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Valuable ‘what not to do’ PR lessons from former President Trump’s media approach

by | Apr 18, 2023 | Public Relations

On the night of April 11, during former President Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, there were two important PR lessons voiced—both which should never be copied by PR pros. The first one was when the former president said that when he was indicted in New York, the court personnel were crying because of the injustice done to him. Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, TV footage accompanying the event exposed this as a lie because there wasn’t any crying, except (maybe) by members of his family during the actual indictment proceedings that charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in Manhattan on April 4.

The second lesson is whenever possible, to arrange interviews for clients with reporters who are willing to let them say whatever they want, true or false, without any pushback, which is standard operating procedure for Mr. Trump, who only grants interviews with that genre of journalists.

The above examples barely touch the surface of the lessons to be learned

And now that he’s back on the campaign trail, there will likely be others. One that is certain to be said during every media appearance is, “I did nothing wrong and am being unjustly vilified by liberal prosecutors and judges who hate Trump.” While this doesn’t appear to be true, by continually saying it, he has actually accentuated a point that PR practitioners should follow: Client talking points should be an integral part of every interview you arrange. (A story or interview without talking points is worthless, in my opinion.)

Many of the former President’s actions should be used as “what-not-to-do” PR tutorials

And, arguably, at the top of the list should be how he acts during his press conferences, because while the great majority of PR practitioners will never be involved with personalities in the political arena, they might be involved with client pressers.

On the night of his indictment for falsifying business records, the former President spoke to his supporters at Mar-a-Lago. According to CNN fact checkers, his speech was laden with many inaccurate statements. CNN said that: “The former president was repeatedly inaccurate when he pivoted to the subject of the federal investigation into his handling of official documents. He also repeated some of his favorite falsehoods on a variety of other subjects,” including what he said about the National Archives and Records Administration, George Soros, former Presidents Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and the two Bush presidents, his call to the Georgia Secretary of State, his claim that the United States has an economy that has been crippled by the biggest inflation we have seen in more than 60 years and his assertions about the amount of military equipment the U.S. left in Afghanistan and the number of illegal votes in the 2020 election, according to the fact checkers.

The former President’s Mar-a-Lago speech provided the most important “never-to-do” lesson for PR practitioners: Absolutely, positively, do not lie. Because if you do, chances are strong that your falsehoods will be revealed, especially if you’re representing an important individual or a large entity that’s always in the media spotlight. And the result will be major coverage calling out the lies.

On May 11, President Biden will declare an end to the three-year Covid emergency. During that time there were many lessons emanating from the coverage that PR people should remember. A few of the most important ones are:

Former President Trump provided four significant lessons that should never be copied by PR people—berating reporters and scientists who disagreed with his handling of the coronavirus, his disseminating unproven facts, and acting as if he knew more than expert scientists.

While all of those examples should never be copied by PR pros, the fourth lesson should be used by PR agencies as a teaching tool. The subject: “How not to act at a press conference.”

Mr. Trump’s pressers can be summed up in two words—chaotic and unprofessional, used more to promote himself than to inform the viewing public about the serious problems caused by the coronavirus. He continually interrupted speakers that didn’t agree with him, used the pressers to demean political opponents, offered as facts unproven methods to ward off the coronavirus, and attempted to change the subject by declaring new initiatives, which he never instituted.

But there was also an important “to do” lesson that emerged from the devastation caused by the coronavirus that PR trainers should use

It was how former Governor Cuomo handled himself during his exceptionally well – structured Covid pressers. Unlike President Trump’s, Mr. Cuomo’s pressers received high marks from the media and PR people.

The former Governor never contradicted anything other speakers said. More important, everything he said was based on facts, not conjecture, and he always gave credit to the work of others. For example, he handed the platform to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, allowing him to explain in detail his new initiative with John Hopkins University regarding the coronavirus.

Mr. Cuomo spoke as if he was talking to you individually, expressed empathy and concern, said he accepts the advice of people smarter than he is, and was not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” As a result, Mr. Cuomo made his pressers a national must-watch event.

The former President’s press conferences received poor grades from the media and should be used as a “how not to conduct a press conference” template.

Whether you agree with former President Trump or not, there is one indisputable fact

He has provided more lessons for PR practitioners than any other President in history. Unfortunately, there are many lessons that PR people should not copy.

Arthur Solomon
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. During his political agency days, he worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.

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