Playing the Trump Card

by Dan Ward

Donald Trump’s recent free-fall in the polls holds an important lesson for communicators (beyond the obvious “don’t base your entire messaging platform on insults”).

Trump appears to be falling into a common trap that ensnares many communicators:  believing tools are the same as strategies.  Earlier this month, Trump dismissed the need for extensive fundraising, stating “I just don’t think I need nearly as much money as other people need because I get so much publicity … I get so many interviews, if I want them.”

He did generate a tremendous amount of publicity during the primaries, relying heavily on provocative tweets.  That may work in a primary where candidates speak to “the base,” but a general election campaign requires a comprehensive strategy … relationship-building with key influencers, market segmentation and targeted communication, targeted (and expensive) advertising buys, nuanced position statements, direct outreach, and delegation of authority to teams who can spread a candidate’s message through a solid “ground game.”

The same is true in managing a strategic communication campaign for a client or corporation.  Twitter is not a strategy.  It’s a tool.  Publicity alone is not enough to move the needle and drive consumers, influencers, elected leaders and regulators to action.  We need a ground game, too.

It remains to be seen whether Trump’s decision to bring in new campaign leadership will lead to a more comprehensive, and more successful, campaign.  He has an opportunity given the political weaknesses of his opponent.  But if he continues to focus on those weaknesses in two-minute sound bites and 140-character tweets at the expense of a real strategy, his numbers will continue to fall.

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