Has Donald Trump Become the Poster Child for Entertainment Public Relations?

Has Donald Trump become the poster child for entertainment public relations? To the denigration of real PR pros, yes. None us escaped awareness of the recent Washington Post story about Donald Trump's alleged ventures as a PR guy. In the wake of that, tens of thousands of actual publicity professionals have taken a big hit to their reputation and the reputation of their trade. The Post story purported, with subsequent corroboration from competing media, that during the media circus of one of his divorces, the billionaire called a People Magazine writer under the guise of being his own publicist to plant a story about Mr. Trump's allure and enviable sexual lifestyle. The Post revelation of that was quickly out-headlining the election itself, with follow-up pieces that Mr. Trump, in ineffectual disguise, had used that device serially, personally seeking to place other glamorous stories or business puffs about himself, posing as John Miller or John Baron, denoted as Trump publicity staffers.

Fanned by Mr.Trump's furious refutations, the charges were quickly an inescapable wildfire. So why is this of concern and even of alarm to me and to the rest of the society of people who actually earn their livings as press agents or, more pretentiously, public relations executives?

Because that story was the widest exposure ever describing what it is that press agents do. The problem is that such conduct is exactly what they DON'T do. The profession with the worst public relations of all is public relations. The vast media-immersed public came away from this quickly-trending controversy convinced that spreading spurious stories in devious ways is the common conduct of the PR clan. On the contrary, it simply was what the younger Mr. Trump thought passed as professional PR behavior. In real-life today, that work ethic would be the quickest way to the door. One reason young Mr. Trump's efforts were so transparent to the journalists is that they knew that any self-respecting PR guy or gal would perceive the futility and desperation of such a tactic.. even if the journalists actually had bought that it was not Mr. Trump himself who was calling them.

But the general public concludes from this only that such behavior is common practice within the publicity trade. News stories age and fade, but impressions they leave behind do not. This particular case wouldn't be so terrible if it were not for the fact that a movie called "The Sweet Smell of Success," which has its 60th anniversary next year, had forever and ever established indelibly in world opinion that entertainment PR is the least ethical profession imaginable. Sure, that film's thesis was easy to digest. Tony Curtis played a slick and valueless small-time Broadway press agent who would do ANYthing or harm ANYone to get a story into print. The horrible thing for me is that I, at the beginning of my press agent career, was part of Tony's PR team. I actually helped publicize the film under the cloud of which I have labored ever since. I actually helped carry the rope to my own hanging.

And, so, thanks to the heated moment of this juicy side story in the current election coverage, a disdain for what is assumed to be the PR playbook once again rages in the minds of the public, I rise to oppose the conclusion that PR is a concoction of cynical hustles. Mr. Trump's PR guy act does not in any way reflect how flacks comport themselves.

In fear that Mr. Trump is giving a booster shot to that most negative conviction, I rise to say nay. I am the least enthusiastic of all users of twitter, an addiction which seems to me an intrusion and a distraction. But I'm advised by experts on my own staff that when you are trying to push a book, as I am, you have to douse the world in your twitters and Facebooks. I have reluctantly produced about one per month on my Starflacker twitter site. But this spurt of belief that Mr.Trump has revealed what PR people really do moved me the send the following note and twitter to many of my media friends and other contacts:

"Please take a look at this tweet I sent out to clarify that, whatever Donald Trump and Sidney Falco before him might imply, press agents are not idiots. Flacks are skilled strategists, and they have to use integrity as a calling card. The theme of this tweet may appeal to or offend your politics, but it addresses your vested interest in sane public perceptions, including what it is that publicists do and what they don't do. Sidney Falco, protagonist of "The Sweet Smell of Success," formulated a very negative public regard of our craft of public relations. We don't need Donald Trump's posing-as-a-press-agent antics peddling that misinformation once again. .In the interests of truth, thanks... dick guttman"