The other day, I wrote a crisis communications strategy for the Trump White House. It was the conventional crisis communications strategy that would normally apply for any Administration facing the issues that President Trump confronts. Yet in another sense, he doesn’t need a conventional crisis communications strategy and if he followed one it would actually do more harm than good.
What you say? Look at all the negative media coverage the Trump Administration is earning. It moves from one crisis to another (his press conference attacking the media was just the latest example). That is true in the conventional sense. Yet what we are forgetting is that Donald Trump’s presidency, just as his campaign is anything but conventional.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump was discounted. His attack against John McCain inferring that McCain was not a hero was supposed to doom his campaign yet his poll numbers increased. Trump’s running feud with Megyn Kelly was going to be the end of the campaign, yet it reverberated in Trump’s favor. There was no way he could win the Republican nomination with all of his verbal stumbles yet he emerged as the Republican nominee. Hillary Clinton was a sure winner against Trump, conventional wisdom held. The debates were viewed as a disaster and of course there was the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Yet rather than bow to traditional crisis management, Trump doubled down attacking his enemies and never backing down. On Election Night, he scored the greatest political upset since Harry Truman in 1948.
Trump’s success can be attributed to one thing more than anything else – his brand. The public has known the Trump brand for decades. It is flamboyant, never backs down and bucks conventional wisdom. This is what voters bought into during the 2016 election – the Trump brand. Voters believed in the brand and that Trump was not a regular politician.
For Trump now to follow a traditional crisis management response would go against that brand story that his voters bought into. Based upon polls, Trump’s base is staying with him. In many ways, Trump is like Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty who apologized if his remarks offended anyone but never backed away from his remarks and the public rallied around him because it was consistent with his brand story. For Trump to change is strategy and eschew to traditional crisis management steps would be to go against his brand story.
Brands watching Trump should realize that consumers buy into a brand’s identity during both good and bad times. During a crisis, if a brand approaches a response not consistent with its identity it runs the risk of alienating its consumers and losing its unique identity. Donald Trump understands that lesson and that is why we cannot expect to see traditional crisis management from him.
This Is Us, the drama/comedy on NBC is the breakout hit of this television season. The show centers on the fictional Pearson story and jumps back and forth from the time that Jack and Rebecca Pearson were raising three children in the late 1970s to present day following the three now grown up children. NBC has such faith in the show that it renewed the show for not one but, two more seasons. Brands when developing their brand story can learn from This Is Us on how to develop a strong and compelling brand story that resonates with consumers.
- Stand out from the competition. The whole concept of This Is Us is unlike anything else on television. The concept of jumping back and forth in time with the same family was an unique concept that viewers found compelling and original. In a television landscape that is filled with procedural dramas, sitcoms, and cop shows, This Is Us stands apart. The show is not dark and sinister nor does it tap into any of the polarization and politics that fills the news. It is a feel-good show even if it does cover some of life’s tougher moments. Brands when developing their story need to follow this concept and let their story be unique and compelling that will appeal to their target audience.
- Have compelling spokespersons. Part of the popularity of the show is the appeal of two characters who are spokespersons for the theme of the show. One is the Pearson patriarch, Jack. He is the father that everyone wishes they had and communicates in a simple, effective, yet fun manner. The other is the recurring character of Dr. Nathan Katowsky, popularly known in the show as Dr. K, the replacement doctor who delivers the Pearsons’ children. In every appearance the character gives a quote that resonates with viewers and is tweeted and retweeted over and over again. Like Jack, Dr. K is seen as original and compelling. Brands need to make sure that the person they have telling their story is compelling and one that audiences will relate to when hearing the person speak.
- Keep it simple. This Is Us tackles birth, marriage, child raising, death, illness, family conflict, and much more but it does so in a simple and easy to understand way that the message and enjoyment are not lost. Brands need to remember this when crafting their story message.
- This Is Us creates an emotional connection and reaction from its viewing audience. People report coming to tears when they learned that Jack Pearson, the father, is dead in present day. Others swoon with the romance of the Toby character courting grown up, Kate Pearson. Brands need an emotional connection with their audiences as well. Consumers are not just buying the brand but the brand story and that is why the emotional connection and shared values must be present in the story.
Brands in developing their brand story and communicating with consumers should study This Is Us as it teaches news lessons weekly in communications strategies. And if your current story or strategy isn’t working, it can offer a lesson on how to correct it, for as Dr. K says, “There’s no lemon so sour that you can’t make something resembling lemonade.”
One week after Donald Trump’s stunning win in the presidential election, the debate is still going on, as to how he was able to pull off his stunning election victory. One reason that is being overlooked and should be studied by business communicators and CEOs is that Trump regardless of if you love him or hate him was consistent with his brand identity. In every election since Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936, the candidate who came across as being more authentic with his brand identity won the election. This election was no exception.
A brand needs to tell a story. That story needs to be consistent and reflect the brands values and beliefs. It is what consumers and voters buy into and will allow a brand to develop a loyalty that will allow it to survive in hard times and flourish in good times.
Donald Trump over the years has built a brand identity based upon being brash, abrasive, in your face, decisive, and one who never backs down. This identity has been built upon countless interviews, books, product lines, and of course Celebrity Apprentice. It is why Americans felt that they knew him, the moment he announced his candidacy, while other candidates like Scott Walker, John Kasich, and even Ted Cruz were struggling to introduce themselves to the American public. This familiarity with the Trump brand is why he was able to survive incidents that would have taken down another candidate (insulting John McCain, the Megyn Kelly episode, the Access Hollywood tape). Millions of voters just saw these events as Trump being Trump and were neither shocked nor angered. They saw it as Trump being consistent with his brand.
Contrast this with Hillary Clinton. Voters were never sure what her brand identity was. She introduced more new Hillarys during the campaign, then Richard Nixon had new Nixons in his entire career. First she was the mother and grandmother breaking the glass ceiling. Next she was the most experienced candidate to ever seek the White House. After that, she was the progressive Hillary in the mode of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. This shifted over time to the consensus candidate who would unite America. Yet at the end voters were uncertain if she was any of these brands.
But it just isn’t in politics that we see this. Recall the Duck Dynasty scandal several years ago when Phil Robertson made homophobic and racist remarks. He and Duck Dynasty survived and continue to flourish because he was seen as being consistent with the brand. Yet Paula Deen who was seen for years as a nice grandmotherly person saw her brand crumble when it was revealed she had used the ‘n’ word. This went against her whole brand identity and she has yet to this day to recover.
The lesson that Trump and others serve is that by being consistent with a brand identity forged over the year will allow a brand to weather the worse of scandals and allow for even greater success. Having no brand identity or going against an established brand identity is a recipe for disaster.
Startups are emerging everyday. A lasting impact of the Great Recession is the number of people starting companies on their own. One of the key things that these new companies need is publicity.
- It gets the company’s name out to the public, creating brand awareness.
- It allows the company a chance to attract investors.
Yet despite knowing this many startups struggle over what they need to do to achieve publicity. Sometimes they launch a publicity campaign before they are ready for prime time or other times they try to incorporate a variety of components in their publicity campaigns instead of concentrating on the two most important pieces of startup publicity – media relations and the company blog.
Media relations and the company’s blog are without a doubt, the most essential public relations pieces for any startup. Without those two pieces nothing else matters, in terms of publicity.
Media relations is quite simply news stories featuring the startup and its founder. It informs the world of the new company and the wonders that it can do. Beyond that, a successful media relations campaign should position the founder of the company as the expert in the field the company specializes in. The founder should be in all news stories dealing with his or her field and offering solutions to the problems that the media is discussing. This implies a third party endorsement by the media. Media relations must be ongoing to create a sense of awareness and repetition. Media relations is the most efficient way to create public brand awareness and draw the attention of investors.
The company blog is the other critical public relations component for a startup. Why? First every blog post attracts traffic to the company’s website and also helps in search engine results. Beyond that, just as with media relations, it sets the company up as an industry expert that helps in the long-term branding of the company. Finally, it converts leads into customers.
Public relations is critical to the success of startups. But knowing what to put the emphasis on in a publicity campaign can determine if the startup succeeds or fails. Every start-up when executing its public relations campaign needs to emphasize media relations and the company blog.
The 2016 political conventions are upon us. Unlike political conventions of the past, the suspense is gone on who will be the nominee and no intense battles over party platforms are fought out at the conventions. The political convention in this day and age is in many ways an infomercial for the presidential nominee and their political party. Yet millions of Americans still tune into the convention. Yet the way they tune in to obtain coverage is one studied intensely by businesses so that they can copy the methods to reach the consumer.
Political communications leads businesses in new ways to reach consumers and position their brands. In 1920 and 1924, radio came of age covering the Republican and Democratic conventions. Businesses paid note of that and the increasing number of Americans who owned a radio. The result was that businesses began reaching out to Americans via radio – sponsored shows like Little Orphan Annie(the forerunner of product placements) and direct advertisements. In 1952, as Dwight Eisenhower and Robert A. Taft battled it out for control of the Republican Party, millions were glued to the convention proceedings on television that was just reaching its potential. Again businesses took note that a new way to reach consumers had emerged.
So what can businesses learn from this year’s political conventions?
Social media is king. The television networks have all cut back on their coverage of the conventions (a trend that has been going on for a while now with all of the suspense gone). Americans are paying attention to the conventions not with traditional sources of media (radio, television, or print) but via social media – Twitter and Facebook. This confirms something we have seen over the past several years – social media sets narratives. In fact a tweet or Facebook post often reaches more people than a television broadcast of the proceedings. Beyond that, people react to what they are seeing on social media. The takeaway from this convention season for businesses – social media is only growing stronger as are the ways to use it. A shrewd business leaders will copy what they are seeing at the conventions and use the methods.
Business always follows politics in terms of how to reach consumers. It has been this way since politics became the competitive and partisan profession it is today. Each election cycle offers business leaders lessons on new ways to reach the consumer and make their brand standout. The next two weeks will provide many examples of this – just stay tuned.
Today’s media world is 24/7, and reporters are hungry for breaking trends and stimulating story ideas. Pressure is high for brand communicators to create a steady stream of captivating stories.
A major challenge is that not all news is the breaking kind — and sometimes there’s a drought of fresh information altogether. What’s a brand to do?
Here are the tips to get the coverage you need:
- Don’t depend on someone to hand you newsworthy information; find it. Identify trends that have press buzzing, and figure out how your brand can add an interesting perspective to the conversation.
- Media coverage is cyclic. Flip through a lifestyle magazine in January and you’ll find some version of a “New Year’s Resolutions”, “Healthy Diet Tips” stories. April’s issue? “Springtime”. You can bank on the consistency of seasonal reporting and devise new hooks to sell existing content that will keep your brand relevant.
- Give reporters a complete story idea with multiple points. Even consider referencing a competitor if it’ll strengthen your case (strategically, of course). Journalists don’t have time to take your news and find the missing pieces to make it a trend worth sharing. You have to do the work for them and reap the benefits.
Comedian and television personality, Steve Harvey made the verbal blunder that is resonating around the world while hosting the Miss Universe pageant when he announced the wrong winner. Harvey in announcing the winner of the contest announced that Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez Arevalo was the winner only moments later to announce that she was first runner up and Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurzbach was the actual winner. Compounding the blunder was the fact that Arevalo had already been crowned and had to suffer the indignity of having the crown removed. Social media and traditional media exploded. Conspiracy theories surfaced that it was all a plot to attract attention to the Miss Universe pageant.
Harvey admitted that it was his mistake, calling it a human error and apologized to both contestants which is the proper response in any crisis. He then took to Twitter to apologize again only to misspell both Colombia and Philippines. This created yet another controversy. So great was the gaffe, that Justin Bieber took to Twitter to mock Harvey. With this falling on the start of the slow Christmas news week it is guaranteed to dominate social media and the news for the next few days.
So what should both Harvey and the Miss Universe pageant do in terms of crisis communications?
For Harvey, I would recommend the following strategy:
- An interview on one of the morning television shows explaining what happened and apologizing again. In the interview I would recommend that he use his famed humor in poking fun at himself.
- Use the interview to bring the focus back on the two contestants where it should be and praise them.
- Draft a new correctly spelled apology for social media.
- Personally call Miss Colombia and apologize and send her several dozen roses which knowing him, he probably already has done,
- Stop talking about the incident.
What should the Miss Universe Pageant do?
They should announce that they are having two Miss Universe winners this year. This would come across as a class act and earn the pageant renewed respect.
The one true winner from this gaffe has been Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez Arevalo who has handled the situation with class and tact, applauding the winner and congratulating her and not criticizing anyone. She has been a lesson in grace under pressure.
The Miss Universe Pageant is being talked about more as a result of this then it has been in the past several years. How it and Harvey respond to this crisis will determine do they emerge as true winners or the butt of late night comedians’ jokes for weeks and indeed years.