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PR Lessons From Melania Trump’s Plagiarized Speech

By Rudi Davis 29 July, 2016

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Melania Trump’s GOP speech did not go smoothly. While it was supposed to be her shining moment, the speech quickly became blanketed with controversy when the public realized she’d plagiarized an entire passage of Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention address.

Unsurprisingly the media erupted, mostly in ridicule. Social media grew crowded with that embarrassing video – the split screen comparing the two speeches. Twitter users had their fun, mocking Melania Trump with the hashtag #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes. But amidst all the joking, many asked the same serious question: how did this even happen?

According to The New York Times, speechwriters sent Melania Trump a crafted speech a while back, then waited to hear her feedback. But Melania Trump said nothing. Instead, she pulled it apart, rewrote it on her own, and outright copied Michelle Obama’s text.

The public heard its fair share of excuses from The Trump Organization. Then, a supposed in-house Trump ghost writer named Meredith McIver released this letter, in which she apologized for unknowingly helping Melania Trump write the plagiarized address.

But, there’s a problem for the Trumps: the media doesn’t believe Meredith McIver really exists. Credible news outlets haven’t been able to confirm her identity. In terms of PR, the whole thing is seriously sloppy. And there are some lessons to take away from it all.

Trust your PR specialists

In light of the controversy, one thing is clear: when it comes to PR, it’s best to trust the experts. John McConnell and Matthew Scully carefully planned and wrote Melania Trump’s original speech one month prior to the Republican Convention. Both men are longtime senior political speechwriters: they also wrote for George W. Bush in the early 2000’s.

So when Melania Trump completely rewrote the original speech (likely with no speechwriting experience of her own), it’s evident she didn’t value the writers’ expertise. Of course, she should be able to have a say in the content she delivers to be public. But it’s the speechwriters who know how best it will be received. And when Melania Trump decided to write the speech by herself, it wasn’t received very well.

Communicate

Apparently, Melania Trump didn’t speak with the speechwriters after she read the first draft. She didn’t approach them to address her concerns with the speech, but rather shut them out of the process entirely. Melania didn’t want their expert help.

PR specialists want to work with their clients to create content everyone is happy with. They will take the time to discover clients’ goals in order to craft something clients believe is valuable to a brand and portrays the right message. Communication is important from beginning to end, so if something isn’t up to client standard, the specialists can work with them together to make it right.

Don’t think you can pull the wool over people’s eyes

The Trump Organization first denied Melania Trump had plagiarized. Next, they argued it was just a coincidence. Finally, in-house Trump writer Meredith McIver released her statement Wednesday in attempt to set the public straight. However as of yet, no one can actually prove Meredith McIver is even a real person.

The media and public catch onto everything. You need to be transparent with them. And when a Trump writer doesn’t seem to have a verified Twitter account or LinkedIn profile, the media is going to call foul.

PR agencies won’t accept articles from clients that they perceive as promotional or plagiarized. And more, clients can’t make up fictional characters, or lie to the public. It should be obvious, but releasing content of this type is disastrous for public image. It will land you on the wrong side of public opinion, just like what’s happened to Melania Trump.


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