As Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House, business leaders are neatly lining up talking points and leave-behinds, believing they are prepared to be heard in Washington after January 20.
Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator. Donald Trump will be the Great Disruptor. To be heard in Washington in 2017, business and leaders need to change to match the new president’s style and mission.
What changed? Trump utterly disrupted politics, upending how Americans experience and receive information from a candidate, and thus from a new president.
He used this strategy to endure a vicious pounding from Hillary and her unhappy band, pollsters, media, and fellow Republicans to win the greatest political upset since Truman defeated Dewey in 1948.
He did this not by spending billions advertising on boring Sunday morning talk shows. Trump did this by bypassing mainstream media’s filter and directly engaging Americans through Twitter and other platforms to amplify his multiple interviews and pep rallies.
Since his election, Trump has registered disruption internationally, infuriating communist leaders in China and totalitarianism thugs in Iran, who seem to have a lot to lose in a Trump administration.
Most notably, Trump is using Twitter to communicate with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the world, a contrast with the lackluster diplomacy of his predecessor.
In business, Trump redefined what a president-elect can achieve by persuading United Technologies to keep more than 1,000 Carrier jobs in America, and Boeing and Lockheed to lower prices on defense contracts. Sprint announced it is bringing back 5,000 jobs to America. And on January 3, Ford cancelled its proposed $1.6 billion plant in Mexico, protecting 3,500 jobs in Michigan, adding $700 million in investments and 700 new jobs in America.
Trump revealed that the precise tweet or viral video can move markets, jobs, contracts, legislation and millions of voters. Just after the new year, the House GOP revised course on an ethics bill creating a public firestorm capped by a Trump tweet.
He has done all this — and not yet taken the oath of office.
Change and disruption has only just begun.
Based on many conversations and meetings with our corporate clients and trade associations, most have not yet accepted that this era will be as different and disruptive as the Jacksonian or New Deal eras.
When corporate America addresses Washington, they do so through traditional channels of influence. None are adequate for the coming transformation.
One channel is the voice of a CEO, a leader who can chat with POTUS, cabinet secretaries or senators, to seek support on taxes, trade, or regulation.
More often, business speaks through trade associations. These large organizations — often housed in marbled palaces within a short cab ride of the Capitol — inspire "grass tops" messages to deluge politicians.
Finally, there is the corporate lobbying-industrial complex armed with good arguments, data, endorsements, graphs, and promises of support for a politician’s broader agenda.
None of these means are sufficient for imminent changes about to sweep Washington. Love Trump or hate him, business leaders must move beyond these traditional channels and adapt to the transforming political culture.
They need to relearn how to speak, starting with the name of our country.
The word “America” went out of fashion in the current administration, with corporations and lobbyists following suit, usually saying "the U.S.," which makes this country sound more like an institutional entity like the UN or the EU.
One CEO in our past liked to boast about his globalist viewpoint. Though his company was based in New York — his brand was dotted across the American landscape — he proudly said to shareholders that his business "was in no sense an American company." He showed far less sensitivity in America than he did speaking in foreign nations.
It is now time to speak again of "America" and what it stands for.
Business must learn to communicate the way most Americans communicate, in short sentences and declarative English. Trump has used this skill in social media to disrupt traditional ways of moving voters, opinion and politicians. He has more than 40 million followers on social media, far more than twice the combined audiences of all the nightly news shows.
And what do those news shows report?
Whatever Trump tweets.
Business leaders can also use social media more effectively, if they build friends and followers and speak in simple sentences about issues important to their audiences, not themselves.
So in Trump’s America, when presented a stylistic choice between speaking Dayton or Davos, the default is always Dayton. And when the choice is between buying TV or ads in a failing newspaper, digital media usually wins.
Now what should executives say about America?
Start with "America First."
In the Reagan era, the theme was national competitiveness. That’s the right idea, but it needs to be "Trumpcated" to what matters most — jobs.
Executives must stress their policies and ideas that will create jobs, in America.
And while you’re crafting talking points for important Washington meetings, or that upcoming speech, emphasize ways your company or trade association can retain, attract and create jobs — in America. Think in terms of rising incomes for families and communities, in America.
This may not be popular at the next Council on Foreign Relations meeting. Furthermore, be careful speaking to Argentines who also think they are Americans. But if you learn to speak Trump, your talk about America is on track to be heard by this new administration, as well as Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, 33 governor seats, and two-thirds of state legislative bodies.
Talk about American jobs. Better yet, show your organization participating, not just watching. On January 3, a GM spokesman got into war of tweets with Donald Trump over the fraction of its compact cars imported from Mexico. Whatever the facts or merits of the case, GM had better take care in how it communicates on this, or it could be Trumped and Carriered.
Richard Torrenzano is chief executive of The Torrenzano Group, a New York strategic communications and high-stakes issues management firm. Mark Davis is a former White House speechwriter. Torrenzano and Davis are co-authors of "Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brands, or Business Against Online Attacks." Read more reports from Torrenzano and Davis — Click Here Now.
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