Did Trump Run the Best PR Campaign of 2016?

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses a press conference following his  victory in the Florida state primary on March 15, 2016 in West Palm Beach, Florida.  The win in Florida for Trump sent rival Marco Rubio, the US senator from the Sunshine State, crashing out of the campaign. The 69-year-old billionaire also won in Illinois and North Carolina. / AFP PHOTO / RHONA WISERHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images

This is a guest post by Curtis Sparrer, principal at Bospar.

Who ran the best PR campaign of 2016?

A survey by Bospar, a boutique tech PR firm, asked more than 1,000 Americans to rank the following top campaigns:

  • Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign
  • Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign
  • JetBlue offering discounts when babies cried
  • Krispy Kreme “leaking” new Nutella donuts
  • Pokémon Go launch
  • Always Feminine Care #LikeAGirl campaign
  • Similac’s Sisterhood of Motherhood campaign

Similac’s Sisterhood of Motherhood campaign received four percent of the total vote. JetBlue offering discounts when babies cried received five percent. Always Feminine Care #LikeAGirl campaign earned nine percent. Krispy Kreme “leaking” its new Nutella donuts received 11 percent.

Hillary Clinton didn’t win here, either. Overall, she came in third with 12 percent of the vote.

That left Donald Trump to duke it out with Pokémon Go.

Among Millennials (18-34 year-olds) and Gen Xers (35-44 year-olds) Pokémon Go was the clear winner, with 34 percent of the vote to Trump’s 22 percent. But once you get to the Baby Boomers, the rankings follow the election results: Trump’s PR campaign won the vote of 45-54 year-olds, 55-64 year-olds and seniors.

“Whether or not you supported Donald Trump for president, there is no doubt that his use of public relations and earned media played a vital role in his victory,” said Brian Peterson, marketing and communications exec at Esri. “Throughout the primaries and the general election, he spent considerably less on traditional advertising than his opponents, yet he dominated media attention. His PR team kept the media talking about the issues Trump wanted. In a cat-and-mouse game with the media, PR was the weapon with which Trump bludgeoned the press.”

Tanya Plotnikoff, chief experience officer of Viewpost added, “Trump’s tactics are nontraditional and rather distasteful. But they are also undeniably effective.”

By gender, men ranked Trump first, followed by Pokémon Go and then Krispy Kreme “leaking” their new Nutella donuts. Clinton came in fourth. Women, meanwhile, ranked Trump first, followed by Pokémon Go and then Hillary Clinton. Nutella donuts came in fourth with women.

So overall, unsurprisingly, Trump wins at PR. Certainly, he had an early lead. Back in March, the New York Times estimated he had secured nearly $2 billion in earned media placements, more than double that of Hillary Clinton.

“The lesson that comes from the Trump campaign is a simple one: Know your target audience,” said Mitch Leff, president at Leff & Associates.

Dee Gibbs, CEO of Liberty Communications, agreed. “Love him or hate him, Trump’s rhetoric hit home at a time when the country wanted change. I’m not advocating the untruths, but he stuck to the game plan. He knows how to say what some people want to hear.”

“Trump has taught us that hyperbole and controversy will continue to drive PR practices into 2017,” added Peter Galvin, vice president, global strategy & marketing, of Thales e-security. “Ongoing accessibility and outlandish statements are cannon fodder for today’s news media. Even mainstream publications want click bait.”

Steven Palmer, senior vice president, government affairs, at R&R Partners, rightly points to the value of Trump’s social media tactics. “Trump changed the paradigm for campaigning. His direct tweets to voters drew ire and passionate support. Few candidates have ever run a campaign with such velocity and aggressive messaging tactics.”

Media analyst Sam Whitmore provided a practical perspective.

“Trump’s win will allow PR firms to compete for election dollars at the national, state and even local levels. Any agency with proven social media prowess can chase spending that historically would have automatically gone to local TV,” he explained.

So what does this all mean for PR practitioners? To recap:

  • Be brash, be bold, be daring
  • Be unrelenting and unafraid of controversy
  • Double-down on social media
  • Stick to your messaging

However, these tactics will only work if they are on-brand. And maybe another secret of Trump’s success is his unique mastery of his own brand.

Curtis_Sparrer_1Curtis Sparrer is a principal at Bospar. He was one of Business Insider’s “50 Best Public Relations People In The Tech Industry,” and has led PR campaigns for startups and big names including 1010data, Apigee, Ebates and PayPal.

You can find Curtis on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

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