How communicators' jobs will change in the Trump era

After a whirlwind two weeks, communicators are getting a sense of how the industry needs to change under President Trump.

From left: Jefrey Pollock, founding partner and president, Global Strategy Group;  Kelly Cushman, EVP, JDA Frontline; Don Baer, worldwide chair and CEO, Burson-Marsteller; KayAnn Schoeneman, SVP, Ketchum; and Jim Papa, EVP, Global Strategy Group
From left: Jefrey Pollock, founding partner and president, Global Strategy Group; Kelly Cushman, EVP, JDA Frontline; Don Baer, worldwide chair and CEO, Burson-Marsteller; KayAnn Schoeneman, SVP, Ketchum; and Jim Papa, EVP, Global Strategy Group

NEW YORK: In the Trump era, communicators’ jobs, from big picture issues like building trust to everyday tasks like pitching media, will have to be done differently.

After a glimpse into the next four years under President Trump, the industry is re-adjusting to address clients’ new needs, said panelists at a PR Council and Global Strategy Group event in New York on Friday.

Much of the discord stems from a lack of trust between the public and institutions, like corporations or political figures. This distrust takes an additional blow now that Trump regularly makes scapegoats of corporate giants like General Motors and Boeing on Twitter. Don Baer, global CEO of Burson-Marsteller, said communicators need to show that their companies will help the American people.

"From the corporate side of things, especially because of the economic crisis, [the public] came to doubt that anyone cared about their success," Baer explained. "I try to advise clients to find ways we can demonstrate that [a company’s] success is going to be shared, that we do better when we all do better. More and more companies are stepping up to that and understanding that."

Kelly Cushman, EVP at JDA Frontline, suggested that simply reacting won’t cut it anymore when Trump has no problem calling out a company’s wrongs on Twitter.

"The use of Twitter over the past few months has transformed from a social platform to a platform to get out the perfect sound-bite that doesn’t require you to give any other details about what you're tweeting about," she said.

Cushman said that to "avoid being the next automotive folks on Twitter" companies need to integrate the government affairs function with the rest of the business and be more proactive in their communications.

"When the president tweets at you, that’s an invitation for engagement and you have to capitalize on that," she added.

Trump is also changing how communicators interact with the media. He has worked to discredit several mainstream media outlets, including The New York Times and CNN. KayAnn Schoeneman, SVP at Ketchum, suggested relying more on other sources of media.

She pointed to the recent addition of "Skype seats" to the White House press briefing, where media outlets from outside of Washington, DC, can virtually attend at the daily briefing, as a sign that communicators should pitch more media.

"The media landscape has been democratized," Schoeneman explained. "We have been working with influencers and bloggers and outside the traditional top tier media. For the first time you have reporters not based in Washington Skyped in. We have to look at not just those big top tier [outlets] the C-suite is reading, but ensure we’re hitting where the consumers are."

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