The Similarities of Trump’s Rallies, Sports Press Conferences And PR Agency Pressers, Plus A ‘New Olympic Event’: Watching Naomi Osaka

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Arthur Solomon

Now that the twice impeached former president Donald Trump, whose company has been criminally indicted for allegedly evading taxes has resumed his rallies, the similarities of his rallies to sports, brand and corporate press conferences are easy to detect: 

  • All have a maximum of lies or exaggerations and a minimum of truth.
  • Certain sports, like tennis and golf, are considered by the media as “niche sports” and only receive significant media coverage during major tournaments and are routinely ignored by the general press most of the year.
  • Ever since he was defeated by President Joe Biden, Trump’s rallies are considered “niche” by major media outlets, but not so by “niche” far right journalists. Reporters from main stream news organizations monitor the rallies but little is written about them because there is little bona fide news. 
  • Many aspects of the Trump rallies and sports press conferences also are similar to brand and corporate pressers. (More on this later.)

Soon, on July 23, Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games, even though calendars around the world say it’s 2021, will commence, devoid of spectators because of Covid-19 fears. Along with the athletic competition reporters will be writing about the biggest sports story of 2021, thus far. It is not about the Super Bowl, the plethora of no-hit games, Major League Baseball enforcing the rule against pitchers applying sticky substances to baseballs or the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s positive drug test. The media coverage will be about a “new Olympic event” that will not require a participant to win.  

The subject of this “new Olympic event” will concern an athlete in a little covered “niche sport,” tennis’ Naomi Osaka, who pulled out of the French Open and was fined for doing so, because she refused to participate in post-game media interviews. Receiving as much coverage of her tennis prowess in the Olympics will be how she performs during q and a sessions with the media, if she decides to show up at pressers. The tennis tournament begins on July 24. 

 (But even worse than the post-game interviews are the after-the-game presentation of trophies to winners of tennis matches, where the recipients thank the world, especially the organizers of the matches. Reminds me of those “Hail Caesar” scenes in those gladiator movies. This is reminiscent of the days when National Football League announcers would always describe team owners as “true gentlemen,” regardless of their history of turning their backs to revelations about how hits to he head causes brain damage to their employees, the players.) 

Ms. Osaka’s decision to not appear at a post-match TV interview raises a more important question than her refusal to participate: Why does the media attend them, knowing that their questions will be answered with untruths, regardless of the sport? In reality, the supposedly truth-seeking media, by attending these staged pressers, are accessories to a con game developed to get viewers to believe what the participants are saying is truthful. (Years ago, I suggested to a few sports writers that instead of attending these newsless shams that they assign one “pool” reporter in case, by mistake, a pitcher or coach says something unrehearsed, like, “I lost that game because the shortstop threw to the wrong base and that’s not the first time I’ve been victimized by his and others’ sloppy play.” 

But there is as much chance as the above scenario occurring as an athlete speaking honestly after a loss, because, as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said in late June on CBS Sports, “What I say versus what I think are two totally different things. I would say 90 percent of what I say is probably not what I’m thinking… I think there’s part of me that doesn’t like conflict. So in the end, I just always try to play it super flat.” 

And during media day at the Super Bowl in 2015, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch kept answering reporter’s questions by repeating, “I’m Just Here So I Won’t Get Fined.”

The comments by Brady and Lynch might be the most honest ones ever made by an athlete during interview sessions. 

It’s a fact that after game interviews, where athletes are forced to appear because of contractual obligations, hardly ever provide anything newsy. 

Viewers might not know why these hardly ever truthful pressers with athletes  survive since they are as dull as listening to speeches during an old fashion Senate filibuster (but not as amusing), but people in the business know why: Post game interviews are now a staple of television sports coverage. Sports marketers love them because the athletes who appear wear clothes that are easily identified as brands. Bottled water of sponsors are also positioned, as are banners of sponsors, so the TV cameras can disseminate them nationally, and in international tournaments, worldwide.

As a novice sports reporter, I was never assigned to cover major press conferences. My beat was scholastic sports, where there was never a staged press conference. After an event, reporters had to personally speak to participants, providing an enterprising journalist an opportunity to develop an “exclusive.” (It was after filing several stories as a stringer that was different from the run-of-the-mill articles by other reporters that I was offered a staff position at a New York City daily.)

When I transitioned to the PR business, after several NYC dailies went bust, large scale brand and corporate press conferences were the rage. The great majority of them produced less than the desired results, and as a former reporter and editor, I knew why: A “secular” range of journalists were invited by PR people fearful of having an empty room. Most of the attendees had no interest in the subject of the presser and attended because they were friends of the PR person, wanted a chance to get out of their office, saw it as an opportunity to gather background information for a future story that had nothing to do with the press conference subject, or if there was a celebrity presenter wanted to ask questions during the one-on-ones for a profile story. 

Filling the room with anyone, even if the reporter only wrote obituaries, was a must. Also, in most cases, the news value of the conference was mostly only in the eyes of brand managers and corporate PR people, some of whom insisted on a press conference because they were forced to by their higher-ups who had no news sense and believed their titles or the name of the brand or corporation would be enough to generate coverage. As a result, except for the few beat reporters who attended, the great majority of the articles contained no client talking points. (Management of PR agencies liked these mega press conferences because it offered loads of billing opportunities, including the writing and production of expensive press kits which the great majority of the attendees ditched when they returned to their offices. Even the beat reporters would only pull out one or two of the press releases and toss the remainder.) 

The lack of coverage after spending thousands of dollars on a mega presser reverberated from the disappointed CEO to the corporate PR person or brand manager to the client contact to the PR exec who reported to the client.

Once I attained some authority, I limited full scale press conferences to only the few times (over 35 years) that there was actually hard news, not a common occurrence in our business, whose job it is to create news. Instead I would arrange for smaller round table meetings for clients, only inviting reporters who covered specific beats. That technique not only saved thousands of dollars that could be used for other PR projects, but always resulted in major publicity.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from uncalled-for pressers: Whether the speaker is a former twice-impeached president, whose business was criminally indicted for alleged tax-related crimes, an athlete or the CEO of a major company, it’s not the title of the person speaking that will determine news coverage – it’s what the person is saying. Don’t take my word for saying so. Check the very limited coverage of Trump’s rallies since he was defeated for re-election and the almost non existent coverage of after-the-game pressers with athletes, as well as the minimum of client talking points after mega- client press conferences. #Ol


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.