The race to the White House is often a tired and drawn-out affair, with countless months of dry political debate and endless barrages of fairly banal media sniping, but with very little in the way of actual excitement. The battle between Republican candidate Donald Trump and his Democrat counterpart Hillary Clinton has, in contrast, been compelling stuff – with new bombshells going off on an almost daily basis.
Over the course of his campaign Trump has gone from a rank outsider when the Republic primaries started in February to securing the party’s nomination by the summer (beating all his opponents by a considerable margin). Then as he took on Clinton, despite a steady stream of highly controversial actions, he still seemed to be keeping up with her in the polls. Trump has totally outperformed his rival in terms of media coverage. According to the New York Times he has generated $2 billion worth of free advertising compared with Clinton, who has received the equivalent of just 1.1 billion (Marketwatch). Though the story that has been unfolding over the last few days appears to have put him several percentage points behind, with two weeks still to go there is still plenty of opportunity for one final twist.
From a PR perspective Trump has taken a completely unorthodox approach – flagrantly disregarding the cardinal rules that the vast majority of PR professionals advise. And, as a specialist in the technology PR field, I have to ask if there’s anything about his campaign that we need to learn from (right or wrong).
So what can B2B PR technology professionals learn from Trump’s Campaign?
His slogan “Make America Great Again” appears to have resonated with many voters. It is succinct, straightforward and above all memorable. Regardless of the often racist and xenophobic context in which the Trump campaign has used this line, it is clearly very effective. Prior to the Brexit referendum Nigel Farage employed a similar tactic to get his point across, bringing out his passport nearly every time he was interviewed or involved in a debate. This ‘visual shorthand’ allowed him to get a simple message across to the British public in a way that hours’ worth of detailed dialogue wouldn’t have done.
- Target Audience
Knowing your audience and what they want is an important ingredient in any marketing campaign. Trump is clearly trying to appeal to the US masses who feel disenfranchised and are fed up of the political elite, and for quite a while this seemed to being work very well for him. Understanding how their customer base thinks is exactly what enables a business to promote its products/services. Trump is pushing his vision of better America. Whether this vision will materialise is a whole different story – if a B2B company offered products/services it could not in truth deliver it would create distrust in the brand. That’s the difference between business and politics though (and it was like that long before Trump stood for office).
- Use of social media
Social media is an important tool in any campaign, as we know. Trump’s profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat give him access to an audience of many millions. On Twitter alone Trump boasts over 11 million followers (having more than quadrupled his followers in the last 18 months). According to the Telegraph, since January this year, he has been retweeted 3.5 million times and has had 130 million mentions on Twitter. However, it should be noted that analytical studies now suggest that a very large proportion of his Twitter following consists of automated accounts and these bots have exaggerated Trump’s online support. Whilst Twitter is not enough on its own to win a presidential election (or to ensure the ongoing commercial success of a B2B company) this, and other leading social media platforms, are now recognised as a major component in any integrated campaign.
- Crisis management
Crisis management is all about being responsive when event occurs that could harm your business. Trump has had to deal with quite a lot of this in recent weeks. But again he has completely challenged traditional PR practices here. Rather than issuing an unreserved apology and trying to make amends for his misdemeanours, he has instead tried to refocus attention on his presidential rival’s husband (stating that the things that Bill Clinton did while in office were far more serious, and by association Hilary Clinton is not in a position to condemn anyone). In recent days he has also started to cast doubts on the integrity of the US electoral system. Any B2B company who reacted in a similar way would be breaking the fundamental principles of PR. Firstly don’t try to excuse a mistake, apologise and then set about resolving the situation. Secondly, do not lower yourself by criticising the competition, as it never looks good.
Though Trump seems to defy all logical thinking when it comes to his PR strategy, he has still managed to remain a politic threat and even now it is not totally unfeasible that he could be resident in the Oval Office next year. Despite the question marks about his tax arrangements, the recording of him bragging about his sexual conquests and more recently the allegations of assault, he is still not out of the picture – when just one of these scandals in isolation would have finished off any normal presidential hopeful. What differentiates ‘Trump PR’ from what the rest of us do is that B2B companies are in it for the long term – not just until the 8th November. Trump doesn’t have to worry about his reputation being damaged by anything he says or does in this campaign, whereas a B2B company can’t afford that luxury – acquiring a bad name in the industry will be a hindrance for decades.
Whether Donald Trump’s nonconformist PR tactics will enable him to take the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue still remains to be seen. But whatever happens it has made for very entertaining viewing.