Did Public Relations win the night for Trump?

Source: Reuters

Like many others in India I’m still reeling from a shock after witnessing on TV the unfolding of the election results that saw Hillary Clinton missing an opportunity to make history. Donald Trump’s victory may have caught even the man himself by his… surprise. There were mixed signals for several weeks and the most opinion polls had given a narrow lead to Hillary even until the last day. Well, how does this all pan out from a Public Relations publicity. Before we get there a quick disclaimer. All publicity can be termed as public relations but all public relations is not about publicity.

Well, I spent two weeks on a personal visit to the United States a few days ago, right in the middle of October and there were more clues that indicated a Clinton win. As always the battleground states had a major role to play. What is even more shocking is that 42% women voted for Trump despite all the press he got in the run up to the elections about his decade-old comment made off the record about how he dealt with women.

How did the unexpected happen? In hindsight, this was not unexpected but a make believe created by media which is not used to disrupters and enjoys celebrating elites. Clinton was a dynast in every sense and used her gender to her advantage very well but that was not good enough.

The last Democrat elected to succeed a president from the same party was James Buchanan who was elected at the end of the term in President Franklin Pierce in 1857. Americans have never voted a Democrat to succeed a Democrat ever since. Americans have also never voted for a woman as President and that trend continued.

A joke that did the rounds after the election was called is that Hillary spent 40 years of her life building her career to lose the presidency to a man who picked up politics as a hobby last year. In this and several other write-ups that have emerged in the last 24 hours, there are several insights to help us come to terms:

Five takeaways from the outcome purely from a Public Relations stand point.

  1. Trendspotting has huge potential – A new world is emerging and it is made up of younger people who do not care about the past. They are only concerned about the future. They are of all ages and in this case, they were mostly groups of blue-collar white and working-class voters who felt side-lined over the years and were looking for someone from outside the system to change the tide in their favour. Most pundits failed to spot this trend and depended heavily on what the traditional media was feeding them.
  2. Newspaper endorsements did not matter – Influence of newspapers has waned over the years. 57 endorsed Clinton. 2 endorsed Trump. This did not make any difference. This goes to show ordinary citizens have lost their faith in big media. This is a trend across the world. People are using their intelligence and not blindly accepting views thrown at them.
  3. People forgive if they see potential and promise – The lewd sex comments, the Muslim ban, the taxes, the complaints of groping…it all did not matter in the end. A former colleague I met during my visit to Chicago who has been a staunch Republican supporter vehemently opposed another term for a democrat. She was pro-life and that mattered. The history of the candidate did not play her role in the decision making as long as he was committed to fight a war against abortions.
  4. Public Relations is about Behaviour most of the time – Clinton’s email controversy and the fact that the Clinton Foundation came across as a corrupt organisation to voters in contrast with Trump’s tax issue was a major factor. People prefer someone they think is less manipulative and less corrupt no matter what the gender is.
  5. Adverting can only do so much – Clinton campaign spent millions of dollars on advertising compared to Trump’s movement. People did not fall for the big money in the end. But there certainly was a polling failure. This result may make Mark Penn feel glad because he was not part of the campaign team this time.

In the world of reputation management this result is certainly path breaking as it was a close call and everyone felt Clinton had a better reputation than Trump to become President. If government service is the yardstick she had the right qualifications – both in terms of work experience and education. However, if Twitter following is a parameter then Trump always had a good lead in sheer number of followers in comparison to Hillary.

It is important to note that Clinton won the popular vote but that does not help. How the next four months and then the next four years evolve will be watched with bated breath by people from both sides of the divide. The worst is over, hopefully and the best is yet to come. Will Trump make a fresh start to bring as many people on board? Going by his acceptance speech, it is possible that he may be the best President ever, or the worst.

This article first appeared in ScoopWhoop.

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Amith Prabhu
Amith Prabhu is the Founder of the PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS, India’s annual summit of reputation management professionals.

He is also the Dean of the School of Communications & Reputation (SCoRe).

He can be reached at @amithpr on twitter.

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