Dude, just stop

An extraordinary first week under the new Trump administration in Washington, DC throws up a number of lessons for communicators.

President Trump had a busy week but the optics concentrated on his Tweets [Credit: White House Twitter page]
President Trump had a busy week but the optics concentrated on his Tweets [Credit: White House Twitter page]

Optics matter in all communications and there have been a number of instances this week when the optics have been off, ranging from the President and his administration to his press secretary to celebrities to the media.

It is increasingly difficult in this febrile atmosphere to work out what is fact and what is opinion, especially when the crazy concept of "alternative facts" is introduced to the discussion.

Here are 11 instances this week where the optics have been off and subsequent communications have been impacted:

  • When the spokesperson becomes the story it detracts from the message they’re trying to present – this week, Sean Spicer became the story. No one’s saying he has an easy job, but sometimes the role of the chief communications counselor is to push back at the "boss" and tell them their strategy is wrong.
  • PR trade bodies were moved to issue statements and many PR pros expressed consternation at Spicer's conduct, but he redeemed himself a little on Monday, and in our exclusive podcast this week Richard Edelman said the embattled White House press secretary should be given more time and that the focus will move away from him. We'll see how this plays out.
  • Having Madonna shout from the stage about wanting to "blow up the White House" was not a good look – it detracted from what was a momentous and peaceful demonstration.
  • President Trump calling the media "among the worst human beings on earth" was not a constructive way to interact with The Fourth Estate.
  • A Time reporter inaccurately stating that the MLK bust had been removed from the Oval Office was not helpful. The reporter apologized very shortly after, but the media has to operate to higher standards.
  • Saturday Night Live writer Katie Rich’s comment about Donald Trump’s 10-year-old son Barron was cruel and unnecessary and an even worse look than Madonna’s. Again, it was not helpful.
  • There were probably fewer people attending President Trump’s inauguration live than at previous ceremonies. It really doesn’t matter that much - time to move on.
  • There was a significant and peaceful series of more than 600 Women’s Marches throughout the world last Saturday, 500 in the U.S., one of the largest demonstrations in history involving at least 3.3 million people according to academic researchers.
  • A statement on the Women’s Marches would have positioned the incoming President and administration as inclusive and pivoting to embrace their role as being the "President of all Americans," as Donald Trump previously stated – the optics of the grudging and tardy acknowledgement on Twitter came over as insincere.
  • Similarly, doubling down on the electoral fraud issue diverts attention from the policy agenda the President has aggressively pursued this week and the radical agenda for change that should be dominating the media agenda, rather than crowd sizes, the result of an election that has already been won, and the quality of the inauguration speech.
  • President Trump is paying more attention to business than many – possibly all – previous commanders-in-chief. Our exclusive survey this week showed communicators and marketers are not in the main making any particular plans to increase budgets because of the new administration – they are increasing budgets, but not because of President Trump. Either way, they should all be prepared because anything is possible at the moment.

There’s going to be a vast amount to write about all the radical changes in store for America and the subsequent communications implications, and the media needs to up its standards to retain the credibility to lead on that but, as regards the communication and continuing "Government by Twitter" practiced by President Trump, I echo Republican Congressman Justin Amash's exhortation: "Dude, just stop."

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