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Handling criticism: A PR lesson from Trump

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Donald Trump has been elected US President despite months of intense, high-profile condemnation from the political and media establishment, and social media shouters.

No previous candidate in living memory, not even Ronald Reagan, has been so vilified. Critics even questioned his right to stand as a candidate – his right to a place in civil society.

In this social era, any of us, and the organisations we work for, can be turned into a Donald Trump in an instant. Just recently in New Zealand, people have been moved to say extreme and nasty things of the New Zealand Rugby Union, special need schools and dairy farmers – just a few examples.

Vilification can be extreme and dominating. Most of us wilt under the pressure. We give in. We cry, apologise, and change rules and procedures so “it will never happen again”.

Trump’s victory showed that social vilification in public is not the same as social vilification by the public.

Despite the worst your critics can throw at you, it is very possible that they are not supported by a majority of the public.

Trump’s victory shows that if you give in to criticism, you give up the chance to win. That would be giving up on those people who are not shouting but want to buy your product, or support your views. The role of PR is to provide good judgment on when to give in, and when and how to endure, social stigma.

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