Is A Presidential Run Just a Publicity Stunt Now?

thought-leader-jennifer-jones-mitchellAs PR pros, we’ve all led thought leadership programs designed to raise an executive’s profile in order to drive product (or book) sales, increase their speaking fees or land them that ever-so-important keynote position.

Most of our tactics include pitching their POVs for interviews, authoring bylined articles and developing sharable content and buzz-worthy blogs, podcasts and infographics demonstrating the executive’s knowledge. We’ve pitched them for top speaking opportunities and helped define their category’s problem, positioning the executive as THE person with the solution.

None of this is new, of course.

However, with 17 candidates currently running for the Republican nomination and 5 candidates running for the Democratic nod, one has to wonder, do they all really think they can win?

Do they all even want to win?

running for president as publicity stunt

As I’ve been watching the news breathlessly covering Donald Trump’s every word and each candidate’s response to his every word, I can’t help but wonder is it all just a thought leadership tactic?


Think about it this way. After you’ve been nominated for an Oscar – even if you don’t win – you will forever be introduced as “Oscar-nominated so-and-so” with the salary bump that goes with it.

The same is true for a presidential bid. Even if you drop out before the primary, you will forever be known as “former presidential candidate so-and-so” and your books sales, speaking fees and salary will soar because you’ve secured millions of dollars in free publicity … and donations.

Every candidate in the upcoming 2016 election has at least one book to their name; most have several. And, with every political ad they run, every soundbite they provide and every debate they, well, debate, their book sales climb a little more and their speaking fees grow. In fact, it used to be that candidates wrote books to raise their profiles, now, it seems they run for president to raise their book sales.

I remember when reality TV first exploded on the scene in the late 1990s, an executive I represented auditioned for Big Brother. He excitedly said he didn’t care if he won, he just wanted the publicity that came with it. Obviously, as his PR rep, I talked him out of it as reality-show publicity was not what I had in mind. I assured him I would get him on TV, but in a more dignified and controlled manner. A few weeks later, he was on CNN and FOX where he spoke eloquently about the changing world of business on the web.

But, now I wonder. What could be more “dignified” and “controlled” today than a presidential bid?

It’s dignified in the title, of course. The process itself is becoming much less so, particularly with regard to some of the current candidates – Yes, Trump, I am talking about you. (Say what you want about Mr. Trump’s successes, but dignified he is not).

Meanwhile, the control around the publicity of a presidential run is greater than ever before as candidates (on all sides of the aisle) create YouTube videos and Facebook posts, and deliver prepared speeches and talking points in controlled settings. Just look at the recent GOP Primary debate. It wasn’t about issues; it was a platform where each candidate was given five minutes to state their talking points … and Trump was given free reign to push his brand of brash, blowhard bullying. (A brand that many people seem to like, incidentally).

Now, it’s true that with regard to Trump, he has seen some financial losses due to his more inflammatory statements during his presidential run. We all know his business partners, including Univision, NBC and Macy’s have dropped him.

But, what he lost in those deals will surely be made up (and more) in speaking fees and book sales.


In 2011, although Cain wasn’t even registered on the ballot in a dozen primary states, he still managed to pitch his books on national TV and rake in a quarter of a million dollars in speaking fees while running for president.

And, today, you don’t even have to BE president to rake in presidential speaking fees. Former President Bill Clinton earns around $225,000 to deliver speeches today. Former Mayor and presidential candidate, Rudy Guliani earns $270,000 for speeches and former half-term Governor and vice-presidential pick, Sarah Palin has earned as much as $115,000 for a single speech.

So, as I watch business executives like Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump and Mark Everson, along with doctor/author, Dr. Ben Carson among the politicians running, I can’t help but wonder how many are doing it just for the PR?

And, how many of us should start recommending a presidential run for our clients? If the process is going this way anyway, should we build it into our thought leadership programs?

In truth, the part of me that values democracy and the integrity of the political process says no. But, the part of me that knows the credibility and publicity and money that comes with a presidential bid today truly wonders.

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