Blog post,  Communications professional,  Leadership

Love him or hate him, there are lessons we can learn

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Donald Trump was a master of manipulating the media during his time in office, and this week he has shown again why his message can reach the masses. As we watch the headlines about his ‘historic court appearance’ for fraud charges, let’s put aside our feelings for the man and see what we can learn.

Lesson #1: Don’t underestimate the power of a catchy phrase.

From “Fake News” to “Witch Hunt,” Trump is a master of coming up with simple, memorable phrases that his supporters can rally around. You can already see the message this week will be “an insult to our country”. Focusing on creating a clear, concise message that resonates with our target audience is key to creating cut-through. A little controversy also goes a long way to getting a media headline.

Lesson #2: Stay on message.

No matter what was happening in the news cycle, Trump always seemed to find a way to bring the conversation back to his key messages. He is the master of the bridging technique. When trying to get your point across in the media (or in a meeting), it is important not to get distracted by shiny objects or questions that aren’t on topic. Bringing the conversation back ensures you get your point across and increases the chances of your messages getting through.

Lesson #3: Be ready to pivot.

That being said, there are times when you need to pivot and adjust your messaging in response to new information, a changing environment or even a different audience. Trump continues to shift any negative narrative to frame himself as the victim of a political witch hunt. Yet, regardless of what accusations are thrown at him, he is able to shift his approach while sticking to the strategy. We can’t take a cookie cutter approach. We all need to be able to adjust our messaging while still staying true to our overall approach.

Lesson #4: Know your audience.

One of the reasons Trump is so successful at manipulating the media is he knows his audience inside and out. He knows what they want to hear, and how to deliver it in a way that resonates with them. He isn’t trying to reach everyone, just his target audiences. We need to ensure we know who we are talking to, what they are interested in and take time to and craft messaging that speaks directly to their needs and concerns. Generic messages trying to meet everyone’s needs won’t be as effective.

Lesson #5: Be transparent and ethical

Finally, if this week has taught us anything, it is that hiding the truth and covering up the stories you don’t want to reach the media results in a court date. Trump’s unethical behaviour has been called out in the charges against him. Unethical behaviour ultimately erodes trust with the public and the media. When we have an issue, we need to be open and honest with our audiences, even when the news isn’t good or when it doesn’t show our organisation in a good light.

While there are certainly things to criticise about the media’s coverage of Trump (like the endless volume of coverage!), there are also valuable lessons to be learnt in his approach to managing the media. By focusing on clear messaging, staying on message, pivoting when necessary, knowing our audience, and being ethical, we can create impactful communications that reach the right people.

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