Boris and Trump show us the PR tactics that work

Boris and Trump show us the PR tactics that work
Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump; Johnson won most support in the first round of the Conservative party leadership contest this week, Much like Trump, Johnson has become a household name, building a PR campaign that relies on outlandish statements filled with shock and awe. Picture: Brendan Smialowski

If the public want a sustainable future, we need to return to deriving our entertainment from concerts, soccer matches, and get-togethers, not from loud-mouthed politicians who seek to divide in order to win power, writes Joyce Fegan

IN six months’ time it will be 2020. When I think of 2020, the only phrase that comes to mind is “Trump/Pence 2020”, such is the strength of good PR.

Repeated rhetoric often becomes fact.

When six-time bankruptee and reality TV star Donald Trump won the US presidential election in November 2016, there were bets on how long he would remain in office for. There were lie monitors online, and there were movements to impeach the man, never mind countless protests in resistance.

It looks like we were all wrong, Donald seems to be going full-term, and for a second run at office. Next week he is set to launch his campaign for 2020, at a 20,000-seater stadium in Florida, which is home to sports teams with the words bear and predator in their names.

It will be four years and two days since he descended the escalator of his Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan declaring his intention to run for office the first time around. On that day he took aim at Mexicans, a people which keep his country afloat via low-paid care labour and service industry work. Only he didn’t refer to that, instead he called them “rapists”.

Many in America and across the globe were shocked and we all could not stop talking about Trump. What a side show, politics has never been so entertaining. He provided outrage-inducing car crash entertainment for the masses.

And then he took the White House.

Because even if Trump is a failed businessman, he sure knows how to secure headlines and get people talking.

Boris and Trump show us the PR tactics that work

The other thing about him, the main tactic in his arsenal, is his lack of standards. He claims no ground. He cannot be held to account. He has no decency to speak of, so when he says or does something appalling, it just doesn’t land.

If Barack Obama had dropped an “F-bomb” as they say in the US, it would have made global news, and if Trump was seen petting a rescue dog or embracing a grieving parent, that is what would now make global headlines.

His standard-free shamelessness has been his greatest weapon. Social media has just been a tool in the detonation of that weapon.

Shame is an ancient tool of social control, you feel its wrath when you’ve stepped outside the social mores of your tribe or community. Trump has made himself impervious to it. He acts as if he is shameless.

It’s a bit like the self protection a teenager will invoke when they refuse to attend a party of their peers, if they don’t go they can’t experience the hurt of exclusion.

But in order to get elected in 2020, Trump will need our help.

He will need news outlets to reproduce his most outrageous soundbites at rallies and outraged social media users to comment and interact with his daily and hourly tirades online. He has the news agenda and the public’s appetite for certain news stories down to a tee.

Trump knows outrage is the most lubricant of oils in the word-of-mouth PR machine.

Peter Casey did it here in Ireland. The failed presidential and MEP candidate for Midlands North-West would say shock-and-awe statements and we would all run with them.

Then when his lesser-known competitor candidate Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party took him on in a live TV debate, her star soared. The media and social media users were suddenly drawn to the scientist, who had been creating environmental policy that all political parties could get behind.

But too little too late.

Boris and Trump show us the PR tactics that work

As MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan said, Ms McHugh could be sitting in Europe now if we’d all paid her a bit more attention.

“We had a situation where Peter Casey got wall-to-wall coverage, and Saoirse got four minutes on Prime Time, and from that she surged.

“The question has to be asked of the State broadcaster what would the result of this election would be if Saoirse McHugh had got an equal billing with Peter Casey. I’ll tell you, she’d be an MEP,” Mr Flanagan said.

While Prime Time’s debate was equally measured, perhaps Mr Flanagan was really referring to general media coverage and the public’s appetite for outrageous soundbites, over policy positions from a 28-year-old genetic scientist.

Across the Irish Sea we now have a situation where Boris Johnson is edging closer to becoming Britain’s next prime minister.

Mr Johnson, who has pledged to deliver Brexit on October 31, won by far the most support from Conservative party MPs in the first round of the leadership contest vote this week. The second round takes place on June 18.

Much like Trump, Boris Johnson has become a household name, building a PR campaign that relies on outlandish statements filled with shock and awe.

There have been his comments about Muslim women wearing burkas, his statements on spending for a historic abuse enquiry and many others.

And just like Trump, it seems his gaffes have done him no harm in the long run as he sits poised to become Britain’s prime minister.

But what if the media and social media users had been as enamoured of Caroline Lucas, Britain’s Green party co-leader?

Would she be a household name? Would her compassionate position towards refugees wanting to learn English be more popular? Would her respect for carers as the unsung heroes of our societies be more widespread?

But those positions don’t exactly make for viral content online do they?

My mother always told me that empty vessels made the most noise.

If the public want a sustainable future, we need to return to deriving our entertainment from concerts, soccer matches, cinemas, Netflix and get-togethers, not from loud-mouthed politicians who seek to divide in order to win power.

Nowadays we all have a platform, be it in your local community or on your Instagram grid, we just need to be sure it’s not accidentally being used as a mega-phone for the empty political vessels amongst us.

For what they lack in moral fibre and intellectual capacity, they make up for in shameless PR tactics. We need to be wise.

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