How to Craft Your Message for Team Trump

It’s never a good thing when clients express uncertainty. I’ve been hearing lots of jitteriness in the wake of the presidential election results.

Most businesses and associations felt relatively comfortable with their reach into the Clinton transition team (with the exception, of course, of those interests diametrically opposed to what she stands for; yet even there, familiarity provided some degree of solace). Donald Trump’s election upset the apple cart to an unimaginable extent. Few organizations had deep ties to team Trump. Add to that the president-elect’s mercurial nature, and even those of his own party are a bit flummoxed.

[For a treatment of what you should already have checked off your list—or at least be doing right now—read “What’s Your Message for the New Administration?”]

This high level of uncertainty has led me to find new ways to help clients and prospective clients on two fronts. First, I’ve rounded up an informal group of Beltway insiders to compare notes on who’s who in the coming administration. As of this writing, some of the big names have been announced. But the rubber really hits the road when appointments for deputies, undersecretaries, and the like begin. Those are the individuals who will sort through and in many cases decide the nuts and bolts of news laws and regulations.
What does that mean to businesses with public policy interests? The fun has just begun. Unless you already have an “in” with the cabinet secretary overseeing your interests, you really need to heed the thousands of lower level federal appointments. That’s why I’m keeping a finger on this pulse as a service to clients.

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The second front involves what in many cases is a reconfiguring of your public policy messages. Your government affairs staff, aided by your communications team, should right now be giving code red priority to this effort. The cruel fact is many organizations don’t have the horsepower to get the job done quickly, successfully, and correctly.

How can you go about assessing your capabilities in the face of this new political environment? You have a few messaging options:

  • Add in extra context to your messages. It is important to bear in mind that many of these new government officials will have little if any government experience. That matters. A lot. Government cannot be run like a business. Sure, certain principles may be useful. But government exists to do things the private sector cannot or will not do.
  • Educate the new arrivals. They have probably never run anything as large and complex as a government bureaucracy (a word I use with no malign intent). They may have little understanding of the fact that they will have 535 overseers on Capitol Hill, each with their own fiefdom and each or whom is likely to be thoroughly unimpressed with another deputy underassistant secretary.
  • The duck and cover approach. Some businesses are already following this method, doing their best not to enter the president-elect’s line of sight. Do you think it’s fun or profitable to be the target of a nasty tweet? If you need a reference, just ask the CEO of Boeing.
  • Reassess your legislative and regulatory goals. The landscape has changed dramatically. Those who thought they had a good plan of attack with a Clinton administration are now stuck with no battle plan and no ammunition. If your views are more friendly to the incoming crew, do you want to change and make more aggressive asks? If your organization was on the losing side, should you pare back your public policy goals?
  • Crisis planning. One vivid example here: If you are a green organization (anything from the Sierra Club to a large corporation that has seen the wisdom and business benefits of going green), how can you counter an inevitable attack from an Environmental Protection Agency nominee who not only opposes your viewpoint, but denies problems even exist?
  • Attitude adjustment. Internally, you may need to recalibrate your advocates and your workforce in order to lessen the odds of an organization-wide depression. What message should you send to your own troops?
  • Keep things the same. Burying your head in the sand will do you no good (unless you happen to represent an association of ostriches).
    These are but a few of the possible methods for messaging in these new times. The hard truth is you need experts capable of shaping your messages quickly, successfully, and correctly.

I encourage you to do three things with this information:

  1. Get moving.
  2. Share your thoughts in the comments section on this page.
  3. Contact me directly for help. Here’s my direct line: (540) 955-0600. Use it. Today.

 

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for your thoughts, Ashley. You hit the nail on the head with the word “uncertainty.” Look no further for proof than today’s Washington Post headline above the fold on page 1: “Surprise pick reveals an unorthodox style: Trump wasn’t happy with State finalists. Then he heard a new name.” And you’re right about preparing clients for the worst. Smart companies are already reassessing their messaging and developing administration contacts. The others who are observing with their fingers in the wind? Well, good luck.

  2. Great post! Crisis communications planning is key even when the threats are known, let alone the uncertainty this administration presents. If nothing else, professional communicators will be busy helping clients prepare for the worst.

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