Trump's backdrops on the campaign trail tend to resemble a promotional tour
He's visited at least 10 Trump properties so far during the campaign
As Donald Trump fielded reporters’ questions from the 9th hole of Trump Turnberry Friday, the neatly manicured greens and nearby club house adorned with dazzling chandeliers and gold-plated fixtures imparted a sense of déjà vu.
It was another Trump campaign event at another Trump property.
As he aims to showcase his worldwide portfolio, Trump’s backdrops on the campaign trail tend to resemble a promotional tour more than traditional battleground state barnstorming. He’s visited at least 10 properties so far, from an early stop at Trump Winery in Virginia to a surreal press conference at a golf course in Jupiter, Florida – featuring Trump-branded steaks and water – to his latest jaunt to Scotland.
Trump doesn’t have any publicly scheduled events with foreign leaders on his itinerary abroad. Instead, he spent Friday celebrating the grand opening of his golf course in Turnberry. On Saturday, he’s scheduled to visit a Trump property in Aberdeen, on Scotland’s eastern coast.
“I have the best properties,” Trump told reporters Friday, by way of explanation. “Why should I use someone else’s properties?”
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Trump launched into his press conference Friday with only a brief flick at the momentous events unfolding around him as the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Then he turned to a lengthy description of the upgrades at Turnberry from the sprinkler system to the luxury accommodations in the property’s lighthouse.
“The reviews of the course have been phenomenal, not just like good. Even people that truly hate me are saying it’s the best they’ve ever seen,” Trump said.
His strategy of spotlighting his own properties may have some potential upside.
“Every time he goes to one of his properties, it reinforces the fact that he’s a successful entrepreneur and he has created these wonderful places,” said Timothy Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It would be different if he had fairly mediocre properties, but he doesn’t. He has properties that have a lot of flash.”
“I will note he doesn’t spend a lot of time in Atlantic City,” Calkins quipped, in a reference to Trump’s trail of bankrupted properties in New Jersey.
There’s little doubt that Trump’s personal brand – and flair for self-promotion – helped fuel his early campaign success.
Trump outmaneuvered his GOP opponents in the battle for earned media, sucking the oxygen out of news cycles. From the start, he attracted thousands of spectators to his political events, including many who were initially drawn to his celebrity rather than his political proclamations.
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But the intermingling of Trump’s business interests with his presidential bid has presented risks as well.
Peter Land, a partner at Finsbury who focuses on consumer marketing and corporate reputation, said Trump’s showy self-promotion on the campaign trail could be alienating customers turned off by his provocative statements.
“There are people that in the past (who) might’ve said, ‘I don’t necessarily think about the brand, I just want to stay in a nice hotel in New York,’” Land said.
But that sentiment may be shifting to: “I don’t want my friends to know I’m staying at a Trump hotel,” Land said. “There are a cohort of people, I don’t know how big it is, that just won’t touch his brands.”
A new CNN/ORC poll shows voters aren’t entirely comfortable with the cozy relationship: 7-in-10 said Trump should step down as chairman and president of the Trump Organization while he’s involved in politics.
Trump reiterated his plan to hand control of the company over to his adult children if he wins in November, but said he sees little reason to do so before then.
“I will absolutely cut ties” if I win, Trump said, but “I don’t think it matters while I’m running.”
Meanwhile, even the braggadocios candidate admitted that the campaign could be a drag on his corporate brand.
“If I wanted to do good for my brand I wouldn’t have done this,” Trump said of his presidential bid, as he noted some of the business partners he has lost along the way. “For my brand, this has not been a good thing.”
Some of Trump’s earliest comments suggesting Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists ignited a firestorm and cost him business deals. Macy’s and NBC Universal both parted ways with the GOP candidate. Two chefs announced they were canceling plans to open restaurants in the hotel Trump is opening in Washington.
Most recently, the PGA announced it was relocating the World Golf Championship to Mexico from Trump National Doral in Miami after failing to secure a sponsorship to keep the tournament at Doral.
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Trump’s company is privately held, so there is little publicly available data to measure the impact Trump’s presidential campaign has had on his brand. But after the pair of chefs pulled out of their commitment to helm restaurants in Trump’s Washington hotel, Trump sued and his lawyers have leapt to the brand’s defense.
In a recent court filing, the lawyers wrote that industry reports “show that five of the six Trump-branded hotels in the United States continue to perform well as compared with competitor hotels, and data from the signature restaurants in each of these hotels are performing better in the timeframe after the political statements than they were in the timeframe before the political statements.”
The close-knit relationship between Trump’s political and professional interests has also prompted scrutiny about whether Trump has been a responsible steward of his campaign resources. Since the start of his campaign, Trump has funneled nearly one-fifth of his campaign money to his own business ventures – nearly $11 million, according to federal records.
“I wish, frankly, that I wasn’t forced by law to pay myself back,” Trump said. “I would love to give everything for nothing.”
Still, his spending decisions have raised some eyebrows. Trump ended the month of May with a mere $1.3 million in his campaign bank account. That same month he spent nearly $425,000 to rent space at his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida.
More disciplined approach
A more disciplined approach on the trail might give a boost not just to Trump’s campaign, but it also might help mitigate long-term damage to his brand, said Calkins, the Northwestern marketing expert.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Trump,” Calkins said, to avoid a worst-case scenario. “You don’t want to end up with a tarnished brand, a lost election and a lot of spent money.”
Trump’s Friday press conference amid the lush backdrop of Scottish hills and the rippling waves of the Firth of Clyde wasn’t the only time his campaign events have veered into infomercial territory.
At a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, earlier this year, Trump was flanked by a variety of products emblazoned with his name.
“Where are the steaks? Do we have the steaks there?” Trump bellowed from the podium, referencing line of Trump meats that has largely been discontinued. Then he moved on to Trump Magazine.
“The magazine is great,” he proclaimed. “Anybody want one?”
A March press conference in Washington – convened at the Old Post Office Pavilion, which will soon be a Trump hotel – followed a similar format.
He kicked off his comments by touting the marble and bathroom fixtures, describing the hotel as a “super luxury” property that he said would eventually employ 500 people.
“I think when it’s completed it will be truly one of the great hotels of the world,” Trump told journalists. “As people that love this country, I think you’re going to be very proud of it.”
The candidate appeared momentarily baffled when reporters peppered him with questions about his political meetings in Washington rather than the finer points of hotel development.
“Oh, that has nothing to do with this, but that’s OK,” Trump remarked.
Later, he led reporters on a tour of the construction site.