Donald Trump: The man who defies reputation management?

Originally posted in 2016: As commentators pick over the spoils of the second presidential debate, it seems that Donald Trump is defying reputation management and expectations. Trump continues to ride out the most recent storm around lewd comments, which has prompted an exodus of his supporters.

Dubbed the ugliest debate in US history, the televised exchange was accompanied by instant commentary, fact-checking, and a social media meltdown. It stands as the most tweeted debate ever, sparking more than 17 million-related posts. ‘Clinton belongs in jail’, as vowed by Trump, is responsible for the surge in messages.

It’s clear that in this digital age comes an array of ever complex challenges, particularly for PRs. Reputation and image management is more important today than it has ever been. Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men, once said: “If you lose money for the firm I will be understanding. If you lose reputation I will be ruthless.”

Reputation is everything to brands and celebrities alike. It’s what sets them apart from their competitors, it can be equated to goodwill with consumers and essentially cashed in like a valuable asset.

However, while brands and PRs around the world advise clients of reputation being make-or-break, Donald Trump appears to court controversy…

  • Trump on abortion: “There has to be some form of punishment”
  • On Mexico: “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
  • On violence, after a protester was punched in the face by a Trump supporter: “I’d like to punch him in the face”, which he later justified with: “He was swinging, he was hitting people, and the audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.”

So, how does Donald Trump continue to defy the rules of reputation management? How does he remain the nominated candidate for the Republican Party? While his candidacy was initially interpreted with humour and disbelief, according to some pundits, Trump is trailing Clinton by just 4.6 points in the race for the White House.

America is a vast country with a population of around 324 million. Whilst politicians tend to be divisive, there are groups of people who celebrate his inflammatory stances on immigration and race. Ultimately, only time will tell whether these statements will have a lasting impact on his reputation.

Trump’s own unique brand of charm aside, here are a few pieces of advice when dealing with a  reputation issue:

  • First of all, monitor and prepare for potential issues before they turn into full blown crises. This enables communications professionals and brands alike to have rebuttals, spokespeople, FAQs and media materials ready in good time because…
  • Time is of the essence – act fast! If you leave a media void, it may be filled with negative stories relating to your brand, whether they are accurate or not. If you don’t offer commentary, bear in mind someone else will be approached to do so.
  • Evaluate how best to engage with the story and the implications of your course of action. Think about who your audiences are and what you want them to know. Consider that responding to a media enquiry could add fuel a story, but also that ‘no comment’ is best avoided.
  • If you decide to speak to the media, find a spokesperson who can represent the brand and is comfortable speaking on camera as they will need to be prepared to discuss what has happened, how the brand feels about it and how they plan to deal with the situation. Key messages and media training are invaluable.
  • Provide regular updates – if, for instance, there is an ongoing event
  • If relevant, mention the organisations you are working with to resolve this issue/investigate further
  • Always put your customer or consumers first.

If you need social media, crisis communications or reputation management advice, get in touch with us.

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