Media Relations in the Age of Trump

by admin on November 15, 2016 · 1 comment



Some executives want to emulate president-elect Trump. They want to go to war with the media.

President-elect Trump may have gone to war, and he may have done so brilliantly, but that experience has little to nothing to do with yours.

You get to decide the kind of relationship you have with reporters.

Feel free to go to war. I’ll be there to put roses on your grave.


Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, over fifty national and regional awards.

Success With the Media

I wrote, “Success With the Media, Everything You Need to Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon at because I believe that organizations need to look inward to get better media results. I use contents from the book for this article.

See my website at http://leonardSipes.Com for previous articles.


“My boss says screw the media-we should be more like Donald Trump. Help.”

We have just exited a presidential election won by Donald Trump where he took on the media and won. Some executives want to emulate president-elect Trump. They want to go to war with the media. I’ve been asked to address the issue.


Politico: Trump’s secret was almost exactly the opposite of what even the best-paid consultant would advise. He has run a media campaign directly against the media, helping himself to the copious media attention available to a TV star while disparaging journalists at every podium and venue.

NPR: Donald Trump’s election early Wednesday as president — utterly unprecedented, utterly unexpected — caught the media flat-footed. The distance between the nation’s political press corps and its people has never seemed so stark. The pundits swung and missed. The polls failed. The predictive surveys of polls, the Upshots and FiveThirtyEights, et al. with their percentage certainties, jerked violently in the precise opposite direction of their predictions as election night progressed. There are endless additional examples (i.e., polling data) as to the cluelessness of the media and their unwillingness to consider Trump to be a serious candidate.

But The Rules Are Different

What great teachings for the rest of us, right? The question becomes, “What lessons are there from the campaign and dealing with the media.” Get this wrong and you go up in flames.

There are different rules for organizations and politics. Please say that three times. If you emulate Donald Trump, if you mimic any politician, you will crash and burn.

There are some executives who want to emulate Trump and cause their spokespeople heartburn. The problem is already circulating through government and corporations.

Please understand that non-confrontation, transparency and forging a working relationship with reporters have always been hallmarks of successful media relations. You will not win by going to war. They are simply bigger, more powerful and better connected than you.

You and the organization cannot emulate Donald Trump; you will crash and burn. The rules are simply different. You need to decide what kind of relationship you and your organization will have with the media.

What kind of relationship do you want with the media?

Each of us needs to answer a very basic question: What kind of relationship do you want to have with the media? There are many who believe that they have no influence over media coverage. Others believe that “no news is good news.” For example, there are public affairs professionals and agency executives who pride themselves at keeping the media at arm’s length. To say that they distrust the media is an understatement.

I know a public affairs executive who is in charge of media and public affairs for a regional hospital. The vast majority of his contacts with the public are based upon marketing strategies he controls such as the purchase of advertising time from radio and television stations. The public is well aware of his institution through these ads. He greatly limits his contacts with news organizations. He does not like or trust reporters. In essence, he has defined his relationship with the media. He is very comfortable with this position and has no plans to change it.

Those who are in control of their own media can survive with this point of view (unless the unexpected happens). I would suggest that most entities, however, cannot. Organizations that handle difficult media situations (or have the potential to experience them) cannot afford to “blow off” the media. News organizations are a regular part of our lives.

What Do You Want?

So again I ask the same question: What kind of relationship do you want with the media? I think I already know your answer. You want fairness. You want accuracy. You want the media to understand your point of view. You object to being treated as cannon fodder. You do not want to be trivialized. You want the media and the public to understand that you are honorable people doing an honorable job. You want the media to publicize your success. You want news organizations to approach negative news stories with sensitivity and an even hand.

We all know what kind of relationship we want with the media. If we are honest enough to acknowledge this, then we need to be honest enough to know what will accomplish our goals. We all will acknowledge that unnecessary confrontations with the media are dysfunctional. The question that I have trouble answering, however, is why so many executives and public affairs professionals seem to be so willing to embrace a combative stance towards the media?

A Badge of Honor

Some executives and media professionals love to tell war stories about reporters who have done them wrong. In my travels throughout the country, the constant theme among some spokespeople and agency executives is their strong distrust and dislike of the media. We wear our descriptions of negative encounters like a badge of honor. We tell each other that we are not true professionals until we have encountered “media hell” at the hands of unscrupulous reporters.

Have I had my own negative experiences? You betcha. I know reporters who claimed exhaustive research but fabricated their data. I know of a case where a reporter stalked a female public affairs professional and used negative stories to punish her for refusing his advances. I know of a journalist who fabricated his quotes (lots of us make this claim).

I could fill multiple pages of this book with examples of journalistic “failings” or acts that I find questionable. So could you. I am also aware of corporate executives who lied to the media. You are, too. We’re all aware of our colleagues who have been less than honest.

If you go to a social gathering of reporters they, too, will provide endless examples of corporate, military, advocacy, and government “flacks” who were either too stupid (in their opinion) to know the truth or flat-out dishonest. While we are complaining about lazy, liberal, unethical reporters, they are harping about lethargic, unethical bureaucrats and public affairs representatives.

Agencies Lie To Themselves

It gets worse, much worse. There are people with years of experience in their profession who have never read a research report (not an exaggeration). Understand that every organization (media included) has a stated or unstated mandate to do something. CEOs, agency heads, or politicians set dictates, and they often decide facts and application.

There are few agencies or companies where healthy debates take place about the effectiveness or efficacy of policies and research. While I’ll be harshly criticized for this assertion, it remains true. Government, business, and everyone else have agendas and employees either get with the program or they are marginalized or leave.

So if the president, governor, or CEO states that red is green, everyone else falls in line. It doesn’t matter what the totality of research has to say, they will cherry-pick data from favored researchers (yes, they are there in abundance) and stick to the script. It could be wrong, it could be dangerous, it could cause the demise of the business, but the “expert” will tell you that he has 30 years of experience, and cite data, and tell you that this is the way to proceed.

If you need proof, Google “financial collapse 2008” and spend the next two hours being horrified. “Experts” assured everyone that everything was fine before companies and the economy collapsed.


The primary lesson is that you can’t go to war with the media. You get to decide the kind of relationship you have with reporters. But you need to have an honest conversation with executives as to how media decisions are made internally, and the probability of success if you choose to be confrontational.

President-elect Trump may have gone to war, and he may have done so brilliantly, but that experience has little to nothing to do with yours.

Feel free to go to war. I’ll be there to put roses on your grave.

For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Amazon at

See my website at for the entire series.

Contact me at





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