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The second debate: A look at Donald Trump’s messaging

In the coming weeks and months, Red Fan will be expanding the purview of this blog to incorporate even more content and commentary, covering politics, pop culture, current events and breaking news, investigative reports and studies on relevant topics and interesting industries, and whatever else gets our collective fingers moving on our keyboards.

There are times when we might dive into some potentially sensitive topics: for instance, this historically ugly, polarizing and fast-approaching presidential election. We will do as much as we can to accurately reflect the news, discuss how we as an agency view the events of the world through a public relations lens and provide actionable takeaways that can benefit your business.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum this election cycle, Sunday night’s debate may have elicited painful and altogether forgettable memories of a shouting match you had in third grade over who was first in the lunch line, and which ended with your teacher telling you to say one nice thing about your nemesis.

Indeed, grade school conflict resolution strategies were on full display in the second presidential debate Sunday night at Washington University in St. Louis, which the media will be dissecting until the next time Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton bash heads in a couple weeks. Already we’ve seen multiple stories analyzing Mr. Trump’s and Sec. Clinton’s body language throughout the hour and a half town hall—where both candidates were free to roam the stage as they chose—some interesting Twitter hashtags, analytics that saw Trump gain 16,000 more followers to Clinton’s 25,000, and these hilarious tweets about the real savior of American democracy: Ken Bone.

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Twitter Government, the team at Twitter responsible for monitoring and analyzing government and election conversations, noted that Trump dominated share of voice at 64 percent. The content was more or less what we expected out of a debate. That is to say, we learned very little about each of the candidates and even less about their policies.

One thing we did learn, or what was at least reinforced from an internal communications perspective, is the need for a consistent platform that can push unified messaging to voters. The lack of cohesion between Trump and Indiana Governor Mike Pence on their policies around the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo was on full display Sunday, and is one of many discrepancies in responses each has given to the media since Pence was named to the ticket. (Here’s a link to the Washington Post’s Trump/Pence divergence tracker, which lists at least 17 points in the last couple months where the two publicly diverged on messaging).

Toward the end of the debate, ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz questioned Trump and Clinton about how they would handle the crisis in Aleppo (here’s the full transcript). After Raddatz reminded Trump of Pence’s comments, which are also available in the transcript, Trump said, “OK. He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.”

Trump went on to elucidate his disagreement with Pence. Then, Monday on CNN, Gov. Pence disagreed that he and Trump disagreed, commenting that Raddatz had misrepresented his statements. Even if that’s the case, Trump’s outburst Sunday is problematic, if for no other reason than he publicly admitted that he hadn’t spoken to his vice presidential candidate on a major policy issue.

Then, former CIA Director James Woolsey, who advises the Trump campaign on national security, refused to clarify the campaign’s position on Aleppo, telling CNN, “I’m not telling you one way or the other. The candidates are the ones who are going to communicate the policy decisions to the public, not me.”

Presidential nominees and their running mates or advisers disagree all the time on policy and approach, but it’s rare to see this much discord and open disagreement on messaging in a political campaign.

Sure, there will be some disagreement or movement on policy and the issues, but much of that happens behind closed doors, not in a national debate with tens of millions of viewers. Like any brand or business, it’s critical for a campaign to push a unified messaging platform that can a) help audiences get a grasp on your real position with clarity; and b) inspire them to believe you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do.

Instead, audiences are left confused and distrustful of a campaign’s platform and messaging.

Do you think the GOP ticket’s convoluted messaging is pushing enough voters away to cost Trump the election in a landslide? Sound off in the comments below.

Photo credit: The Atlantic

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