It seems that these days, when we think about politics and the nail-biting race to the White House, we think of Donald Trump. Whether we love him or hate him, the fact that we are constantly thinking of him is intentional … on his part.
In the fall of 2015, when campaign season was just getting underway, my colleague Kathy O’Brien covered PR takeaways from The Donald’s scorched-earth strategy. His campaign was just heating up, and his bold approach to running a campaign was fascinating to America. There’s no doubt he has clearly turned the campaign communications playbook on its head. The old rules of delivering only polished, focus group-approved messaging just don’t apply.
But now that we’ve all endured countless debates, TV interviews, Twitter wars and more this election season, we’ve come to recognize his use of “shock value” and his provocative, aggressive way of communicating. The battle lines have been drawn, and we’ve made up our minds as to whether we say #VoteforTrump or #NeverTrump. Therefore, it’s clearly time we discussed some “Communications Dos and Don’ts” from Donald Trump.
Do Know Your Brand: This is probably the biggest driver of how The Donald can “get away” with doing and saying things that you or I can’t. He’s spent 40-plus years honing and cultivating an image as a tough-talking, brash, successful dealmaker, for which he is now reaping the rewards. Do you know your brand? What about your law firm’s brand? If not, you’d better get started. Identifying your law firm’s core values and differentiators is the first step in telling its story to the world and helping it become a lasting and memorable brand. Brands and reputations aren’t built overnight, but once you start working on them, you’ll see how they appreciate over time.
Don’t Be Shameless: How would the wall between U.S. and Mexico actually work? How would Trump force Mexico to pay for it? How is the idea of banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. even remotely plausible on a legal or logistical level? We have not gotten actual answers to these questions from Trump, yet any time he says something inflammatory, the media fan the flames, and we gobble it up. Trump knows too well that such statements aren’t backed up by any sort of fact, but they are a tactic he is using to win ratings and get coverage. Because any coverage is good coverage, right? In legal marketing, this is a tool that should never be used. Being media-savvy is one thing; being totally shameless in what you will say to get media attention is another. Blatant shamelessness will harm your legal reputation in the long run. It just doesn’t pay.
Do Be Authentic: While Trump’s outlandish, outrageous (i.e., shameless) statements attract some loyal followers, they anger many others. Yet, the root of such statements – the concern for our country and desire to “make America great again” – showcases Trump as someone who is truly worried about the safety and security of our country. Outlandish as he is, he comes across as authentic. His delivery style in interviews and debates – short sentences, few adjectives – is also relatable to many Americans fed up with long-winded politicians. And his delivery – often rambling, not rehearsed or read off a teleprompter – makes him seem like a regular guy, which is all intentional. The takeaway here? For many lawyers who worry about sounding too rehearsed in a presentation, or too lawyerly in a media interview, The Donald’s authenticity is something to keep in mind. Sometimes off-the-cuff and slightly unpolished can help you connect to your audience.
Don’t Name-call: Like your mother said, just because someone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should, too. I don’t think we need to get into specific examples here, but you know what I mean. Whether in court, at a partner/ associate lunch, on social media or in a media interview, name-calling is juvenile and not beneficial to anyone. If an attorney is trying to cultivate an aggressive stance and thinks name-calling may help enhance that, it won’t! There are plenty of other, more age-appropriate ways to do it.
I think we can all agree that very few people can get away with imitating The Donald’s unique communications style, but that he is a fascinating case study to watch this election season. He is unlike any other candidate in recent history in his communications strategy and media approach, his background, and the way he is both absolutely loved and vilified by so many. Because of that, he has totally thrown the Republican party and American politics for a loop.
Do you see other do’s and don’ts to add to the list?