In an excellent recent New York Times article entitled ‘Trump’s Lies’, David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson list “nearly every outright lie” told by President Trump publicly since he became president. It’s well worth ten minutes of your time. Whatever your views of Trump, the article also offers valuable lessons in communications for public relations practitioners and those who employ them. Here are five:
- Don’t lie
Lying is unethical, unhelpful and, in many circumstances, illegal. Trump seems to have scant regard for the first point. He may only truly realise the importance of the second as his reputation crumbles beyond all repair. Perhaps only impeachment would make the third sink in. Good PR is about enhancing reputation and nothing is more certain to undermine that as quickly and as devastatingly as lying.
- Listen first, think second, speak third
Zombie-like repetition of slogans and key messages is unnatural, patronising and plain weird. Barack Obama got it but Theresa May and Ed Miliband didn’t. Trump has the opposite problem however; rather than thinking too much before speaking and sticking to agreed lines like glue, he often fails to think at all before speaking. Muddled thinking leads to muddled speaking as certainly as day leads to night. Reckless eagerness to speak in the heat of the moment exacerbates the problem.
- Crying foul should be the last resort
Although some journalists behave badly, for the most part they work hard to do a good (sometimes an exceptional) job. Calling the integrity of the entire profession into question is unwise. In Trump’s case it seems to be almost the first resort. Occasionally reporting is misleading, biased or downright wrong and fake news is very real. All of this is enormously difficult, but wholly spurious whining isn’t the answer.
- Brevity is the soul of wit
Many of the quotes cited by Leonhardt and Thompson would not have been included if Trump had simply stopped speaking sooner. Failure to do so led to contradiction and calamity. Most of the time, in most of the very best communication, less is more.
- Listen to good advice
Trump appears to treat his communications advisers and representatives badly, then throw them under the bus when things inevitably go wrong. He is therefore partly culpable for their unparalleled unpopularity. This is akin to hiring a professional electrician to rewire your home, interfering at every opportunity while he completes his work, messing around with the wiring after he’s finished and then blaming him when everything goes up in flames.