Right, I know what you are thinking…
I know you probably want to slap me for giving the man any credit or praise and I probably shouldn’t. Really this is not about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, this is about giving credit where it’s due to Kellyanne Conway. This is analyzing and evaluating the PR practices, tools and strategies of Donald Trump’s pre-election campaign not his success as a president. This is acknowledging Hillary Clinton’s mistakes and campaign flaws.
What is crucial to remember – not every Trump voter is a white sexist nationalist. As Trump said it before, he is the least racist person and he loves women. So how did Trump’s team make this happen?
The consistency of Message
Unless you live under a rock or somewhere remote like that, you’ll most likely will know the main slogans and key pressure points of Trump’s campaign – ‘Make Amerika Great Again’, ‘we will build a wall’, ‘there will be so much winning’ and the infamous and post-inauguration especially ironic ‘we will drain the swamp’. Looking back at previous elections, the candidates that came across more authentic to the public were the ones to win the election.
“(…) the more often a credible message is repeated, the more likely it is to be heard and picked up.” – Gregory, 2006 p. 115
Contrast this with Hillary Clinton. Some people/voters did know what Hillary’s message and campaign slogan was, but a lot of people didn’t. Sometimes, I think Hillary and her team didn’t really know what she stood for, as she introduced numerous versions of Hillary Clinton during the campaigning process. First, she was the ‘new Hillary’, then she was the mother and grandmother fighting for women and breaking the glass ceiling. From there she was the ‘most experienced Hillary’ furthermore she shifted towards the millennials and became the ‘progressive Hillary’. With every shift, she gained some voters but also lost the audiences she had attracted prior. Most importantly, she lost the trust of the voters because some were wondering if she was either of the personas she was so successfully staging.
From a PR perspective, a brand needs to be telling a story, yes, Trumps story was not a pretty one, but his ‘story’ was present on all his social media platforms (including his website) and in every interview or rally he did. People knew what he stood for and this, therefore, created loyalty to his brand, wheater or not voters agreed with every Trump’s claim is a completely different story. With how saturated the market is, a brand needs to have something for the consumers to ‘buy into’. This also meant that, for example, when the audio tapes of the bus incident leaked, people kind of already expected that from Trump and his brand, therefore, he was able to overcome that and carry on with the campaign. In the meantime, Hillary was claiming to be a lot of personas, while an FBI investigation was hanging over her head.
Use of simple language
1. How coherent and easily understandable is your message?2. How easy is it for someone else to relay the message to another person?
3. How can your communication make itself replicable without your involvement and gain further coverage? – Green, 2008 p. 57
Usually, I wouldn’t praise someone for using simple language but reports from The Independent showed that Trump during his campaigning spoke approximately to the primary school level. It would be easy for anyone to dismiss this, however, this actually worked out in Trump’s advantage, because he made his arguments simple for his audiences to understand and spoke in a way that enabled the audience to engage with. Whether the people agreed or disagreed with Trump’s statements or policies, his strategy to speak directly to people and avoiding complex political terminology enabled him to succeed. In the past use of unnecessary terminology has been seen to create a divide between the candidates and the voters.
Nose for news
As PRs, every time we send out a press release or contact a journalist, we should be asking ourselves ‘is this news?’. Donald Trump made sure whatever he did was news. Really it’s PR 101. I will admit that it’s not clear if Donald himself realised this or if he was simply making the news due to his persona.
NY Times reported that Trump received $2 billion worth of free media during his campaign. I would assume by the inauguration the number were probably even higher. Trump generated and created stories during his campaign, therefore, gaining free advertising. How many political candidates can say that their rallies were broadcasted fully on national news channels? Why spend money on advertising, if your client is already 100% of the programs your audience is watching?
“Simply put, the Trump phenomenon is more newsworthy,” Tyndall says. “Compared with her, he is more accessible, more outlandish, more entertaining, more flamboyant, more unpredictable and, by far, a more radical departure from political norms . . . By contrast to his, her campaign has been so buttoned-down, and covered as such.” (It hasn’t helped Clinton that until recently she has been allergic to giving news conferences.) – Washington Post
Realistically, media has a great effect on voter’s decision making. Trump being constantly featured on TV made him familiar (contrary to his other Republican opponents). Thus, voters had far more strong opinions and knowledge of Trump than any other candidates. I know what, you’re thinking, but, Simona, not all news stories about Trump were positive during the campaigning period. It’s true. However, when you compare it to Hilary, unfortunately, she was already getting less screen time and furthermore most of it was the FBI investigation related.
‘Trumping’ social media aka the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters
I aplogise about the cringy pun, haha.
If social media these days isn’t part of every PRs strategy they are not doing their job right. End of story.
Trump’s winning social media marketing formula:
1. Brutal honesty;
2. Sticking to social media norms;
3. ‘Owning’ Twitter;
4. Relied on audience engagement;
5. Powerful brand positioning;
6. Touch of emotion;
7. Customer management;
10. Rinse and repeat. – Socialbeat
When I think of the current president of USA, I instantly associate him with Twitter. Donald Trump spent virtually nothing while making the most of his free publicity. Furthermore, he was consistent with his brand and avoided any political pablum, he said what he thought in simple words to those most interested to hear from him. The other Trump’s opponents took a more traditional approach to their social media strategy and Trump was kind of just ‘sailing’ trough.
Unfortunately, for this presidential election (and society in general) people more than ever have been getting their news from social media (it has improved since inauguration with the rise of, for example, NY Times subscriptions) like Facebook and Twitter, which is where Trump was the most active. This created to what some refer to as ‘facebook loop’ where Trump’s activity and posts on social media ‘make news’ and then those news stories are then circulated and shared across social media platforms generating great chatter and attention to Trump.
Engaging with an online audience makes for conversion rates to increase, turning them into potential buyers of the product. With Trump and his ‘brand‘, it was clear what the audience expected from him. When he delivered during a late night twitter storms, which he was mocked for including by me, each tweet opened the floodgates to thousands of replies and the more buzz these gathered the more media coverage Trump gained.
Knowing your audience
“When you understand your audience— those people who will become your buyers (or those who will join, donate, subscribe, apply, volunteer, or vote)—you can craft an editorial and content strategy just for them.” – Meerman, 2011 p. 60
While Hillary was dipping in and out of different audiences Trump was working toward appealing to the silent masses – the voters with a clear aversion towards political elite, and the unstable economy. Furthermore, his campaign early on established and identified how and what these people wanted to hear.
““One thing that Trump does is he will combine two or three issues in a single statement or proposal. Now, he may be muddling them, but it doesn’t matter because it activates groups that are interested in all of the above,” Speiser said. “Like how he’ll conflate crime and gun violence with immigration. It may not be true, but the fact that he says it excites groups whose top issues are crime or guns or immigration.”” – San Francisco Chronicle
Celebrity and businessman status
“But, in the end, it may come down to the deep American ambivalence toward business and businessman, always lurking in the back of our politics. In our populist heart, we don’t like them, in our aspirational head, we envy them. In our very modern stomachs, we rightly fear them. And in our romantic fantasies, if we could actually be a successful businessman, a blowhard with plane and trophy wife, there are, and it really isn’t that surprising, a lot of people who would choose to be Donald Trump.” – USA Today
The society we live in is obsessed with celebrity to the point where it has become borderline worship. My celebrity media lecturer actually has a book on this topic, for those interested in the issue. Trump’s success on The Apprentice automatically elevated him to a celebrity status. This, of course, helped with reaching those audiences, saving on advertising and helped portray him as a truth-talking problem solver.
Furthermore, in the book ‘Why Irrational Politics Appeals: Understanding the Allure of Trump’ Fitdzduff explains also how Trump’s businessman status further elevated his persona as people perceived his businessman status with leadership and therefore qualification.
This familiarity and ‘trust’ in the Trump brand is why he was able to overcome incidents that would have completely destroyed any other candidate. Voters saw these events as Trump being Trump and saw this as him making mistakes.
I’m just like you or #relatable
During the campaign process, Trump created a notion of making mistakes and the public sort of being okay with this because of the relatable persona that the Trump brand was created to be. This allowed the voters to feel like they ‘knew’ Trump. It’s all the factors mentioned above that created Trump as one of the people fighting for the people. He was connected and constantly present like an old friend or an annoying back itch.
For many of his supporters, the fact that Trump did not sugar-coat problems, and sincerely made fun of many of the abhorred politicians, was reason enough to give him their vote. Ironically, these shrewd PR tactics managed to position the billionaire elitist as a “man of the people.” – Think As One
Overall, I can’t say I was very excited with the election results, but as a PR professional, I believe it is important to acknowledge this so as an industry and a society we can learn from this experience to ensure that this never happens again! And in a manner that I believe is not very ‘Trump’, I encourage you to spread some kindness!