What the spat between Donald Trump and Fox News teaches us about PR

By Tina Irgang

In a blizzard of tweets and sarcasm-dripping press releases, Donald Trump and Fox News have shot to the top of the week’s headlines, perhaps providing a welcome distraction from the lingering effects of Snowzilla.

Earlier this week, Trump revived a grievance about what he called Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly’s “unfair” treatment of him during a past debate, taking to Twitter to ask his followers whether he should participate in a second debate hosted by Fox News on Jan. 28. The cable channel responded with a press release saying, “We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president.” The press release goes on to suggest Trump would stack his cabinet with Twitter followers, as reported by Mediaite.

In return, Trump announced he would forego participation in the debate, generating a further spate of publicity for his campaign. The back-and-forth with Fox News is just the latest example of how Trump’s strategic self-promotion has made the conversation about him, eclipsing his rivals for the presidency. It’s the kind of publicity most companies would love to achieve for their brand.

Accordingly, over the past few months, a cottage industry of blog posts and listicles has emerged, analyzing Trump’s gift for getting people to talk about him, and parsing it for strategies businesses may be able to use to get a conversation going about themselves.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Know your audience. There have been several rounds of public outrage at Trump’s comments on the campaign trail — particularly the suggestion that Muslims should be barred from entering the U.S. — but his standing in the polls has remained solid. That’s because Trump knows his supporters and has developed a knack for the topics that will strike a nerve with them, says Entrepreneur. The lesson for you: Your brand doesn’t have to appeal to everyone; it just has to find and know its audience.
  • Create a narrative for the press, HuffPost Business recommends. Ideally, this narrative will be about some kind of conflict, like the one between Trump and Fox News, or the one between Coke and Pepsi for beverage dominance. However, keep in mind that while conflict can be a good thing, controversy is not, HuffPost notes. You will probably want to stay clear of derogatory comments about Mexican migrants.
  • Project confidence in what you’re offering. Trump’s appearances on the campaign trail have not lacked for confidence, and confidence in your brand is key to getting people on board with it, argues “Believe in your product, your brand and your marketing message, and exude assurance throughout.”
  • Trust your idea. Trump’s message doesn’t sound like it’s been honed and polished by focus groups, and that’s part of its appeal, Entrepreneur points out. “It’s good to do some market research to find out whether a new product is viable, but it’s even more important to trust that you have a good idea. If you feel that way, trust that others will feel the same.”

Tina Irgang is the production editor for SmartCEO. Contact her at