Bring on the Clown

Learn about PR from the man whose hair, ego, and finances are all about puffery.

Donald Trump

CEO, the Trump Organization
New York City
October 24, 2004

It's hard to tell if Donald Trump truly is a ruthless, self-serving billionaire with a weakness for Ottoman decor, or if he just plays one on TV. Either way, one thing's certain: Nobody beats Trump at PR.

So it was that, at the behest of his front man Howard Rubenstein -- the closest thing public relations has to Vito Corleone -- Trump found time one recent Sunday to school 4,100 PR pros in the art of self-promotion at the Public Relations Society of America's fall conference.

Accompanied by his now-standard royal trumpet fanfare, Trump trotted out his usual Darwinian script on how to make it big in business: Always hit back, only harder; don't trust anyone, especially loved ones; and never underestimate the power of a good prenup.

But that's not why Trump was addressing the flacking masses. He is himself the king of hype, with a genius for winning attention for Donald Trump and thus the Trump Empire. Why that is became clear in a streak of mean-spirited, profanity-laced, misogynistic asides that, true to form, melted everyone's heart.

Lesson One: Dish dirt, liberally.

Mid-riff on humility, of all things, Trump got big yucks for this digression: "I was walking down the street with a very young and beautiful woman named Marla. Did anyone ever hear of Marla? I have. Trust me, it cost me a fortune. It wasn't worth it." Trump isn't above dissing himself, either, if it will score him a few points for color. "I think I get terrible press," he observed. "If there's half a sentence that says 'his hair is terrible' or 'he looks like s -- t,' I take it very personally."

Lesson Two: Keep it simple, stupid.

Part of Trump's PR power is his black-and-white view of the universe. He hews to a simple character narrative of brash-businessman-with-a-big-ego that makes even SpongeBob SquarePants appear complex. "All my life I've been successful," he began. "All my life." When it comes to business, Donald is always, always doing "great," despite an occasionally contrary opinion from his accountants in Atlantic City.

Lesson Three: The expletive is mightier than the idea.

Trump regaled the crowd with his savvy strategy for managing headlines when the media thought his real estate empire would collapse in the late 1980s. "I said to the press [long pause], 'F -- k you!' "

Lesson Four: Sex sells. Mention sex. A lot.

Trump knows that settling into a stable relationship would make his PR hits drop faster than the fat diamond he just gave new fiancee Melania Knauss. In the course of a 30-minute address, he managed to make at least 15 references to women and/or the woes of marriage.

The look, the ego, the swearing, the sex. Crass, sure -- but in that way, brilliant. He nailed his message, and he won 4,100 fans. It was all part of Trump's signature (and carefully copyrighted) strategy: not just style over substance, but style as substance. Sadly, it works like a charm.

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