Donald Trump’s presidential announcement Tuesday drew an onslaught of media coverage, far beyond what one might expect of the man currently polling ninth in the Republican nomination race. That’s no accident: Trump has long prided himself on his ability to attract — and manipulate — the news media.
“We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal,‘” Trump said in his speech. That 1987 bestseller, published when Trump was 41, is part memoir, part business advice, all ego. And in it, the real-estate developer also shares his strategies for playing the news media in his favor:
Give them controversy
One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. I’ve always done things a little differently, I don’t mind controversy, and my deals tend to be somewhat ambitious. Also, I achieved a lot when I was very young, and I chose to live in a certain style. The result is that the press has always wanted to write about me.
Even bad coverage is still good
I’m not saying that [journalists] necessarily like me. Sometimes they write positively, and sometimes they write negatively. But from a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks. It’s really quite simple. If I take a full-page ad in the New York Times to publicize a project, it might cost $40,000, and in any case, people tend to be skeptical about advertising. But if the New York Times writes even a moderately positive one-column story about one of my deals, it doesn’t cost me anything, and it’s worth a lot more than $40,000.
The funny thing is that even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business. Television City is a perfect example. When I bought the land in 1985, many people, even those on the West Side, didn’t realize that those one hundred acres existed. Then I announced I was going to build the world’s tallest building on the site. Instantly, it became a media event: the New York Times put it on the front page, Dan Rather announced it on the evening news, and George Will wrote a column about it in Newsweek. Every architecture critic had an opinion, and so did a lot of editorial writers. Not all of them liked the idea of the world’s tallest building. But the point is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value. . . .
Most reporters, I find, have very little interest in exploring the substance of a detailed proposal for a development. They look instead for the sensational angle.
Don’t lie — but use misdirection
The other thing I do when I talk with reporters is to be straight. I try not to deceive them or to be defensive, because those are precisely the ways most people get themselves into trouble with the press. Instead, when a reporter asks me a tough question, I try to frame a positive answer, even if that means shifting the ground. For example, if someone asks me what negative effects the world’s tallest building might have on the West Side, I turn the tables and talk about how New Yorkers deserve the world’s tallest building, and what a boost it will give the city to have that honor again. When a reporter asks why I build only for the rich, I note that the rich aren’t the only ones who benefit from my buildings. I explain that I put thousands of people to work who might otherwise be collecting unemployment, and that I add to the city’s tax base every time I build a new project. I also point out that buildings like Trump Tower have helped spark New York’s renaissance.
The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.
I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.
Don’t worry about architecture critics
[O]ther people I don’t take too seriously are the critics — except when they stand in the way of my projects. In my opinion, they mostly write to impress each other, and they’re just as swayed by fashions as anyone else. One week it’s spare glass towers they are praising to the skies. The next week, they’ve rediscovered old, and they’re celebrating detail and ornamentation. What very few of them have is any feeling for what the public wants. Which is why, if these critics ever tried to become developers, they’d be terrible failures. . . .
The funny thing about Trump Tower is that we ended up getting great architectural reviews. The critics didn’t want to review it well because it stood for a lot of things they didn’t like at the time. But in the end, it was such a gorgeous building that they had no choice but to say so. I always follow my own instincts, but I’m not going to kid you: it’s also nice to get good reviews.
Keep it short (okay, so Trump may have abandoned this one)
Contrary to what a lot of people think, I don’t enjoy doing press. I’ve been asked the same questions a million times now, and I don’t particularly like talking about my personal life. Nonetheless, I understand that getting press can be very helpful in making deals, and I don’t mind talking about them. . . . Also, when I do give an interview, I always keep it short. This reporter is in and out in less than twenty minutes. If I didn’t limit myself, I could spend my life talking to the press.
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