Too Much and Never Enough, what can we learn from Trump about reputation management?

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Lessons from America have shown how one man can change the reputation of a country, which Mary L. Trump, the niece of President Trump, dives into in her book entitled Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man which became immediately sold out on Amazon. So, how does one man dominate the headlines of a whole country when, during the fourth of July, this should be a time of celebration? 

In terms of public relations, the world of Donald Trump and his impact on America and its reputation has many lessons on how to manage PR for a company or even a country. A recent survey in 2018 by the Pew Research Center out of Washington DC found that 70% of respondents had no confidence in the Trump leadership. Even though America’s image has declined since Trump’s election, through surveying 25 nations, they found that the US still receives positive remarks due to the good work done over the last 200+ years by American people, American companies, and presidents that have built their reputation of America as being “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” 

The American dream: Do Americans still believe in it?

Many people in America, of course, believe in this American dream, which can be considered one of the greatest public relations exercises of all time. It was actually started in the 1600s, and it was used by those in Europe, predominantly landowners and the wealthy classes attempting to get immigrants to leave Europe, to settle in what was, at the time, an unknown land, probably of savagery and of certain death. It was this idea that one could escape even indentured servitude in Europe, get a free pass, and even some land for those that went to Virginia, for instance, under the King Charles grant, or with companies that were sponsoring them to go, or in the case of the pilgrims to the northeast, the idea of political freedom.

What’s going wrong now is that the outside world is finding that foreign policy over the last decade and a half hasn’t really been considering world affairs, but more its own affairs. This started with the Bushes and the adventures in the Middle East, and it came back, according to the Pew Research Center, during Obama’s administration, but under Trump and his America First policy, America is seen to be walking away from many of its old traditional allies and from global commitments it had made, such as those on climate change.

Everyone all over the globe is influenced by America as the world’s largest economy, but what’s happening is people are losing trust in the leadership, because one individual that is representing America has started to behave in a way that suggests he doesn’t care about anybody else. The sanity check is that there are a number of Americans who do still care about that, and as what is seen in the international media, some of these people have a voice. But because the American presidency is all powerful and holds the press briefings less and less frequently, the president really has the ear of the world, or now with social media, the eye of the world, so the role of the “CEO” of a country, much like the CEO of a company, is really encompassing.

The upside for those that believe that America will regain its place as a leader in many topics, such as on human rights, commerce, and free speech, is that there are people like Former Vice President Joe Biden, who had been talking to former Republican Sen. John McCain. McCain felt that Trump was damaging the international reputation of America, and in his book that he co-wrote with Mark Salter entitled The Restless Wave, McCain says that, “Trump seems uninterested in the moral character of world leaders and their regimes. The appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values. Flattery secures his friendship and criticism is his emnity.” This is powerful because individuals running companies and countries can make or break a reputation, and many countries are now starting to worry about America’s role. With the European government turning to the Chinese, Trump is creating a much stronger competitor for himself and for America than they otherwise would have been. So, if you are leading an organisation, how do you get people to follow you and not turn away?

Culture clash and the importance of stereotypes

Interestingly enough, a Pew report earlier on in 2015 said that Americans overwhelmingly think of the Japanese as hardworking, inventive, and honest people with a few negative personal traits. However, the Japanese view Americans as the opposite. In fact, they said that only 25% of Japanese believe that Americans are hardworking. While 19% of Americans view Japanese as selfish, 47% of Japanese say that the Americans are selfish. Of course, these are two very different cultures, the Asian culture with the family and society being of more importance than the individual, and the American dream being about the pursuit of individual happiness. These two societies and all of them in between, are diametrically opposed to one another, and this shows that countries and companies live with preset biases and that the leadership of an organisation can enhance or undermine that.

A survey report in 2013 from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Developmentm (OECD) stated that the Japanese considered the Americans as less industrious, even though this same research showed that the average Japanese employee worked 1,735 hours while the average American worked 1,788 works. In other words, the Americans were putting in more hours than the Japanese. Bruce spokes, the Director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center, at the time, said that stereotypes such as honesty, inventiveness, aggression are values that are not rational nor backed by data, but these values do matter, because such stereotypes help drive broader attitudes about policy. 

Bruce Stokes, the Pew Research Center Director of Global Economic Attitudes, says stereotypes matter, becomes when it comes to public relations, people will view a country or a company from a position of stereotypes. Now, unless you have someone like Donald Trump, who is going around actively undermining this stereotype, the stereotype of a country, company, or organisation is quite hard-fixed and hard-wired. It takes a long time to build that and also a long time to destroy it. In former Sen. McCain’s evaluation of Trump, he talks about moral character, and this comes back, time and time again, to leadership. Following that mantra, reflect on your organisation and how it shows leadership by creating value and caring for your people, whether they are internal, partners, or external.  Companies will live with a stereotype about the kind of company that it is. There will be a stereotype about the kind of leader they have, and that will also impact how people view the company and whether they will want to do business with you. There’ll be the broader macro aspects of how our company is positioned inside a growing or maturing, or even a declining economy. 

Independence Day in America is different every year. But as seen from the Pew Research, the reputation of America is not the same every Independence Day. The reputations of business owners, businesses, world leaders, and countries are made or broken by the work that done for others, more than the work done for themselves, which is why America First might have been a great vote-winner, but as the Pew research shows, it’s not been a great way to build the reputation of America as a world leader.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

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