The Trump School of Communications

“FDR had radio, Bill Clinton had cable television and Donald Trump has Twitter,” quipped former New Hampshire Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu. Sununu was one of four former office holders, along with Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and former Massachusetts Democratic Congressmen Barney Frank and Bill Delahunt, who made up the panel at Perspectives on the 115th Congress, recently hosted by the New England Council.

The new President’s affinity for Twitter was a hot topic among the panelists. A particular focus was a recent Trump interview where he, once again, labeled NATO “obsolete.” Ever the pragmatist, Sununu suggested that Trump’s bombastic nature might just force other NATO members to the bargaining table (which Sununu labeled Trump’s “domain”). If the members end up accepting more of the load, financial and otherwise, which the United States has been shouldering, then Trump will have achieved what he wanted.

Barney Frank suggested the repercussions of the Commander-in-Chief using such language and declarations about a military alliance relied upon for nearly 70 years would be less than ideal and, in the long term, damaging to many of America’s strategic partnerships. Will our NATO allies decide they can no longer count on the U.S.? Will they, for instance, now be more or less willing to follow U.S. guidance on issues involving Russia moving forward?

It’s safe to say that playing the provocateur is rarely the smart move for professional communicators. We would never counsel that bold or outrageous statements are the only way to motivate the other side to meet you half way. So does the President know something about communication that many of us don’t? Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks, as I see them, to pushing the communications envelope, Trump-style.

Benefits:

  1. It will get you noticed and help you cut through the noise.
  2. Much like bargaining for a car or a new home, starting lower than where you realistically hope to land is Negotiating 101 and a means to an end.
  3. It’s one way of sticking your finger in the air to get a sense of where majority opinion lies before making a decision.
  4. You send a strong signal that you are beholden to no one’s agenda but your own.

Drawbacks:

  1. You risk being tuned out by key audiences, or alienating them completely.
  2. You appear undisciplined.
  3. You might be viewed as out of step with the rest of your organization and could infuriate or embarrass your colleagues.
  4. Unless you can convince every client, customer, or patient that you are fighting for them every step of the way, you’ll likely project as self-serving.

How our new President communicates now that he’s in office could very well determine how successful his presidency is judged. We should know more in 60-90 days, insists Sununu, a veteran of the West Wing. While he predicts the Trump administration is in for a “rude awakening”, he also believes there is time for the President to tone down the rhetoric and build the collations necessary to achieve his agenda.

Posted on 01/20/2017 in Government Affairs

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