Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Distraction as a Crisis Communications Tactic - Doing a Trump
When it comes to crisis communications, US President Donald Trump is the master. Time and again during his candidacy, and now during his presidency, Trump has been able to survive attacks that would have ended the political careers of lesser people.
From accusations of groping women to business lawsuits, from misuse of funds to accusations that he colluded with Russia to win the election, each time Donald J Trump has been able to escape by using the tactic of distraction. In each of these incidents, besides denying them, Trump also went on the offensive and gave stakeholders something else to focus on. In some of these instances, the focus was redirected to someone else, while others it remained with him but was redirected to a related but irrelevant issue.
For example, in the case of groping women, instead of the attention being focused on the criminal nature of the allegation (which if proven would have ended with him being arrested, Trump skillfully redirected the issue to become one of him being a lout. This distraction worked as it was first unexpected and the shift was so subtle that the general public would not notice the nudge. Once the lout narrative took off, it would have been impossible to bring attention back to the initial allegation of criminal conduct.
Crisis communicators interested in using the distraction tactic must understand the following:
Firstly, the distraction must be "bigger" than the immediate issue. This is intuitive. If the distraction is not significant, media and stakeholder attention would not shift. This Trump did brilliantly when he accused his predecessor Barack Obama of having ordered a wire-tap on him when Trump's Attorney General (AG) was on the ropes regarding allegations that he had conspired with the Russians.
Secondly, the distraction needs to be something that stakeholders can relate emotionally to. Trump understands people. If the distraction does not trigger an emotional response from the general public, there will be no traction and attention will not be diverted. Once again, Trump's accusation of a wire-tap by a former president did the trick. The mere thought of such an act angered people (never mind if there is no supporting evidence). An analysis of the news today (2 days after Trump's accusation) will prove that media attention is no longer on his AG, but it is now about Trump's accusations against Obama.
And thirdly, a distraction tactic would only work if it is pushed on social media. Today, more often than not, social media drives news. Having a clear line of attack and distinct messages allows Trump supporters to jump on the band-wagon to push his agenda. Trump's preference for Twitter is understandable as the platform is immediate, it allows his supporters to retweet it and there is no intermediary (like journalists) who will do fact checks.
In short, Donald J Trump has literally mastered the crisis communications tactic of distraction. For those keen to use this tactic, just bear in mind that you will need the above 3 conditions to successful execute a distraction.
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