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This chapter is from the book

That Cloud-Nine Feeling

The cloud-nine feeling and the personal bruising were part and parcel of Donald Trump's complicated, intriguing persona during the summer and fall of 2004.

For years, he had searched for acceptance as a great builder and developer. In the fall of 2004, he was getting the highest dollar per square foot of any developer in New York. Apartments at his Park Avenue and 59th Street property were getting $4,500 a square foot, the highest of its kind. For years, he attached the name Trump to his buildings, all too aware that it was a high-risk strategy: The financial failure of a building meant a blow to his reputation. Today, he takes great satisfaction in knowing that the strategy is paying off handsomely. Even the most cynical professionals in public relations and marketing congratulate him for being among the best branding machines around.

Over the years, he has sought a kind of peace treaty, or at least a truce, with the media, which tracked his career with a patronizing air, as if Trump were some lesser specimen, worthy of mockery but not of praise. Because he seemed a caricature of how a billionaire behaved, he was covered in the media as if he was indeed a caricature and not a genuine, serious business figure.

Now in the summer and fall of 2004, the media is displaying new, uncharacteristic warmth toward the man. Even when it covered Trump's financial misfortunes in Atlantic City during the summer, it ran straightforward stories, accepting Trump's point that the prepackaged bankruptcy being prepared for his casino hotel corporation meant smoother sailing for the casinos.

In earlier years, the media would have fired one missile after another at Trump.

Cover stories on Donald Trump in 2004 were about the drama and excitement of The Apprentice—not, as in the past, about how much he was truly worth. Both Newsweek (March 1) and Fortune (April 26) put Trump on their covers, focusing on the new television celebrity. "He's never been hotter (just ask him)..." was part of the headline on the April 26, 2004, Fortune cover.

Trump did not allow himself to get too smug over the media's sudden adulation. He knew it could be ephemeral. He worried about whether the media coverage of his Atlantic City troubles might affect ratings for the second season of The Apprentice, which started in September. He randomly sampled opinions from office visitors and phone callers. The general feeling was that the show's ratings would remain high.

All throughout his career, Trump seemed transfixed by the kind of stardom that came to entertainers or sports heroes or astronauts. But to him, celebrity was a means to an end, not the end itself: He hoped that whatever celebrity he gained would give him a business advantage.

Even before The Apprentice, he was well known.

In the spring of 2000, a Gallup Poll noted that 98 percent of Americans knew who he was. (Bill Gates and Ross Perot also scored in the high 90s, but Jack Welch, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, and Ted Turner were much further down in the poll.) With The Apprentice, however, a whole new slice of America has gotten to know him—especially youngsters 12 years old and below. Trump senses that he is far better liked in 2004 among the public than ever before.

So, what he has now is supercelebrity status with much less of the notoriety that attached itself to his reputation in the past. That stratospheric status has brought him instant recognition whenever he walks along the street. As he makes his way along Fifth Avenue, or anywhere, for that matter, in Manhattan, heads turn, passersby shout greetings, and small crowds gather to stare. The greetings are friendly. "Trump," shouted one African watch-seller, giving Donald Trump a warm feeling and leading him to wonder whether that might be the only English word the man knew.

Trump and stardom have now become synonymous. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is just where he has always wanted to be: "It's been an amazing five years for me. It's been by far the best five years in business beyond The Apprentice."

What has motivated Donald Trump through the years?

Was it, as some of his earlier critics suggested, greed?

Or perhaps it was the respect of his peers?

Or could it have been public acclaim?

He seems far more motivated by the struggle to build a fortune than by the opportunity to use the accumulated items of wealth. He loves to negotiate. He loves to make deals. He loves running a successful business, trying to expand it wherever possible. But most of all, he is motivated by a desire to nurture the one aspect of his life that is so unique and so characteristic of him: the Trump brand.

If that means appearing in public as much as possible, that is fine with him. If that means promoting all things that bear the name Trump, he is comfortable with that. If it means exploring any idea that might expand the Trump brand and, hence, deepen his fortune, he has time for that.

He is prepared to work zealously at pumping up the Trump brand because he is all too aware of how difficult it was for him to make a genuine comeback. He is all too aware that, even as he showed an incredible resilience in the early 1990s, erasing that huge debt and rebuilding his fortune, he had remained a marginal figure in the business world. He wanted the public to honor his comeback and to treat him with new respect. But even as he attracted attention—because he was, after all, famous, or, perhaps more accurately, infamous—he was still, even in the late 1990s, not taken as seriously as he wished. His face did appear on magazine covers, but, as often as not, he made the cover of the tabloids, not the business magazines. Most books written about him were negative. The media stood aloof from Trump, not quite sure what to make of him, not liking his all-too-personal approach to public relations and never really falling in love with him.

So he sought to improve his image, choosing a unique approach that focused on himself.

Dating back to the mid-1970s, when he first entered the real-estate business in Manhattan with a great flourish, attempting to rebuild one of the city's more important but crumbling landmarks, the Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street next to Grand Central Station, Donald Trump sought to build an image for himself that spoke of unalloyed success. He promised efficiently built edifices that spelled high quality and elegance. "I've never seen anything he does that's been second rate as far as money can buy," said developer Lou Cappelli. "He doesn't cut corners. You may not like the brass at Trump Tower because it's too ostentatious, but it's the best that money can buy."

He boldly chose to employ his name atop his buildings even as close advisers thought little of the gesture. But for Trump, this kind of high-risk yet monumentally powerful marketing technique represented an in-your-face assertion of self-confidence that was part and parcel of his ego-oriented persona. Even his last name had a Dickensian sound to it. Had the British author created a character of massive wealth that erected skyscrapers and lived in high style, he might have given him the name Trump because it connotes strength and success. Trump loves the name for signifying those qualities.

Other business personalities have sought to brand themselves, but no one has had the temerity to put his or her own name on so many prominent landmarks: hotel casinos, high-priced residential towers, a shuttle airline, a game, a bicycle race. An ad from Trump's early days proclaimed, "Everything does seem to be very Trump these days." And indeed, it was. He had to swallow some ridicule for marketing himself as if he were a bar of soap or a box of Corn Flakes.

But he sought to equate the Trump brand with high quality, and he succeeded in most instances; for years, no business rival tried to emulate his branding technique (in a kind of tribute to Trump's success at personal branding, Steve Wynn planned to open a casino hotel on the Las Vegas strip in April 2005 and call it simply Wynn Las Vegas.)

Because so much of his business success depends on the value attached to the Trump brand, he has had to make sure that the public has only positive thoughts about the brand. To ensure those positive thoughts, Trump has chosen a unique way of dealing with the media—unique for business leaders, that is. He has decided to handle the media himself.

Instead of relying on public-relations specialists either inside or outside his organization, he, in effect, has become his own public-relations agency. Those specialists might from time to time advise him to steer clear of the media, and he did not want to heed such advice. More than any other business leader of his era, he understood the business necessity of whipping up a public-relations storm around his name and his projects. As he wrote in his 2004 book, How to Get Rich, "If you don't tell people about your success, they probably won't know about it."

By thrusting himself into the public spotlight, Donald Trump differentiated himself from all other business leaders of his time. Caution and shyness were not part of his DNA. He fervently believed that the burnishing of his ego was critical to his business success. And he burnished it on a regular basis: "Billionaire authors are harder to find ... than millionaire authors," he boasted in his 2004 book, How to Get Rich. "Billionaire authors with interests in real estate, gaming, sports, and entertainment are rarer still. And billionaire authors with their own Manhattan skyscrapers and hit prime time TV series are the rarest of all."

Most business figures have peanut-size egos—or, if they have large egos, they are eager to conceal them, believing that the very act of parading themselves in public is a flamboyance that might prove bad for business; they also feel that self-glorification is a sin that only distracts from the selling of the company's product. In stark contrast, Donald Trump believes firmly in a nexus between the forging of his ego—his image—and his success in business.

To initially forge his ego, he felt he had to open up to the world, to nurture a persona that was of interest to the public. In doing so, he had to reveal himself in a way that other business figures rarely did. He had to exhibit a good deal of his lifestyle to the public, be accessible to the media, and deliver colorful yet pithy quotes.

Other business leaders exhibited much restraint in their public statements, not wanting to cause even the slightest discomfort to shareholders. Trump, with less than 1 percent of his net worth tied up in a public company (which controlled his casino hotels), had no such concerns, openly calling people idiots and, worse, cursing routinely, exhibiting bouts of anger and fire and passion, making fun of himself.

If most of his business colleagues wanted to avoid the public spotlight, Donald Trump seemed to be perfectly comfortable with it.

The media responded to Trump's openness and flamboyance by covering his business achievements to a certain degree, but by monitoring his personal life far more passionately and aggressively. Because he invited the media to cover him, he seemed to be open game, and almost any aspect of his personal life hit the newspapers. When second wife Marla Maples was quoted in the newspapers as saying that Donald Trump gave her the best sex she ever had, it was a front-page headline.

He had no way of knowing where his self-promotion might lead, only that he wanted to be accepted (by whom was always an open question), to be taken seriously, and to be given full credit for his accomplishments. Thus, the marketing of his persona became a major business strategy for him, a strategy tailor-made for his unrelenting egocentrism. He needed to be seen and heard at every possible time and place. Hence, he saw no value in limiting his exposure.

Trump's operation was small (20,000 employees) in comparison to the large corporations; it was highly segmented and depended entirely on the man at the top. It was no accident that the main business strategies Donald Trump adopted had to do with managing his own persona and building his celebrity.

There are, of course, important business lessons to be gleaned from the way Trump behaves. Because he spends so much time negotiating, many of those lessons have to do with how best to negotiate. And because Trump advertises himself as a highly competent money machine, he has ample advice on "how to get rich" and how to "think like a billionaire" and, when things got tough, how to make a comeback. His most novel business lessons are those that encourage executives to burnish their egos and trumpet their achievements in public; these are not lessons that most business leaders will find easy to adopt. But they have worked for Donald Trump.

What the story of Donald Trump offers to other business executives is a roadmap of how to succeed in business by not being afraid of seeking out and taking advantage of the public spotlight. Most business leaders have an inherent aversion to that spotlight—but by watching Trump in action and understanding the way he turns the quest for publicity and the nurturing of his personal brand into successful business strategies, other business leaders might become a little more willing to make the media and other means of communication work for them in a positive way.

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