Trump needs messaging tips from Modi

Sorry, this is advice when Donald Trump has lost his third spokesperson in six months. But people change only when they have to. So, having fired three communication folks in six months, the last one in just ten days, this seems a good time to proffer respectful input to the world’s most powerful office (the “most powerful” part may get outdated in the next few years, but that’s not the point here).

First, Trump should stop the circus of a daily media briefing. He can do without it – though, needless to say, the media love the fix. Howsoever sophisticated and updated the next White House (WH) spokesperson standing in for POTUS45 is, and Trump hasn’t had the best of America’s communication brains standing up for him, the President will be faster and more fickle. A spokesperson for Trump will sooner than later emerge outdated and insincere.

Anthony Scaramucci is out as White House communications director after just 11 days on the job/ Reuters

Anthony Scaramucci is out as White House communications director after just 11 days on the job/ Reuters

So, to hell with the networks. Trump should cut the feedstock. India’s Narendra Modi does this. Not for him a high-profile spokesperson speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). When there’s a message, an articulate and well briefed minister for finance and defence, Arun Jaitley, or Piyush Goel, the minister charged with power, coal, new and renewable energy and mines, do the delivery. Other ministers speak too, but the Indian PMO doesn’t perform to a daily circus. And before someone says, “the-US-is-different,” hello, India has more TV channels and more data consumption on her mobile networks.

Second, POTUS45 is doing a bad job balancing between Facebook and Twitter. He does have a marginal lead over Modi on the number of Twitter follows, but the Indian PM has nearly 2x of Trump on Facebook. When Modi Sarkar wishes to go beyond an old-school press statement, a thoughtful blog by Jaitley has proven more effective than what WH did when the Japanese dropped by amidst North Korea’s missile test. Or, when Theresa May extended her hand. Someone even misspelt her name. A bad encore on body language between the president and his German counterpart didn’t help either.

Using Facebook text isn’t old fashioned. It’s more universal than the networks, and it overcomes many self-goals inherent in the presidential penchant for 140-characters. The thought here is simple. Composing a proper Facebook post is well beyond the president’s patience level. The good thing about a longer (Facebook) post will be that atleast two pairs of eyes would have seen what’s going out. Related, Twitter tirades, causing much mirth (and defensiveness that he can’t be cut off from his 110 million follows) must be moderated. And before WH even considers a joint exercise with the Indian PMO, the new WH chief of staff must impose curfew time on the presidential hand phone.

Next on our list is the jaunt on Air Force One. Few might remember that a decisive step Modi took upon his accession was to cut editors and reporters off from the Prime Ministerial ferry. He faced significant consternation. Many predicted that this alone will scratch a lot of goodwill off the newly-elected PM. As we stand thirty eight months later, Modi’s Air India One only allows Press Trust of India, Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) folks, and, ANI, a non-controversial video news wire. There’s no quest for exclusive snippets from the PM’s party – and while readers suffer on gossip, the PMO breathes easy. For the self-respecting, the arrangement involves covering their own travel costs.

In contrast, look what’s up on Trump’s plane. Luckless in his defence of his son, Donald Trump Jr., over a special relationship with Russia, the airborne president is caught with his hand in the cookie jar. A statement claiming innocence of DT Jr., believed to be heavily airbrushed by POTUS45 while he was on AF1 from G20, and the time the NYT e-published it, seem to coincide. The specter of having serious journalists breaking bread with presidential staff and the immediate family is a recipe for self destruction. Irrespective of the obscenities he uttered, the warnings of disgraced WH communications director Anthony Scaramucci on leaks by WH officials are a serious matter. Safe to compare here, despite a thriving and independent media wielding Press Information Bureau access, the Modi PMO hasn’t had a leak. Nothing stops Trump from studying the Modi example, the media can join in at the US post that POTUS plans to visit.

Ditto for the chaos around the choice of special interviews. To rely on Trump’s pet word, the overkill on Fox News has been a “disaster!’ Rival media has ample reason to brand these outings as fixed matches. Ever since the horror over how many folks attended the Trump inauguration, the non-Fox interviews, with The Economist, the Associated Press, Time, the NYT have been far too many, confused over what was off-the-record, jumpy, and more often than not, avoidable. His new-found friend in India grants far fewer interviews! Here, the equivalent of “Fox and Friends” timidity would have been Doordarshan or AIR! But unlike Trump, Modi has used public airwaves with sophistication. His Mann Ki Baat (MKB) is a study in political monologue. It delivers, just as Trump hasn’t for even one day, an echo chamber without mainstream media as the intermediary. And the Indian media, whether online while Modi speaks, or TV and mainstream print, gives MKB positive play without known constraints on what not to report.

Unlike Modi, Trump hasn’t spent a lifetime connecting with grass root audiences. Instead, he is a past master in arm twisting, quid pro quos and loyalty by fiat. How much more time does he need to know that political communication that won him 2016 is no good inside the WH. Like US Inc. learns from India – the Trump WH can too. If that’s too much pride to swallow, POTUS45 can start by letting sober professionals run it for him.

Twitter | @byniknat

Updated Date: Aug 02, 2017 03:35 AM

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