Every presidential administration just like every business needs crisis communications at some point. For the Trump Administration, the need is coming earlier than most (not even a month into the Administration). The Administration has been beset by numerous mistakes (Michael Flynn, alternative facts, the CIA visit, the Australia phone call) that have overshadowed its successes. So what should the Administration do in terms of crisis communications?
- Limit President Trump’s media exposure. One of the great powers of the presidency is the President himself. But he has been everywhere all at once. The Administration needs to limit his media exposure to one major event a day that coincides with the message of the day.
- Replace Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary. Spicer is serving as both White House Communications Director and Press Secretary. He has become a parody in his role as White House Press Secretary through the Saturday Night Live Melissa McCarthy portrayals and has lost some credibility with the media that he works with on a daily basis. Retain him as White House Communications Director but bring in a respected person as Press Secretary to give the White House a fresh approach in its press dealings.
- Now that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned, the Administration needs to replace him quickly with a well-respected individual that will command respect in the media, with the public, and policy makers.
- Stay on message. Too often the Administration has fallen off of its message and got caught in needless distractions. It needs to avoids this.
- Refocus on its campaign pledge of tax reform, infrastructure and creating jobs.
- Limit the President’s Twitter use (perhaps impossible). While reaching voters it creates needless news stories for the Administration.
- Carefully vet all facts released. Mistaken facts or alleged false facts (Bowling Green Massacre) are doing untold damage to the Administration’s credibility. The media is giving everything greater scrutiny so this means the Administration cannot make mistakes with facts.
- Have Mike Pence, Reince Preibus, and Cabinet members be the main talk show spokespersons.
- Avoid lashing out at critics be it judges or Saturday Night Live as that creates an unnecessary news story that the media latches on to with a fervor.
- Have the message of the day come through one central source, preferably the chief of staff’s office as was done in previous Administrations.
Righting course after a few difficult weeks won’t be hard for the Trump Administration. But to do so means employing a strategic crisis communications plan.
Small and medium sized businesses while knowing they need a public relations strategy often do not include a crisis communications plan in that strategy. Many of these businesses believe crisis communications plans are only for major corporations and they will never face a crisis that needs a detailed response. In this highly polarized political climate and social media driven world nothing could be more mistaken.
Recently I was called upon to help a medium sized engineering firm that was caught in the firestorm and fallout from the feud between Donald Trump and Congressman John Lewis. We all remember Congressman Lewis, a Civil rights icon saying he would not attend Donald Trump’s inauguration as he did not see Trump as a “legitimate president” and Trump’s Twitter response. Partisans on both sides jumped into the fray. One who did so was a county commissioner in Gwinnett County, Georgia who posted on his personal Facebook page a post claiming that Congressman Lewis was a “racist pig” among other things. Of course nothing goes unnoticed on social media and soon the traditional media was involved. Most of the media was focused on the commissioner and his fellow commissioners as he was an elected official. He also is a contract employee with an engineering firm. There was no major viral footprint linking him to the company. One industrious blogger however found the connection and began broadcasting the fact to his followers and the media. This company has extensive contracts with local municipalities and is actually minority owned. It was totally unprepared and unaware of the firestorm that was to erupt.
The first sign of trouble was when the company began receiving phone calls from the public demanding to know how they could employ such a person and threatening demonstrations outside of its office. Soon their social media sites were under attack by people posting comments attacking the company for ever having employed such a person. This was soon followed by media phone calls. Employees knew something was happening but not sure what was happening nor what the company was doing. The company had no basic crisis communications plan to deal with any of this and lost a news cycle.
Addressing this crisis was a top priority and one that any sized company should learn from. Among the items instituted were:
- Determining a company spokesperson.
- Developing a social media response for the negative posts.
- Informing employees what was going on and how the company was responding, as well as how they should handle any inquiries they might receive and who to refer it too.
- Developing a social media policy for company employees (remember what employees post on their personal pages reflect upon the company and can become the basis of a crisis).
- Developing a formal response to media inquiries that included condemning the post and hand delivering an apology to Congressman Lewis.
- Informing clients and vendors of what was going on and how the company was responding.
- Announcing that the company was conducting another sensitivity class for all employees.
As quickly as the firestorm had erupted it died down. In fact the company began earning praise by addressing the issue and issuing an apology. While the story continued to dominate headlines, the company was no longer mentioned or a part of the narrative.
So yes, small and medium sized businesses, when you develop your public relations strategy, you need to include a basic crisis communications plan as part of that strategy. In this day and age with social media and polarization, the chances of a crisis hitting a company regardless of size increases daily. If a company ignores that, they do it at their own peril.
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.
Businessman and reality television star, Donald Trump appears to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. This became all but official with the exit of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from the Republican presidential race following a devastating defeat in Indiana. Love Trump or hate him, he has shown on the stump some valuable public relations lessons that CEOs would be wise to copy. Trump demonstrated:
- Consumers will buy a brand that is consistent with its brand story.
- The power of social media.
- Stay on message no matter what.
When Trump entered the Republican race for president few took him seriously. There was much speculation that he was running as a publicity ploy and would not actually qualify. If he did run, experts stated he would need to refashion himself from the politically incorrect, Donald Trump that everyone knew from the tabloids and Celebrity Apprentice. Yet he did the complete opposite. He doubled down on his politically incorrect brand with his feud with FOX’s Megyn Kelly, calls for banning Muslims from entering the United States, and building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out. Corporate sponsors of Trump’s bailed in the wake of the controversy. Yet Republican voters loved it and catapulted him into the lead and eventually crowned him as the nominee. Contrast this with Hillary Clinton who has reinvented herself several times this campaign cycle and has yet to secure the Democratic nomination against Bernie Sanders and has created greater doubts among voters about what she believes. Being consistent to one’s brand is essential for success. Consumers buy into a brand’s story and Trump understood that. Business leaders need to remember that.
Everyone knows that social media has changed our world. Large numbers of consumers report getting their news from what they read on social media compared to traditional news. Trump understood that. He understood the power of utilizing Twitter to reach voters over the heads of traditional media. One tweet from Trump received more media coverage than television commercials combined of his top rivals. Beyond that, Trump utilized a way to connect with voters over the heads of the media and not through traditional advertising but rather via social media. This created a greater sense of loyalty and feeling of ownership with Trump by voters. Business leaders need to understand the power of social media that Trump demonstrated and harness it to reach their consumers and rely on it more than just traditional advertising.
Finally, Trump understood an age old communication lesson, keep your message to just several points and keep referring to it over and over again no matter what happens or what you are asked. Throughout the campaign, Trump has been consistent with his message to the exasperation of his rivals and the news media. In debates and interviews regardless of what was asked he referred to his main message points while his rivals were thrown off message consistently. Business leaders should remember stay on message regardless of what is asked and always make any question fall back to your main message points.
Donald Trump has reshaped politics in 2016 without a doubt. But he has also taught some valuable communication strategies that CEOs and business owners should study and utilize.
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.
Social media drives narratives. It is becoming the new way that brands reach consumers. An active social media presence is essential for any brand. Brands do shout outs on Twitter and Facebook when they are referred too. Yet one brand had a missed opportunity – Eveready/Energizer batteries.
In the Republican presidential debate, candidates were asked what their Secret Service code name would be if elected. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who has been called low energy by Donald Trump and others said, “Eveready. It’s very high energy, Donald.” Even Trump was forced to laugh.
This was a perfect opportunity for Eveready or its parent company, Energizer to take to social media for the shout out. Instead there was total silence. Energizer has not utilized its Twitter account since August 3rd. Other brands such as Harley, Scott Walker’s choice for a Secret Service name or Duck Dynasty that acknowledged Mike Huckabee’s duck hunter choice also were slow to take to social media.
Brands should remember from this, marketing in this world of social media is 24/7.