The Presidency PR Transition

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Published on April 5, 2017, at 12:06 p.m.
by Briana Borcic.

President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration may have opened a new door for public relations. Over the past year, President Trump has taken the media by storm and has betrayed all social norms when it comes to speaking publicly as a leader. This is not to say that what President Trump is doing is wrong; his approach with the media has just taken a new turn.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

In an article written for Forbes, Fraser Seitel explained that President Trump has taken a new tone with PR. President Trump doesn’t listen to PR practitioners; he listens to Trump. This can be seen as a major difference when compared to Obama’s strategy as he added almost 700 PR practitioners when he took office in 2008.

“President Trump was very undisciplined during the campaign,” said Dr. Joseph L. Smith, who holds a doctorate in government and is the chair of the University of Alabama Department of Political Science. “In a way, PR was less important because he wanted to directly get across this honesty and authenticity. People saw him as this authentic person not mitigated by ‘spin doctors.’”

When looking at President Trump’s campaign in comparison to previous inaugurations, along with the transition from President Barack Obama in the last month, there have been countless differences. Since President Trump is not originally a man of politics, there have been some discrepancies in how he has picked his Cabinet, handled social media and talked to the press.

“To a greater extent than previously, Trump’s transition has been a continuation of his campaign,” Smith said. “His inaugural speech was a lot like a campaign speech. He did not try to reach across the political aisle or make common ground with other politicians. He said government was the problem… President Trump has behaved like an outsider to politics just as he campaigned like an outsider to politics, and his nominees for Cabinet positions have been mostly outsiders to politics.”

One can wonder if this is the underlying PR strategy: to speak up without any sort of filter and to take a different approach than what has been done in the past. There is no sugar-coating how President Trump has reacted to negative press about him.

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People,” said President Trump in a tweet on Feb. 17.

“As a reporter, I have a problem with any president, any leader especially in this country using their first month in office to basically condemn the free press and vilify an institution in this country that is protected by the Constitution,” said Jason Morton, who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is a reporter for The Tuscaloosa News. “I think it’s hard to have a functioning democracy without a press that is able without threat of imprisonment or persecution to call our elected leaders on their missteps or blatant corruption.”

With President Trump taking a different approach to how he deals with the media and what he describes to be “Fake News,” it is hard to know what sort of audience he is targeting. The transition from President Obama to President Trump has heated up the media as have the combative responses that President Trump relays.

“He pays more attention to [the media] than he acknowledges,” Morton said. “He can play to Fox News as much he wants to, but clearly with some of his comments he is watching others. He seems to bristle at the idea of someone telling him he doesn’t know what he’s doing, which will make him double down on it.”

What cannot go unnoticed is that President Trump is not the only president to receive tortuous reviews in comic strips and mainstream media about his actions and his persona.

“I’ve noticed and seen political cartoons calling whoever is running for the presidential office or who is in it a clown, since the beginning of printed media,” Morton explained. “So, he’s not in a rarefied position to be cracked on by ‘Saturday Night Live.’”

Photo by Michael Vadon

President Trump is not in a place with the media that no other president has been in before. It is known that there will always be ridicule, judgment and comedy made from the actions of any leader. The difference is in his approach toward the press and what his uncensored tone says about PR and how his team might be handling this presidential transition differently than those in the past.

“To appeal to people like me, you need to seem honest and responsible and reasonable, but I don’t think he wants to appeal to people like me,” Smith said. “PR is meant in which you have to know your audience, and he has a different audience in mind than me.”

Whether speaking to the media, the people or the the United States as a whole, President Trump has taken to different PR approaches. This approach may dig him deeper into an SNL skit, but he continues to relay uncensored messages without fear of media scrutiny.

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