Talking like Trump
Donald J Trump is making me question my professional wisdom. He does everything I tell clients not to do. He opens his mouth without thinking. He directly insults competitors. He seems to relish confronting contentious subjects that will make him deeply unpopular with many. He even does things I wouldn’t have even thought of warning against, so obvious are they. “Mr Client – after considered reflection I would suggest you don’t insult disadvantaged groups in society during this interview.” Not a scenario that has ever come up in my career.
Yet he is the clear frontrunner over the Republican field. He is presumably, for now [Iowa result notwithstanding], achieving his objectives.
Another PR anti-hero, Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, at times insulted everyone from environmentalists to travel agents, the French, the Prime Minister of Ireland, and his own customers, before the company softened its approach. But even insulting people’s intelligence wasn’t enough to stop them buying a seat on the next Ryanair flight to Alicante.
Both Trump and O’Leary have succeeded despite seemingly suicidal PR strategies. So do we need to re-think the advice we give? Should we advise CEOs to insult all their competitors and say whatever they want without restraint? Should we tell them to talk like Trump?
The answer, like most things in life, is no and yes. Of course, for more nuanced executives with opinions less extreme than those of Trump or O’Leary, to start ranting and raving in the pursuit of column inches would merely appear fake. No-one should pretend to be an anti-hero.
Yet there are important elements that should be taken from the communications approach of both PR anti-heroes. They are confident to a fault and show conviction in everything they say – a quality that people admire and find comforting in leaders. They know their audiences. It seems Trump doesn’t really care what the rest of the world thinks about him – he only cares about appealing to enough voters to get him into office, and he plays to them.
O’Leary knew his passengers were price-driven and relatively impervious to the things he said; it was only when Ryanair started to lose market share to other more customer-friendly competitors that he started to rein in his comments.
And they both talk like real people, eschewing management-speak and refusing to hide behind carefully constructed evasive sentences. People like this approach because it makes spokespeople appear more transparent and honest.
On balance, I have decided not to advise clients to talk like Trump. But could they learn something from the way he communicates? Perhaps.
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore