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The John Miller Thing

The John Miller Thing

    By now you have heard the news that back in the eighties Donald Trump sometimes pretended he was his own publicist and called members of the media to say good things about Trump’s projects. He used the names John Miller and John Barron. 

    We also learned this week that the New York media always knew Trump made those calls himself. It was an open secret. And he still denied it. What-the-heck?

    I won’t waste your time speculating about whether it was really Trump on those audio recordings that recently surfaced. Because it was Trump. Instead, I’ll give you some context so you can decide for yourself why Trump did it and why he later denied it.

    For starters, the fields of PR and marketing are mostly about lying. Sometimes the lying involves leaving out information about your product’s flaws. Sometimes it means cherry-picking benchmark tests. Sometimes the pricing is intentionally misleading. And so on. Marketing – at its ethical best – is half truth, half lying. When Trump made those calls under another name, he was a liar playing a lying game. And he was talking to New York reporters, who have also been known to shade the truth. That was the context. 

    Now ask yourself how Trump could have hired a PR professional who would have been better than the Master Persuader himself. We’ve already seen Trump distort reality so much that he’s on a leisurely stroll to the Presidency of the United States. He’s putting on the best display of persuasion the world has ever seen. It is entirely possible that no one has ever done it better.

    So why would a guy with that skillset hire someone else to persuade journalists to write about him? It would be stupid to hire someone else for that job. It simply made sense to do it himself. And I see no reason to believe Trump cared about getting caught. Evidently it was an efficient way to get his message out, and he probably thought getting caught would be funny and create more publicity. It wasn’t illegal.

    So instead of hiring someone less skilled than himself, Trump made the common-sense conservative decisions to pick up the phone that was sitting right next to him and knock-out some PR calls using his precision persuasion. Bam, done. And then he probably laughed about it. 

    And do you know why New York journalists were more likely to write a story if they thought the fake PR person was really Trump? It’s because they wanted Trump to someday call again. Everyone likes to say they get phone calls from celebrities. No one is immune from it.

    And there are other good reasons that Trump didn’t use his own name on those calls. I’m sure he didn’t want the phone call itself to become part of the story. Compare these two news stories: 

    1. A Trump project turned out great.


    2. Donald Trump called to tell me how amazing he is.

    When Trump made the calls posing as his own PR person, he took the phone call itself out of the story. That strategy seems smart. 

    Will this new revelation about Trump change anyone’s votes? Most Trump supporters are trying to elect a hand grenade to lob into Congress. No one is trying to put lipstick on the hand grenade before throwing it. So I doubt this will matter.

    People put a high value on consistency. More than you’d think. We don’t like surprises, especially from politicians. In this case, Trump is surprising no one. The bigger surprise would be if he had hired someone to do his PR calls for him. That would have been dumb. 

    If you think persuasion is an important skill set, you might like my book because it has words in it.

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