Time to end the Trump myopia

PR pros are set for a busy few months as CEOs return from holiday asking their communications teams to prepare proactive plans to address what happens if they get "Trumped".

President-elect Trump held his first press conference since the election on Jan. 11 in NYC.
President-elect Trump held his first press conference since the election on Jan. 11 in NYC.

First they said he had no chance of defeating the record 16 other candidates who put up for the Republican Party presidential primaries in 2016.

Then they said he would easily be defeated by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the presidential election in November.

And now "they" are still struggling to deal with the new reality and say he will be lucky to last a year as President, with documentary maker Michael Moore proclaiming he will either resign or be impeached before the end of his first term.

But, like it or not, the plain fact is Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States on Friday next week.

You can draw parallels with the level of respect and discourse on display at Trump’s first press conference since the election, on Wednesday, and President Obama’s ongoing farewell tour, including an emotional presentation to his VP Joe Biden on Thursday of the Presidential Medal of Honor.

You can wonder how a president-elect can survive "#goldenshowergate" allegations, but then reflect that he survived "#pussygate" and some suggest he could have relations with a goat and not put off some of the more rabid elements of his support base.

You can reflect that those working class supporters could be set to lose their healthcare as Trump doubles down on repealing the Affordable Care Act as a first priority, along with building "that" wall along the Mexico border.

However history judges him and his presidency, President Obama is already yesterday’s man and everything that remains concerning his legacy is pure optics.

While the media and liberal elites may be disgusted with the way Trump treated CNN reporter Jim Acosta during the press conference, calling the cable network a purveyor of "fake news" and bullying him in public, the president-elect’s heartland and core supporters loved it.

Former RNC communications director Sean Spicer, now Trump’s press secretary and comms director, has always had a combative relationship with the media, but he’s an experienced operator and knows the way the system works.

He has assumed more of an attack-dog persona in his Trump role, presumably carrying out a brief determined from on high, and Spicer even called on Acosta to apologize for his "rude behavior" when he appeared on Fox and Friends Thursday.

This was despite Fox News host Shepard Smith coming out publicly in support of CNN, saying its correspondents "followed journalistic standards and that neither they nor any other journalists should be subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the president-elect of the United States."

Another strong upholder of the Trump faith is Kellyanne Conway, the first woman to be campaign manager for a Republican presidential candidate. Again, love her or hate her, it is difficult not to be impressed with the way she handles her media appearances, thinks quickly on her feet, and aggressively promotes and defends her agenda. She might not quite make the cut for PRWeek Communicator of the Year in 2017, but she’s certainly made a big impact in the last six months.

Even the somewhat pathetic spectacle of a team of Trump cheerleaders applauding their leader’s pronouncements from the sidelines of his press conference, while it jars with any journalist, works for the wider optics of the viewers, who think a lot of the attendees agree with what’s happening and being said.

As Trump tweeted after the presser:

So it’s time to end the myopia over what has happened and address the fact that everything has changed and everyone involved in communications and the media is facing a new landscape that will require them to adapt the way they operate and do business.

And that may not be a bad thing. Every so often, a chance to reset and completely reevaluate the way things are done is positive.

Our columnist Don Spetner, who acts as a consultant for Weber Shandwick amongst other things, was a guest on this week’s PRWeek podcast and told us he has already been contacted by two major clients whose CEOs want plans in place to address what happens if they get "Trumped."

Getting Trumped in this context is defined as becoming caught up in the cross-hairs of the president-elect, soon-to-be President’s, Twitter-sphere – whether in a negative or, on the surface, positive way.

United Technologies’ air-conditioning subsidiary Carrier, Ford, GM, Boeing, and Amazon are just some of the enterprises to have become embroiled in these shark-infested waters.

L.L. Bean was the latest brand to experience it, when Trump tweeted:

Linda Bean is granddaughter of the outdoor recreation chain’s founder, Leon Leonwood Bean, and a member of the board of L.L. Bean. It was revealed she had donated money to a pro-Trump Super PAC and the brand was quickly targeted by anti-Trump group #GrabYourWallet, which called for a boycott of its products.

L.L. Bean reacted calmly and used Facebook to emphasize that the political activities of Linda Bean do not reflect the larger company. But it illustrates how having Trump endorse your company cuts two ways and I suspect most brands would prefer to simply stay out of the crossfire and be left alone to get on with business.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen, and every brand or organization needs to be prepared to react quickly when such events occur. You can’t spend hours referring to the crisis playbook – you have to be intimately aware of the correct procedures and ready to implement them immediately. That not only requires communications smarts and experience, but also a deep knowledge of social media platforms and new technologies.

It may impact marketing budgets as brands adopt a wait-and-see approach to the new regime and keep their pocket books closed for a while, but I believe it will provide opportunities for PR firms in the agency and consulting sectors that offer corporate reputation and crisis counsel to their clients.

It will also require in-house CCOs from Fortune 500 companies to small independent enterprises to step up to the plate and provide the wise counsel their C-suites and CEOs require.

One thing’s for certain, it’s going to be a wild ride and different to anything communications pros, media, and citizens have experienced before – and the starting gun has been fired long before the official inauguration ceremony next Friday.

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