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Is All Publicity Really Good Publicity?



It’s an age-old question, and one that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has certainly made relevant again: Is all publicity good publicity?

Since announcing his run for the 2016 presidency, Trump has made an avalanche of provocative comments while running the most controversial campaign in recent memory. Now, Trump is no media rookie. He’s been in the national spotlight for decades. He knows how to generate and manipulate publicity to achieve his goals. Prior to the presidential run, he instigated numerous high profile spats, most notably a marathon battle with Rosie O’Donnell. Long story short, Trump has never been afraid to use controversy to soak up attention.

When it comes to his presidential campaign, Trump seems to be relying on his go-to “all publicity is good publicity” strategy. It’s debatable whether he seriously wants to hold office, but there’s no doubt he wants to further his legacy and bolster his brand in the process. This kind of plan wouldn’t work for any other candidate. His peers would not only be out of the race, but they would kill their careers if they ran this type of campaign. Imagine Jeb Bush making the same comment about Mexican immigrants or Marco Rubio questioning John McCains heroism. They’d be toast. But Trump isn’t a politician by trade, so he’s creating his own radical rules for public discourse. If nothing else, it’s making this presidential race worth watching during the early stretch.

I can confidently say that this strategy won’t put Trump in the Oval Office, and it wouldn’t work for the majority of business executives or public figures either. For a serious and results-driven campaign, there are some time-tested rules to follow.

Have a Solid Strategy

Trump’s plan is certainly provocative, but while it is generating some success in the short term, it is unlikely to make him the next president of the United States. It takes a smart and strategic plan to successfully execute a campaign of any kind. Without a firm vision of what you want to accomplish, there is too much room to go off course. If you’re going to go the route of doing something dramatic to draw attention, make sure it’s planned and can be executed flawlessly. Recently Obama dropped the N-word in an interview. Not only was it obviously planned, but it was executed powerfully and tastefully in order to generate the headlines and conversations about race that he intended to create. Without a strategic plan, that stunt could have been a disaster. But having a solid plan and target outcome helped to make his provocative comment a success.

Beware of the Times

Knowing your audience and finding appropriate channels to deliver your message is important. But remember that just because you’re speaking to a select group, it doesn’t mean that your message will stay contained to that group. Mitt Romney learned this the hard way when he made a comment about the “47 percent of the people” who are “dependent on the government” and will “vote for the president no matter what.” While that message was delivered to a small, private group of wealthy donors, a video of the conversation was posted on the Internet and went viral. The video arguably killed his momentum, and he ultimately lost his bid for the White House. Always keep that in mind that comments aren’t limited to the audience they are intended for. The YouTube era promises that controversial statements can and likely will emerge to the greater public no matter where they are delivered.

Know Your Talking Points and Be Prepared

Going off the cuff is usually a high risk, low reward proposition for political candidates and other public figures. Back in the 2004 election, Howard Dean was the frontrunner for the Democrats and ruined it all with one off-script sound: a very strange scream during a rally. His “I have a scream” speech essentially bombed his chances of becoming president and proved that every move, and in this case every noise, needs to be rehearsed, planned, and prepared.

In short, all publicity is not necessarily good publicity. Good publicity is good publicity.

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