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.
Businessman and Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump continues to dominate the media as he has since announcing for president. His latest firestorm is his proposal to ban Muslims seeking to enter the United States. Trump made his proposal as the focus of the campaign has shifted to terrorism following the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Trump’s proposal has created a firestorm with fellow candidates, House Speaker Paul Ryan, former Vice President Dick Cheney, foreign leaders, and the White House all condemning it. Pundits are predicting this latest from Trump will spell his demise. Yet despite this, Trump is not backing down and all campaign coverage is about him drowning out his opponents. So far voters are still backing him and in many ways he seems to have a better understanding of what is motivating voters than experienced politicians.
So how should Trump proceed from a communications point on this proposal?
- Ignore his critics and stand by his proposal. His proposal is audacious, outrageous, decisive, unrepentant, and brash all in one. It also falls in line with what the Trump brand is all about and why so many voters have bought into it.
- Continue in his interviews and the upcoming debates to point out that his plan is no more extreme than Franklin Delano Roosevelt interning Japanese-Americans during World War II. But go beyond that and point out that we are engaged in a real war with radical Islam and during previous times of war that American leaders have gone to extreme – Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War and Woodrow Wilson jailing war critics and deporting radicals during World War I.
- Point out that the job of the President is to save lives and if his action saves one American life and thwarts one terror attack the price is worth it.
- Point out that his proposal is for the duration of the war against ISIS and then will expire.
- Point out that the Obama Administration has failed not only to destroy but even contain ISIS.
- Emphasize that we are war and war is not pretty or politically correct.
- State that he is who he is, he isn’t politically correct but a decisive leader and this is what this nation needs.
- Challenge his critics to show a plan that would be foolproof to prevent terrorists from entering the nation.
Donald Trump has billed his candidacy on the fact that he isn’t politically correct but is a strong leader in a time that America needs just that. With his master showmanship, he has caught the attention of voters by appealing to them on the issues that matter most to them in language that they understand. He has shown that he knows the most important rule of communications – know your audience, a fact the other candidates have failed to grasped. If he communicates his latest proposal convincingly, not only will he be poised to win the Republican nomination but perhaps the White House as well.
Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump has set off yet again another media firestorm. The Republican frontrunner has called for all Muslims seeking to enter the United States to be barred from doing so. This came as the focus of the presidential campaign has turned to terrorism after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California and what many see as the Obama Administration’s ineffectual response to the war on terror. Polls show anti-Muslim sentiment on the rise in the United States as a result of the attacks. Trump’s Republican rivals many condemned his proposal as have other leading Republicans such as former Vice President Cheney. Florida Congressman David Jolly, a candidate for the United States Senate has called for Trump to withdraw from the presidential race because of his stand. Pundits believe that this stunt will cost both Trump and the Republican Party.
So what should the Republican message be in response to Donald Trump?
- Condemn him and his antics once and for all as having no place within the Republican Party. They have become a distraction from serious issues facing the nation.
- Refuse to let him participate in the debates. One of the sources of Trump’s success is his access to free media especially the debates.
- Have House Speaker Paul Ryan address the nation on the Republican position on the war against terror.
- Ryan should point out we are not at war against Muslims but radical Islam in the form of ISIS. In doing so, he should point out how during the Cold War, every President from Truman to Reagan made the point that it was the Soviet system of government not the Russian people that were opposed too. In World War II, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Dwight Eisenhower made it clear that it was the Axis leadership not the peoples of Japan, Germany, and Italy.
- That discriminating against any religion or ethnicity is wrong and goes against not only the values of America but that upon which the Party of Abraham Lincoln was founded.
- Explain that this is a war and there will be civilian casualties. It can’t be fought by words but by strong actions and define how Republicans if elected will differ from both Donald Trump and President Obama in prosecuting and winning the war.
- Arrange for Republican leaders and figures from the Reagan and the two Bush Administrations along with Tea Party leaders to address the Trump issue and state that his words are an insult to the memory of Ronald Reagan and if Reagan was alive today he would denounce Trump.
- Dare Donald Trump to run as an independent if he wants too but let him and the American people know there is no room for him in the Republican Party.
- Use humor to belittle him not his followers.
Donald Trump is a showman and also a bully. In some ways he is reminiscent of Joe McCarthy. Attacking him as Republicans have done by treating him as an equal and with seriousness has failed. Rather they should take a page out of their two greatest post-war Presidents – Eisenhower and Reagan. Isolate Trump and use humor at his expense, in doing that and the above mentioned strategy, Trumpamania will disappear and Republicans will be stronger with America at large and it will be their Sister Soulja moment.
The Friday after Thanksgiving has been branded Black Friday in the public’s consciousness for years as an integral part of the traditional holiday season as the Macy’s Day Parade, Santa Claus, and Thanksgiving. For decades it has signaled the start of the holiday season for retailers with a strong Black Friday signaling strong holiday sales and signs of a robust economy. Consumers have flooded the stores waiting for coveted specials that come but once a year. Retailers have started opening earlier and earlier each year. Now many retailers are open on Thanksgiving Day with some beginning Black Friday sales days and weeks ahead of Thanksgiving. In this day of online shopping many are offering Black Friday discounts online so the consumer can do all of their holiday shopping from the ease of their computer without even leaving home. Plus for those online shoppers who want to wait a bit, there is now Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving for the best online deals.
So from a branding point are retailers hurting themselves with the way they have extended Black Friday? The answer is a resounding yes.
First Black Friday was branded as the day for the best holiday sales that happened but once a year that nothing could compete against. Today consumers no longer believe that. Black Friday is not a special event it has become like one of the billboards you pass time and time again and stop paying attention to after a while. The day no longer has meaning to consumers who begin seeing Black Friday advertised days if not weeks before Thanksgiving itself. So the credibility of retailers who claim that Black Friday deals are the best of the year is strained.
Next retailers stood out and enhanced their brand identity with their fabled Black Friday sales. Consumers would brave the elements to show their loyalty to a retailer who offered those exclusive sales, today all the sales seem the same and the retailers all seem the same except for those who differentiate themselves from the crowd.
Yet retailers that opt to do the opposite are building deeper brand loyalty and attracting even more consumers. Consumers today look for more than just the cheapest price, they buy into a brand’s story and its beliefs. REI made headlines when its announced that its stores would be closed on Black Friday. That move directly appealed to its consumers who frequent the store not for its sales and products (although that plays a role) as much as for what the retailer stands for in this world. Likewise Nordstrom garnered media attention by announcing that its stores would not only be closed Thanksgiving but there would be no holiday decorations in the stores until after Thanksgiving. Discount retailers, Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx, and Homegoods have mounted massive advertising campaigns reminding consumers of Thanksgivings long ago and that all of their stores will be closed Thanksgiving. These retailers and others like them stand out to consumers. Consumers are more likely to seek these brands out on Black Friday as they buy into the story that the discounts offered mean something and that the brand itself is more about profits and the bottom line. Additionally, this strategy is likely to develop brand loyalty not only during the holidays but year round.
Black Friday as we know it may be close to disappearing. Yet retailers and brands that are savvy will honor the tradition knowing that it is smart way to stand out from competitors but beyond that build long lasting consumer loyalty.
Unless a person has been totally hidden from social media or traditional media, they know that Starbucks has unveiled its Christmas season cup. The cup is plain red with the Starbucks logo emblazoned on it. The company kept it simple with the traditional colors of the season in an effort to foster inclusiveness and diversity it claimed. The reaction has been incredible. Many claiming to be leading Christians blasted the company for omitting traditional holiday messages on the cup as in pervious years or missing the reason of the season. In fact the Starbucks holiday cup has been one of the biggest stories on social media and in traditional media. The Starbucks holiday cup has been of the most frequent searches on Google. Starbucks has emerged as a branding winner in this story.
How were they able to make this controversy a winner for the brand?
First they were very measured in their response to critics. Rather than ignore the controversy or go into full crisis mode, they were nuanced. On their website they reiterated their main point of why they were doing the simple red cup. For millions who buy into the Starbucks’ brand story that response just reinforced their belief in the brands. For others, it was a non-story not pitting Starbucks against its critics. And the media could not make a bigger story of the controversy from the company’s response so the story continued to be the new holiday cup and not Starbucks versus its critics.
With the increased noise over the Starbucks’ holiday cup, the Starbucks website saw increased traffic. Starbucks with this increased traffic in mind put its holiday offerings – Christmas blend and other products front and center on the website. What a great way to advertise!
Long term as I mentioned it reinforced the brand identity to its loyal customers. Consumers expect their brands to tell a story and share their values. Starbucks in this holiday cup saga reinforced the social values that so many of its loyal consumers have come to expect from the company.
Finally, Starbucks reaped millions in free publicity. It was a major story in all of the media. Social media is still several days later abuzz with the story. People who know little about Starbucks and its various holiday offerings now do. All achieved at very little cost to the company.
Starbucks has emerged as a major winner with its holiday cup saga. Other brands can learn from it.