PR is changing. Yet still nine out of ten of our clients would jump through hoops of fire to secure an interview with the Financial Times.
However, Donald Trump isn’t one of our clients. Trump gave a long, detailed interview to the editor of the FT, Lionel Barber, and two of the paper’s senior reporters. It was revealing, newsworthy and, according to Barber when interviewed on Radio 4’s Today Programme, reassuring.
In other words, job done. The Trump spin machine scored a success. And he didn’t even have to tweet about it?
Yet you can’t help wonder, why does this matter? A friend of mine used to be the White House correspondent for an international news agency. He was there through the George W Bush and Obama administrations and found it a frustrating time. The presidents and their advisors were interested in the media in this order:
- Main US news outlets – NY Times, CNN, Wall Street Journal, NBC and the like;
- Media in “swing states” – i.e. ones where they weren’t clear Democrat or Republican and there was a chance they might have an influence on the election (Florida, Ohio etc);
- Media in the other states;
- The rest!
Outlets such as the BBC, Reuters, Le Monde or, indeed, the FT, simply were not on the radar for these guys. An interview with Die Welt will not win votes in Detroit, though it might lose you some.
By giving a major interview to the FT, Trump has broken the media mould again. His use of social media, specifically Twitter, was revolutionary and was widely criticised at the time. Now it is seen as a masterstroke. As he said in the interview: “Without the tweets, I wouldn’t be here. . . I have over 100m [followers] between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Over 100m. I don’t have to go to the fake media.”
Is the FT interview a similar masterstroke? Trump knows he is going to get a hard time from any of the major US media outlets – not least because he keeps calling them “Fake news”. He already gave an interview to The Times – but that was seen as a favour to Rupert Murdoch. Next step is to go to a globally respected, non-US media outlet, well followed not only in the parts of the US that are quite hostile towards Trump but also by the “Fake news” media. Turn on the full beam charm. Give the writers some hot stories – the North Korea sabre rattling is bound to make the front page. And enjoy the results.
The FT interview is what we would advise an embattled CEO to do as part of a rehabilitation strategy. And Trump sees his role as President as CEO of the USA. Job done.