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What’s in a name? A lot when the name is Trump

Donald J. Trump is a juggernaut - on that those in the marketing business agree.

Donald J. Trump is a juggernaut - on that those in the marketing business agree.

Trump the man and Trump the brand - emblazoned on everything from condo towers and golf courses to casinos, TV shows, and best-selling books - stand among a handful of global celebrity icons (Oprah, Martha, and yes, Tiger) who instantly conjure an image with consumers, connecting personality with product.

But a federal bankruptcy judge's decision earlier this week raised some interesting questions: Is a brand really worth more to a company than the chance to shed millions of dollars in debt? And is keeping that brand critical to survival - in this case, the survival of the three Atlantic City casinos that bear the Trump name?

"Whether you like him or not as a person, he's cultivated a brand name that is probably as large as life as a Procter & Gamble. It's a name with an unbelievably high recognition factor," said Gene Marbach, group vice president at Makovsky & Co. Inc., a New York public- and investor-relations firm.

"A kind of luxury, fun times - all of the things that you associate with a brand . . . are communicated through the Trump name."

The Trump brand "transcends several different disciplines," said Rob Dondero, executive vice president at R&R Partners Inc., the Las Vegas advertising and public relations firm that created the famous "What happens here, stays here" marketing campaign.

"It's an entertainment brand. It's a resort brand. It's a real estate brand," Dondero said. "It transcends multiple types of properties that consumers can be involved with and may hold different levels of loyalties with those different audiences."

Trump is to real estate what Louis Vuitton is to fashion, said Ronn D. Torossian, president and chief executive officer of 5W Public Relations L.L.C., one of the 20 largest public relations firms in the United States, with offices in New York and Los Angeles.

"By having the Trump stamp on your brand, you're making a very strong statement - one that is very positive and one that resonates with consumers and banks, both domestically and internationally," he said. "It's a brand that is worth a tremendous amount."

Just how much was a central issue in Monday's 121-page ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith Wizmur, who ruled in favor of Trump, Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., and its bondholders maintaining control of the Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal, and Trump Marina casinos as they emerge from a third round of bankruptcy.

The Trump forces prevailed despite what appeared to be a better offer from another financial icon, billionaire Carl Icahn, who presented more than twice as much - $486 million vs. $225 million, and elimination of all the company's debt.

In the world of New York real estate, few were surprised by the importance Wizmur placed on the Trump name - which, they said, has carried tremendous weight in the Big Apple since the mid-1980s.

"Just the name brand says a lot," said Amir Korangy, founder and publisher of The Real Deal, a newsmagazine considered the bible of that state's real estate industry. "It's like having the name Awesome. . . ."

"And he's really the first person to really capitalize on a brand the way he has," Korangy said. "He's taken it to real estate, fashion, publishing, production, spirits/liquors [there's a Trump Vodka brand], resorts, casinos, and TV."

Not to mention Trump University, which offers investment and entrepreneurship training.

Mickey Roth, president of Park-River Properties L.L.C., a luxury real estate company in New York, said selling condo units in Trump's Manhattan properties was a lot easier than with some other buildings.

For instance, Roth said, he currently has a listing for a unit at Trump Park East on 100 Central Park South. The property has no amenities other than a doorman, he said, but because of the Trump name and address, "we are getting a lot of reaction from buyers."

Still, said Jerry Wind, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, when it comes to the Atlantic City casinos, things are not as clear-cut.

"It's a little difficult to conclude that no other name could match the awareness, value, and meaning of the Trump name," said Wind, who teaches advertising strategy and new-product and business development. "Definitely, the Trump name is well-known, [but] names are not the only thing that could attract people to a casino.

"You need to think about the totality of the customer experience and the offerings," he said, ". . . and generate the buzz and word of mouth to bring people in."

During the final day of testimony in the Trump casinos' bankruptcy case, Vincent J. Intrieri, senior managing director of Icahn Partners L.P., worked to make that very point.

Intrieri tried to diminish the value of the Trump brand to the three casinos and said Icahn was willing to invest $15 million to re-brand them.

"I don't think people go to a casino because it has the Trump name," he said. "They go for the quality of the product, service, types of amenities it has, and the condition it's in. No one goes to a casino because of the name."

Wizmur disagreed, ruling that the Trump name and the casinos were unequivocally linked.

"That is an amazing ruling," said Marbach, the New York public relations executive.

"What would happen with these properties if you were to rename them? You would have to spend years and tons of money to build an awareness of them," he said.

"There is a tremendous amount of equity in the Trump name that's very difficult to replicate."