, gun control advocates, the NRA, spokespersons, civil rights leaders, and many others were no doubt coached and assisted by PR people. More unpredictable events followed.
Roof’s online racist manifesto and photographs led to unexpected controversies. Seemingly inconsequential was what he wore: a Gold’s Gym t-shirt. But Twitter lit up with comments including, “Just cancelled my membership at Gold’s Gym after the recent tragedy in Charleston,” and “Gold’s Gym must be proud…worst advertising ever?” Gold’s responded by tweeting repeatedly, including, “We have no affiliation with Dylann Roof and are saddened by the tragedies in Charleston.” Gold’s Gym handled its unforeseen PR crisis well.
Meanwhile, major retailers joined state governments in denouncing and purging the Confederate flag, which surrounded Roof in the photos. Others continue to defend the symbol. One, the South Carolina Sons of the Confederacy, posted a carefully worded statement, no doubt also created by professionals. “(We extend) our heartfelt sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones in this tragedy,” but added, “There is absolutely no link between The Charleston Massacre and The Confederate Memorial Banner. Don’t try to create one.”
When news happens, PR people become the primary information brokers, sometimes dealing with most joyous or tragic of circumstances. It’s all part of this complicated and exciting profession. Your thoughts?