Donald Trump: How Ignoring All Reputation Management Rules Has Kept His Following Strong

Brook Zimmatore | February 25, 2019

Reputation is everything for brands, businesses and celebrities alike. This is what sets them apart from their competitors. It can be equated to goodwill with consumers and is a valuable, intangible asset.

However, while public relations and media companies around the world advise clients of reputation being make-or-break, there is one man who clearly defies this rule – the 45th president of the United States.

Donald Trump has more than 59 million Twitter followers and keeps showing us that a person can achieve success and fame without following the orthodox rules for reputation management.

Over the last few years alone, his follower count on Twitter has increased more than 225% but when Trump bases his entire political campaign on the very concept of breaking the rules, it raises a million questions about how a person with no reputation management can be so successful.

Reputation Management and Politics

Politics can provide an interesting case study on this subject.

During election time, it’s common to see politicians either try to improve their reputation by telling us how much integrity they have, or more commonly, attempt to smear their competitors.

It’s become so common in fact, that we often lose sight of exactly how these representatives are going to improve our conditions, make changes and enact effective policy.

This leads us to our main subject – Donald J. Trump. Many people don’t entirely understand what the president’s job actually is. Included in the job description is being a diplomat and with that comes a very important responsibility intimately related to reputation management – the ability to make agreements with other foreign leaders. That’s about the clearest definition of politics. And the governance of a nation depends on the relationships that nation has with other nations. Mr. Trump certainly does not hold anything back when it comes to his views on America or anything else for that matter.

We don’t need to understand these relationships to observe the way he is creating an effect on those that choose to listen to his actual message. We can all agree that it is seemingly unfiltered especially compared to past leaders.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with President Trump’s methods or policy, one fact is certain – he gets attention. He has been a master of getting press for decades. Not all press has been positive, but the fact remains that when he speaks, people listen. From the way he speaks about his opponents to the way he handles critics, it is clear that his PR stance is anything but typical. That he is not your average politician in a suit can be refreshing for some and ghastly for others but at the very least, we can see that our traditional ways of handling PR can be violated and still result in success for the subject.

What Has Changed In PR?

This country was once a rebellious and free-thinking paradise. It was built on revolution, new ideas, individuality and creativity. In the last few years, this ideology has been questioned, attacked, subverted and many have sought to achieve much more of a “group” mindset – where everyone is expected to share the same viewpoint. Apple’s slogan used to be “think different”. And so it may be that President Trump is simply one who does just that.

Many consider what President Trump says to be offensive or at the very least, unprofessional. It’s disrespectful to refer to another colleague as “little” or insinuate that a reporter is a “dummy”. But is it wrong? Well, if one’s purpose is to get attention in the media, inflammatory or controversial speech may be the most effective way to do so. How often do you see good news in the news? A simple search on Yahoo or CNN yields about 90% negative to 10% positive headlines, and that’s on a good day.

Trump tweets

Insightful, helpful or positive stories simply don’t grip as many readers as much as the latest gossip. The news deals with scandal, crime and suffering. It rewards these events with front page articles and featured headlines. In the day-to-day world, “events” are defined as something bad that happened somewhere.

So now it’s a little easier to understand President Trump’s success in the social media arena. He’s abrasive, speaks his mind, and especially on Twitter, is quite informative. These are all methods used to get attention from the mainstream media. It works! It’s quite the opposite of what a PR professional or PR firm would advise but there’s no denying that it works.

This may be a different way to do things but it is no less effective and for that reason, it’s worth studying to see what can be learned. After all, PR is fundamentally based on the idea that you must know your customer and communicate to them in a way that makes them trust you.

Trump’s Loyal Base of Fans

President Trump has amassed nearly 59 million followers on Twitter – good for 13th in the rankings.

When we look into the unwavering support that Trump has, we see a lot of factors at play. Even though Donald Trump has an uncanny style of speaking, his straightforward approach and direct communication has attracted a lot positive attention from his fans. Those who admire his ability to speak his mind and never compromise believe in the method if not the message. They have come to expect nothing less than the unbridled “truth” from him. And we are not fact-checking here, we are pointing out that what he says, he believes. This is perhaps his true skill, his conviction. It’s a proven method to garnering support from your audience and developing a solid PR campaign. It’s vital in building trust. And your conviction or belief in your self is the foundation of success.

President Trump no doubt has his opponents and his share of critics. But one thing that cannot be denied is his ability to control his audience. He has amassed a large following and their loyalty is remarkable. His catch phrase has been “Make America Great Again” and MAGA is now a nationwide catch-phrase. He talks and people listen. And they listened long before he was president. He’s been a master at this for a long, long time. And almost anyone that has been at something for a very long time can teach you something – if you choose to learn.

I think we can learn something from President Trump. His PR methods fly in the face of traditional PR campaigns. But, it’s working. The news in general has taken every available opportunity to view his speech with the most critical eye. But his fanbase grows, his support is unflappable, and he continues to dominate the headlines. His PR is successful.

Is Reputation Management for Politicians really necessary?

The easy answer is yes. Everyone can benefit from PR. Would your constituents to know what you do and have a favorable view of you? Yes!

But when it comes to President Trump, the answer to this question may not be that simple. Although a well-managed PR campaign can help grow a politician’s following or fanbase, one communication that offends someone can crash an entire career and even irrevocably ruin a politician’s career. This is not the case with Donald Trump but he seems to be the lone exception to the rule.

We live in a world where reputations can change in a matter of seconds. With the speed of communication in the digital age, anyone in the public eye can be subject to criticism and instant judgement. The internet is full of trolls and reputations are ruined daily. President Trump has been attacked by every major news station, nearly every major newspaper and countless private citizens online.

In spite of all this, President Trump has thrived. Maybe he ignored all the rules. Maybe he knows more than we all do. Or maybe it’s all an accident. Does he have impeccable PR or is this an isolated case?

People are talking about him and he is talking – a lot. Today, every word that you say can be dissected and criticized endlessly. It’s quite possible that a failure to properly manage your PR can lead to your downfall and, a lack of good PR is the reason your campaign failed.

PR for politicians is no doubt necessary. Would you be willing to put your company reputation on the line?

CEO / Co-Founder
Brook Zimmatore is the Co-Founder & CEO at Massive.