Trump and his administration are a brand in crisis. Witness the desperation and lame wish to control the message in this bizarre attempt at a presser by Sean Spicer, the new White House Press Secretary:
I’m not interested in the political calculations here. I want to focus on the marketing communications problems, which are significant.
The White House Press corps is an elite group of seasoned journalists. These are not real estate editors at Fortune or Forbes, this is Washington, D.C.—the nastiest shark tank in this great nation—and these pros can swim. In other words, Trump’s PR playbook is now sorely out of date, and to make matters worse there’s an unwillingness to listen or learn, which in Marcom terms is a death sentence.
We’ve all had to face clients who won’t accept reason, don’t walk a mile in their customer’s shoes and so on with their sheltered, privileged nonsense. A good agency tries to address these matters reasonably, with decks and dinners. A great agency comes ready to battle. In my opinion, a CEO or CMO who knows better than everyone on every point without regard to evidence or persuasion is a client not worth having. But for those who do have these type of clients, it’s imperative to have a plan to create traction and forward progress, and the plan must include unquestionable facts that drive the discussion, or you’ve come to a Dead End.
Yesterday, Trump’s team took hard evidence and spun it in a way that violates reason, radical transparency, and the fact that brands don’t dictate meaning in a hyper-connected world. The notion that the White House can jam the media into a box, and diminish their role (granted to them by the U.S. Constitution, no less), is foolishness on a level rarely seen, even in the clown infested swamp.
What business are we in? Persuasion.
What business is the White House in? Not persuasion.
Apparently, Team Trump is going to go with undiluted disinformation. We are left to wonder why Donald Trump is so enamored with this dark approach to the information arts? Is it his favorite film, Citizen Kane, speaking to him now? Or is it the words of his mentor Roy Cohn, who taught young Donald to never back down, a lesson he also gleaned from his father.
“Never back down” is an old-school way of gaining and keeping power, where payoffs and back room deals play a large role in sustaining an advantage. It works in China and Russia. Thankfully, it doesn’t work well in a world where news is fluid, and often made by citizens armed with powerful news gathering and sharing devices. Even when you want to, it’s not possible to control the message in this media-rich environment, and the Billy Bush incident proves this beyond any doubt.
Information flows like a river plump with rain. Smart brands learn to work their agenda into this mix, but that takes humility and some brands are not endowed with this quality. I don’t imagine that Donald Trump or his team care much about new media realities, or how to build consensus and trust in a time of trouble, but their lack of concern is now drawing daily blood. Perpetrating a disinformation campaign, making lies from hard facts (that you don’t like), and attacking the press are all signs of Amateur Hour on Pennsylvania Avenue.
This is a client that doesn’t know how to appeal to people on a human level. Reagan mastered this. Clinton mastered this. Obama mastered this. Trump? He’s not even making an effort, which is how you lose people.