Up front: April 2013
At the end of our 13-minute, 52-second interview, Donald Trump turned to the head golf pro, pointed to me and said, “Good-looking guy.” A Business North Carolina contingent — our art director, a freelance photographer and I — had given up a chunk of our weekend to travel almost an hour to Mooresville. When we got there, we waited hours, largely ignored by him and his entourage in favor of television reporters. We had been promised we’d get an hour with him. A truck had hit a transformer, knocking out the electricity. That caused the lighting of our photos — this would be the only time we’d be able to shoot him — to suffer.
I wish I could say that his stroking my ego was no salve, that I was too savvy and sophisticated to pay heed to a compliment from someone who never met a superlative he didn’t like. It’s embarrassing to be seduced by celebrity, but I left Trump National Golf Club, Charlotte thinking, “He’s a really charming guy.” That is, until I came to work Monday and, after comparing notes, learned he had said more or less the same thing to the photographer, our art director and at least one of the TV reporters.
When I started researching this month’s cover story on Trump, I was sure that his name, and anything he attached it to, had lost its luster — he has been hawking bottled water, after all. Brand dilution waters down a marque, often making it meaningless. “Kraft used to be about cheese and salad dressing,” says Sheri Bridges, a marketing professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. “It put its name on so many things that it lost its impact.”
I thought Trump’s name had become watery, but everybody I interviewed assured me that it is still highly concentrated. “Absolutely,” Bridges says. “Trump comes to Charlotte, it legitimizes Charlotte. It’s like we are real.”
Despite his public persona, which often borders on buffoonery, and the plethora of products his name appears on, the Trump brand retains its value because he sticks to tried-and-true principles. Want people to like you? Sweet-talk them. Want media attention? Do something outrageous, such as launch a presidential campaign. Want folks to talk up the golf course in Mooresville you bought last year? Spend millions on making it pretty and, hopefully, better.
So we’re following Trump’s example this month with the North Carolina Golf Panel’s top 100 Tar Heel golf courses. This is the seventh year it has appeared in our magazine, and we previously presented it as a no-frills list. Consequently, it often got lost in the shuffling of pages. This time, we made it the backbone of our golf package, expanding it by spotlighting different courses and bits of North Carolina golf history. We hope it’s engaging and informative. And should The Donald pick it up, maybe he will find it good-looking, too.