Public Relations Brand

Donald Trump vs the media: Playing the punk president's Trump card

By Andrew Eborn and Richard J. Hillgrove VI | Columnists

January 26, 2017 | 4 min read

The new leader of the free world has been shaking things up, but while people shake their heads in disbelief, look at it from another angle.

BuzzFeed, Donald Trump

Donald Trump could be America's first punk president.

That’s certainly how he approaches PR.

The Donald’s pre-inauguration PR firestorm wasn’t the dirty dossier about Russian hookers and golden showers from an ex-MI6 agent, but that the hacking of opposition Democrats’ computers might have helped him win the election.

What better way to diffuse the PR ticking time-bomb than to launch an attack on yourself?

The number one way to douse the flames of a rampaging forest fire around allegations that he benefited from illegal hacking by a foreign power, Russia, would be to launch an attack on himself, also by Russia.

Yes, germophobia or not, golden showers or no golden showers, that is what we were playing with.

It was shameless, and the world’s news media fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Rather than face demanding questions about a hacking scandal, and his part in it – let’s face it, “all computers shouldn’t be trusted” is hardly a compelling argument – he devised a cunning plan and… Abracadabra, suddenly there’s a nod to report from an ex-MI6 agent that had been trying to see light of day for months. With Trump's people very quietly providing the oxygen for a baying media pack, it finally got lift off. The timing was exquisite.

Helpfully, Russia followed through by whipping up a storm of supposed protest against Trump, putting it about that people should protest against him in Washington DC at his inauguration.

So Trump and Putin are conveniently distanced from one another and the newly elected president was saved from impeachment before he even took office.

This diversionary approach to PR isn’t for the faint-hearted, it takes guts and determination.

The Donald has mastered the art after years of practice in the “all PR is good PR” school of public life. He knows what sells, from the Apprentice through constant tell-all interviews with 90s syndicated US news show Hard Copy to his books with titles such as 'Think Like A Billionaire' and 'How To Get Rich'.

It’s the full-fat Coke and greasy fry-up tabloid approach to mass audience manipulation that offers immediate gratification and satisfaction guaranteed just as long as you don’t scrutinise the long-term too closely. 'Want a Mexican Wall with that?' 'How about we exclude Muslims?' Tick the box next to lowest common denominator.

Trump’s tactics repositioned him as victim rather than perpetrator.

They also served to put the media under control. They gave him the opportunity to discipline a media he characterises as a bunch of rowdy school kids who keep peddling lies.

The most famous tweeter of all has even called Twitter a 'lying and deceptive media'.

And he makes it personal, in a way that people can relate. Take the case of Meryl Streep. We may throw up our hands in disbelief as he calls the multi-award winner underrated, but by mimicking 'locker room banter' he takes the fast track into the psyche of his beloved 'ordinary Americans'.

Here’s the bottom line – President Trump’s approach to PR is unexpected, unconventional and in your face. That’s punk PR.

Public Relations Brand

More from Public Relations

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +