Trump Should Have Said "You're Fired" to Miss California USA Carrie Prejean

By John TantilloMarketing Expert/Founder and President, Marketing Department of America

Donald Trump has spoken and Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean, will keep her crown (for now). This is a mistake, but Mr. Trump being the great promoter that he is knows better than to start a riot (which firing Miss Prejean would have done).

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is not a marketer and he doesn't really understand how to build brands.

When I analyzed the Miss California flap last week, the response was unprecedented. I knew there were a lot of strong feeling out there, but, wow, nothing like what I got. Angry stuff.

Unfortunately, many people missed my point. I'm not speaking from a cultural or a political perspective here, I'm speaking about real marketing. I care about marketing and what makes brands -- be they people, organizations, political parties or companies-- work or not work in both the short and long-term.

Bottom line: sometimes brand building involves making very tough choices and demanding very tough things. Trump's decision will save him momentary outcry, but it will cost the Miss USA brand in the long-run.

He simply did not make the tough decision he needed to for the sake of the Miss USA brand and that alone will relegate the organization to second-rate status.


Because Miss Prejean is still representing Miss Prejean notCalifornia and she is certainly not representing the organization that chose her. The problem goes far beyond the photograph question.

As far as I can tell, Donald Trump didn't demand that Ms. Prejean stop using the Miss California platform to promote herself and her agenda, nor did she make any promises to stop doing this. In fact, according to one news article, the Miss California organization is using the runner-up to make appearances that Miss Prejean is contractually obligated to make as the winner of the crown.

The photograph question is also important so far as it is more evidence that Miss Prejean has not been conforming to the Miss USA rules.

Trump decided to address the content of the photos not Miss Prejean's decision-making process that made her conceal the existence of the photos in the first place. After all, if, as she has said, she agonized over the answer to her question on gay marriage because she had been working hard to become Miss USA for so long, then surely she agonized over whether to disclose these photos and in the end made the choice not to.

And this is what it is all about. The best brands follow their own internal rules and demand that those involved with them also follow those rules. When Vanessa Williams was caught out with photographs as Miss America, she resigned. No question about it. She hadn't followed the rules; she had to go. This raised the prestige of the Miss America brand and in the long run even propelled Vanessa Williams to an outstanding career few, if any, Miss America's have ever enjoyed.

Sticking to the rules and the resulting prestige of the brand is one of the reasons the Miss America organization was so dominant for so many years. It had standards and everybody knew it -- even the people who made fun of it as only a beauty contest.

A better approach for the Miss USA organization would have been to have strongly "encouraged" Miss Prejean to resign -- along the lines of her ultimately announcing something like: "the media attention surrounding me has made it impossible for me to carry out my duties as Miss California."

Maybe such discussions were had. My guess is that if there were such discussions, they went nowhere because Miss Prejean probably knows a great marketing platform when she sees one as she builds her own brand for the long-term and the Miss USA organization and Donald Trump weren't prepared to push things.

Unfortunately, for Donald Trump and the Miss USA organization, it's hard to see how this decision won't cost them both in terms of brand prestige and ultimately controversy-wary sponsors as well. Not to mention, how Miss Prejean's subsequent advocacy will undoubtedly narrow the Target Market for Miss USA to a more culturally conservative demographic and make the brand lose precious market share.

Trump would have been in much better shape accepting her resignation or even firing her as Miss California and then hiring her into his own organization on the grounds that she would be a genuine asset. This would have protected the Miss USA brand and strengthened the Donald Trump brand at the same time.

But who knows? With the way this story keeps developing, maybe there is still a chance for this best of both marketing worlds to occur.

And remember, things are always easier to understand when you keep marketing and branding in mind.