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Media Savvy: What communicators can learn from Donald Trump's election victory

Blog post   •   Nov 09, 2016 20:55 SGT

Donald Trump's successful presidential campaign contains important lessons for communicators

No one knows what President Donald Trump will be really like in office. In truth, he probably has no idea either. But the Media Savvy blog is not about politics, it's about communications. And there are many lessons communicators can draw from Trump's mostly unexpected victory.

Why draw lessons from a candidate who didn’t exactly distinguish himself with considered policy speeches; a candidate who is better known for sexual assault allegations, racism and misogyny?

Well, let’s try to be philosophical about this. Whether you like it or not, Trump beat out 16 other candidates and received 14 million votes in the Republican primaries. He received more than 58.8 million votes on election night. He has just risen to the highest office of the world’s biggest economy and dominant military power. He has the nuclear codes. Whether you like it or not, he has clearly recorded a measure of success.

So, here are three lessons for senior leaders from his successful campaign:

  1. Listen – communication starts with understanding your audience. That has always been true. Trump’s victory has merely brought it home again. It was a lack of listening by the establishment that appears to have been behind the result. It is self-evident that the outcome of the election is shocking only because we didn't see it coming. The questions senior leaders must ask themselves: what is it that you are unaware of, but should be? Are you listening to your staff? Are you listening to your investors? Does your company listen to its customers? Does your brand stand for listening and responding to the needs of society?
  2. Speak candidly, be authentic – Trump’s populist solutions to complex world problems played well with around half of American voters. That’s not to say senior leaders should emulate that. But by accident or design, Trump didn’t bamboozle his audience with jargon and fancy words. Senior leaders must think about what they must do, what they must say, and how must they say it, to get closer to their constituents. Jargon has always been a no-no in media interviews. Trump’s victory should generally underscore that audiences react more favourably to speakers who call a spade a spade.
  3. Build psychological capital – whether Trump can deliver on his promises is, of course, the big question that no one can answer tonight. But his talk pulled strings in the minds of his many supporters. He presented himself as standing for hope (“Make America great again”) and exonerated his supporters of the responsibility for their failings (“It’s not your fault those steel mill jobs are gone”). He gave them a sense that they could control their destinies, characterising (rightly or wrongly) trade agreements and international alliances as having taken away that control. He inspired his supporters to take revenge against the establishment elites by voting for him.

So, the question senior leaders must ask themselves when it comes to communications is:

  • What hope are you instilling in your constituents, whether staff, investors, customers or the world at large?
  • How are you communicating to your staff that their work is important to your company, and that their jobs are worthwhile?
  • How are you bringing confidence to your staff that they can control their destinies?
  • Do your products and services offer customers the sense that by buying and using them they are part of something bigger and better?
  • Is there a challenge, a problem, a mission that you can enthuse your constituents about, a journey that they can follow you on?
  • Does your corporate vision inspire your constituents to rise to the challenge?

You might reject Trump and everything he stands for. But senior business leaders ignore these communications lessons at their peril. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

Watch Mark Laudi discuss this topic on Media Savvy:

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