It’s Not What You Say…

Communications coaching is a two-way street, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly should be advised. What you say and How you say it.

John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, and communications coaching

Photo Courtesy of Infowars.com

Seems Mr. Kelly coached President Trump on what to say to the grieving widow of a fallen soldier.  A 4-Star general and a father who’d lost his soldier son in Afghanistan expressed in somber words and tone, “your husband was where he wanted to be, he knew what he signed up for.” It was a far cry from the cold, dispassionate, insensitive, “joking” President Trump’s uttering of the same words: he knew what he signed up for!

To the press, Mr. Kelly attempted to explain the President’s style, “In his way, he tried to express the opinion that Sergeant Johnson was ‘a brave man, a fallen hero, doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into, what the possibilities were, because we’re at war.’ Mr. Kelly said. ‘And when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.’ That’s what the president tried to say to four families the other day.”

That might have been more comforting to Sergeant Johnson’s wife and mother.

As Los Angeles-based media coaches for over 35 years, we’ve learned that audiences consider the source of the message and listen to how it’s presented.

The ensuing criticism is a case of shooting the messenger and the coach, who failed to consider the spokesperson and his personal style.

John Kelly should make the calls.

Be Ready

“Be ready,” is the lesson marketing executives must now take, according to a recent New York Times article, “Planning for Unexpected Criticism by Trump.” Crisis consultant Andrew D. Gilman, who has counseled such brands as Johnson & Johnson, General Motors and Pepsi during crises advises “prepare for Mr. Trump as you would for a natural disaster — an event that is highly unpredictable but poses a big risk if it happens.”

Photo Courtesy of: bceforensics.com

Photo Courtesy of: BCEforensics.com

Mr. Trump’s trigger-finger tweeting is prompting some brands to preemptively draft informal contingency plans, and others, like H&R Block, to spend money shoring up their reputations. One contingency is to line up a third-party spokesman who can help if the brand’s image is dinged. That is essentially what H&R Block did in signing Jon Hamm, the “Mad Men” star and an H&R Block customer for years.

“The fit between H&R Block and myself,”  Mr. Hamm commented, “seemed copacetic and natural. And the tone of the creative was clever and outside the box for something as humdrum as taxes.” Even before the election, Mr. Trump offered to “put H&R Block out of business” with his plan for a simplified tax code.

And what if your company is trampled?

Scott Farrell, a specialist in corporate branding and the president of Golin Global Corporate Communications, said “The only thing that applies, no matter what the issue, is speed. Slow kills companies fast in a Twitter conversation.”

Vanity Fair’s swift response after Mr. Trump reacted to a negative review of a restaurant in one of his buildings by saying the magazine was “dead” could be an example for others to follow. Mr. Farrell explained, “its message — including banner ads on its website calling itself “The Magazine Donald Trump Doesn’t Want You to Read” and asking for subscriptions — captured the magazine’s voice and identity. More than 40,000 people signed up for new subscriptions.”

“If you’re a CMO, Mr. Gilman, concluded, “you need to put another filter on your plans. Normally, you’d never have to worry about a president singling out your company. Now you do.” Amen.