The Crisis PR Lessons That Can Be Learned From President Donald Trump

by Chris Fairbairn

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Crisis PR Lessons From Businesses Trashed by Trump Online

 Donald Trump Crisis PR

US FIRMS are facing the scary new possibility of being singled out in a Twitter tirade by the tweet-happy new President – A Crisis PR headache.

Aside from being a fascinating, albeit horrifying, phenomenon to observe across the Atlantic, there really are useful lessons for businesses of all types and sizes here in the UK.

Already Reuters is reporting that: “Companies are also beefing up their Twitter monitoring for any Trump tweets that could affect them and engaging public relations firms for advice on potential lines of attack and how to respond if they were to come.”

As the old adage has it, when America sneezes, Britain catches a cold.  So, we might reasonably expect to see Trumpesque attacks on businesses start to emerge among politicians on this side of the pond.

While the Reuters report is fascinating, it’s worth pointing out that working with PR professionals isn’t just for a crisis. Public relations can help keep your business in the best of health at all times – while being prepared for the worst is a very useful spin-off benefit.

 Scottish WaterWe’ve worked with Scottish Water for many years delivering assured media relations. Two members of our team – one senior, the other more junior – give their take on handling a crisis which engulfed the utilities giant.

You may not check the Trump’s frantic newsfeed , or news stories bearing his name may cause you to switch off. So we’ve pulled together an update on a few businesses that have been caught in The Donald’s 140 character crosshairs.

This useful summary explains how they reacted to this completely new phenomenon – business reputational crises caused by the itchy Twitter finger of the man now occupying the White House.


Following a spectacularly damning review by one of its writers on Trump’s Grillhouse restaurant, the President Elect responded in his customary manner:

Trump Vanity Fair Tweet

Although not the first media publication (and by no means the last) to find itself being damned by Trump, Vanity Fair was fleet of foot and savvy in its response.

The magazine quickly updated its website in a matter of hours, with a new subscription offer and a bold banner exclaiming: The “Way Down, Big Trouble, Dead!” Magazine Trump Doesn’t Want You To Read.

This was then pushed out across its channels – including Trump’s favourite social media site – with impressive effect.

The results: After Trump tweeted about the magazine, the steakhouse review received 1 million unique views and other Trump stories on the magazine’s website brought in more than 330,000 visitors. Vanity Fair gained almost 10,000 new Twitter followers and subscriptions soared 100-fold.

The lesson: Speed is everything when facing public criticism, whether by Trump or the media – Vanity Fair almost certainly had a clear sign-off protocol as well as the vision and nous to respond in a way that boosted business.


H & R BlockIt might be a little-recognised brand in the UK, but across the pond this company is a household name. During his campaign, Trump pledged that his plans to simplify tax codes would put H&R Block, an American tax preparation company, out of business.

In its own words, the business took ‘a bit of a kicking’ as a result as investors, foreseeing the eventual election upset, pulled out of the firm.

In the aftermath, the firm, normally extremely conservative in its marketing, deviated from its decades of muted campaigns by launching new ads featuring actor John Hamm, best know for his role as Mad Men’s Don Draper.

Not only was it a spectacular change of tack for H&R Block, it was the first time the company had used a celebrity spokesman. While H&R Block has publicly insisted there is no link between Trump’s comments and the company’s departure from its traditional advertising, the bold new

‘Get Your Taxes Won’ campaign proved a hit.

It built on the company’s decades of trusted experience in helping Americans most efficiently navigate through the completion of annual tax results – no matter how simple or complex the US tax system is perceived to be at any given time.

The results:  H&R Block needed to act and it has done so – although ideally it would have done more sooner to offset the falling investor confidence.
The new messaging in the advert launched at the end of 2016 is certainly an improvement with its unapologetic messaging, but time will tell whether it restores the brand.

The lesson:  Whether H&R Block or a small business, you simply can’t hang around in our ultra-connected world.

Values aren’t values unless you are willing to defend them, so if your entire business model is brought into question make sure it comes out on top with a quick snappy and well-considered response.


SkyscannerAmong the growing numbers of other businesses targeted by Trump are car maker, tech firms and engineering giants.

We’re not suggesting that your business puts in place a stringent procedure for being singled out by the 45th President of The US.  His attacks are sporadic and wide-ranging, but it is unlikely too many firms in the UK need to worry quite yet. We all sigh a yawn of Crisis PR relief.

Yet his Twitter outbursts serve to highlight that in an ever-changing world, threats to business will come from new and unusual sources – with word of mouth stories now able to spread like wildfire on social media sites.

The results: It’s well worth checking out how those businesses have responded to Trump’s ire – and you can do that by following the links to reports on Ford, Fiat-Chrysler and Lockheed Martin.

Each of them responded differently – this may give you some insights into which approach would work best for your business

The lesson: It bears mentioning that should UK politics begin to mirror the US and become increasingly polarised, a firebrand politician closer to home may well begin to round on businesses that don’t fit with his or her vision.

Now more than ever, your business need to have in place a formal sign off and plan should you need to defend your firm’s values during, or in the wake of a crisis, whatever shape that takes.

Make sure all your staff from CEO to intern know the procedure – and practice. It also serves to have trusted public relations experts on hand, whether in-house or agency to ensure your communications are effectively delivered in as short a timeframe as is possible.

Don’t forget to check out the other insightful posts which are part of our Trump Survival Guide, on the PR lessons that savvy businesses can take from the new President

Trump Survival Guide Crisis PRPART 1 – Tweeting Trump is a wonder to behold. We pick out the nuggets of insight from his feed and explain why businesses should look again at Twitter.

PART 2 – Loose Lips. Since The Donald says whatever he wants and still won the Presidency, is gobbiness a recipe for success in business? Learn the risks and how to avoid them.


PART 4 – Build Bridges. President Trump is all about building walls. But winning over the media is better for business. Learn the top tips for gaining media allies.

PART 5 – Nothing Trumps Strategy. The new Prez appears to have misplaced his copy of the vital Communications Strategy. Avoid such schoolboy errors with our help.


Trump’s tactics have started a new chapter in Crisis PR – take note and don’t lose out by being unprepared for whatever kind of unexpected catastrophe could affect your business.

It could be a safety scare, a product recall, industrial action, a legal case or simply the harmful claims of disgruntled former staff or customers.

Make sure that your business is prepared for crisis PR in 2017. Speak to the agency with the credentials to get you out of it with your reputation intact.

Do you want to have cover in case of an emergency? Our Crisis PR team are experts when it comes to dealing with tricky situations.

It couldn’t be easier to get in touch. Give us a call on 0131 561 2244 for a free consultation, or take a few seconds to fill out the simple form, below, and we’ll get straight back to you:

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Chris Fairbairn of Scottish public relations agency, Holyrood PR in Edinburgh

Chris Fairbairn

Chris Fairbairn is an Account Director with award-winning public relations agency Holyrood PR. He is part of an expert PR team delivering PR services to a wide range of clients from headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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