Lessons Learned: The Trump Effect on Social Media and PR

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Date: February 15, 2017
In this webinar, we will take a look at the role social media played throughout the 2016 Presidential campaign and the Trump presidency so far. We will explore his media and public relations strategy and focus on practices you could adopt, along with the mistakes he made that you should avoid in your own communications efforts.


Melissa: I want to welcome everyone to the George Washington University Master in Strategic Public Relations Program Webinar. Thanks again for joining us. We do have Larry Parnell who’s a director of the program on the call. He will be discussing the role that social media played throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and the Trump presidency so far.
I’m Melissa; I’ll be your moderator today. So, let’s just review a few housekeeping items and you get familiar with how to use this platform. So, just want to let you know as well that are recording this webinar for future playback purposes.
So, as you can see on this slide what you’re looking at on the left of the slide you should be displaying a Q&A box, that’s an important feature for us because this is where you can submit any program questions or topic questions throughout the presentation. I’ll bring up all questions at the end for Larry to address. If you have any technical issues during the presentation please submit them into the Q&A box and I’ll help troubleshoot with you. But just a reminder all questions will be addressed at the end of the webinar. At the bottom of the screen you’ll also see a number of buttons.
Many of them are for if and when you minimized any windows, you can retrieve them from there. And just as a note the far right button leads you directly to book an appointment with our advisor. You can chat with the advisor about the program or any questions that might come up after the webinar.
So, now that we’re familiar with the platform I just wanted to introduce Larry Parnell, who’ve already heard briefly for a second there. So, Larry is an associate professor and the director of the George Washington University Masters in Strategic PR program in Washington D.C. previously over a 30 year career, Larry has held senior communications positions in consulting on the client’s side and in politics. He was most recently VP and group leader of the corporate communications practice at Hill + Knowlton Canada. He came to Hill + Knowlton from Bear Gold Corporation where he was Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations, with responsibility for corporate, financial and internal communications.
In New York he served for four years as Director of Global Public Relations at Ernst & Young and while there he was actually made PR Professional of the Year in 2003 by PR Week Magazine. There his previous corporate and consulting experience includes senior positions at GT Corporation, People’s Bank of Connecticut and Gavin Anderson and Co.
Early in this career he served as a speech writer for the mayor of Atlanta, a press aid for the Jimmy Carter for president campaign and speech writer for the Attorney General of Massachusetts. Larry is a frequent author and speaker on communications topics and a member of the National Investor Relations Institute and the Public Relations Society of America. So, hi Larry, thank you for being here today. I’ll pass it over to you and you can begin your presentation.

Larry P: Okay, thanks and welcome everybody. I’m sorry for the little technical glitches but we’re learning as we go along. So, what I’m going to do today really is talk to you about a number of things, primarily about the social media sort of lessons that we can take from the most recent election, what’s happening now and how this may come up perhaps in your careers in the short-term when others seek to emulate what they’ve seen work most effectively for now president Trump. So, I’ll talk about the media strategy very quickly, their advertising, spending.
We’ll look at some research from Pew on their websites, we’ll look at some research done by our school, graduate school political management on social media use and impact, takeaways and how this applies to strategic public relations. Melissa will provide you with the program overview and then we’ll have questions and answers and discussion. Let’s begin.
I think it’s fair to say that the media strategies of the two candidates were dramatically different and the results we all know. In the case of the Trump campaign, he very actively worked the media, gave them a show if you will sound bites, lots of Tweets, mass rallies, a very visual television oriented kind of a campaign. His messaging, you know, we’re setting aside politics here for the moment, personal politics, his messaging was very consistent. The slogan Make American Great Again was ubiquitous. Worth pointing out here by the way that slogan was registered by the Trump organization in 2012. So, clearly he had this planned for some time. He also obviously often referred to his opponents in a derisive way and Hillary Clinton in particular as crooked, as a Washington insider.
Then to manage the process further he criticized the media and the system as biased and rigged in part and we see this happening still today in the White House press operation. To offset negative stories if you say that the press is biased and they’re the worst people on the earth and they produce fake news then your audience and your believers and your supports and some group of people in the middle will adopt that mentality and say yeah, you can’t believe what they say.
So, the story holds like we’re seeing now with the National Security Advisor, there are a number of people who still believe that the media is making too much of this and it’s not true and, you know, Trump was on Twitter this morning suggesting that CNN was engaging in fake news by reporting the FBI’s investigations and stating a preference for Fox and Friends as a more news worthy and good way to spend your morning. So, we’ll leave that for what that means. But he also relied, we’re going to find out in more detail, very aggressively, very much on social and traditional media, did very, very few campaign ads and we’ll look at the dollars involved in that in just a minute.
Conversely Secretary Clinton’s campaign was very conventional, paid, earned sponsored and owned media. But I think it’s fair to see in hindsight her messages were much more focused on why not to elect Donald Trump than why you should elect her. You know, Trump is unfit, he’s dangerous, he’s racist, he’s sexist. And she got caught up in the name calling and the finger pointing as much as he did perhaps not as aggressively but nonetheless and did not spend much time talking about her own agenda of what she would do as president. And we’ll look at the slogans even underlining this point.
Her website was, the campaign website, was a source of white papers and fact sheets and fact checking to address the problems and issues. And there’s a lot of effort to push people towards the website, to get this information, understanding perhaps that people were not going to listen to long discussions about tax policy, especially in an environment where there was a lot of yelling and screaming and name calling going on.
As a campaign strategy I think it’s fair to say in hindsight she was trying to walk a very fine line. She was trying to hold onto the Obama legacy in terms of members of the Democratic party who supported Obama by positioning herself as an extension of the Obama team and President Obama and First Lady, Michelle Obama were very active in that as well as a change for the future. And it’s very difficult to do both of things. In fact I think my colleagues in the political side of our school would point out that the likelihood and the last time somebody essentially was the same party state in three terms in a row was years and years ago. So, clearly, she was trying to do a bit of both and neither one of them worked.
And then of course we have the history of scandals, Bill’s as well as her own, that were not handled well and brought up again by candidate Trump and she tended to not answer a lot of questions about them. And so people who did not want to believe and support her had reasons to feel that way in their minds.
The other thing to look at here is the change in the way the media covers and the role the media plays in a presidential election. The first bullet illustrates this very well. Traditionally the candidates go out and seek editorial endorsements as a way to generate voter support and dollars.
But you can see here that Hillary Clinton was endorsed by 230 newspapers daily papers and 130 weekly papers, where Trump only sought and received support from nine dailies and four weeklies, that’s a 27 to one ratio in terms of endorsements. Clearly that did not matter the way that it used to traditionally. Hillary Clinton even received you might recall endorsements from very traditional rock-ribbed publications in Arizona and New Hampshire but for the campaign it didn’t seem to matter.
Next is really the role of the media in terms of covering and giving access to the candidates or getting access to the candidates and both of the candidates were bypassed the media as much as they possibly could. Ironically we see that Donald Trump actually had more pressers or gaggles or press conferences on the road etc. or formal press conferences, than did Hillary Clinton. But he limited access and we all remember the scenes of people being escorted out of press conferences for asking rude questions according to Candidate Trump.
Hillary Clinton only had two news conferences, one at the beginning and one towards the end when she was getting a lot of pressure for not providing access. In fact I think some of the major media was keeping a running count of how many days it had been since either one of them had done a press conference. That’s in part because they were bypassing the media and it did not matter to a lot of people, we’ll into that in a few minutes relative to social media.
So, let’s look at the dollars. In terms of media spending on advertising and data analytics, the Clinton campaign was very aggressive, 350 million dollars on advertising direct and indirect and two million dollars spent on data analytics. Compare that to the Trump campaign, 20 million dollars on advertising and five million dollars on data analytics. You can see there’s a tremendous difference between how much money, I guess it’s not going to go back for me, how much money was being spent on advertising and how much the Trump campaign was relying on social media and analysis of social media to drive its messaging.
Pew Research took a look at the candidate’s websites as part of a report they did on social media and the election. And I highly recommend Pew Research by the way, it’s free, it’s available at Pew Research, their website has incredible amounts of data there that many of our students use in their papers and their presentations.
Anyway, so what they found by analysis was that the camp, the Clinton campaign really relied on what we call, owned media, that is their own materials that they produced and posted on their website as opposed to articles that appeared in the media that they would link and place on their site. 80% of the links on the Hillary Clinton site came from campaign produced content, much of which was designed to look like conventional news coverage by the way.
Trump however was very aggressive in generating news coverage, video in particular, T.V coverage in particular and posting links to that on his website. Almost the opposite 78% of the links on his site were from news stories, not from campaign documents and policy statements that he had prepared and stuck on his website.
The Pew Research also shows us that in this campaign in particular social media was central to both campaigns that reached to voters and prospects and that this has changed dramatically since 2008 and 2012 when, you know, with candidate Obama and the President Obama really setting the bar for the use of technology and data management and in particular Facebook and Twitter later on.
But in this campaign we saw the other side of social media, if you want to call it that, trying to control the messages and produce their owned and sponsored content advertisings, or owned being something that you produce yourself or sponsored being something that you have produced by somebody else and putting them on your website, Hillary Clinton in particular.
And another thing that was interesting to note and this, according to Peer report, neither of the two campaign websites had comment pages for people to – whereas in the past was a way to engage, the thought was to engage your audience you have comment pages for people to, you know, have a dialogue with the campaign. But perhaps because of the advent of trolls and people creating problems and taking over websites, both candidates did not have comment pages. And these by the way are less and less common in private industry as well.
So, here we have a quote from the famous 60 Minutes interview where soon after the election Donald Trump sat down with 60 Minutes to talk about how he was going to move forward. And here he talks about his use of social media and how it was that he was able to accomplish what he did by spending much less money than the Hillary Clinton campaign did. And perhaps ominously is his reference in his last quote is that special media represents in his mind a form of fighting back, which he’s clearly in the process of doing as president and even today with the national security advisor issue.
So, I mentioned that some other research I wanted to look at was research done by our school and I will tell you that part of the benefit of being involved with the school like George Washington University is we have cutting edge professors doing some really interesting studies and as students who come into our program you have the opportunity to be a part of that research if you want to do that.
So, [Dr. Michael Cohen] and [Doctor Michael Cornfield] have done a study which they call, which has to do with managing the public echoes of rhetoric in how social media is used to generate visibility and create campaign enthusiasm. So, I’ve pulled a few slides from their deck on this topic. What’s interesting here, I mentioned before the one of the most common hashtag phrases during the campaign, and it’s interesting to notice that the Make America Great over 20 million is a multiple of the two campaigns, I’m with her and Stronger Together that Hillary Clinton’s campaign used. And below Black Lives Matter, which is an ongoing very common one.
So, we can see that again, and we’ll talk about what this means, we can see that a very strong phrase consistently used and hashtagged will generate the kind of support that people look for in a social media campaign. If you look at the posts and the activity on the websites as a result of these postings you can see the pattern, how it built up very aggressively and right up until Election Day where the number of posts and uses of the hashtag reached well up into the millions for Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton though, part of the problem was she had two slogans. Secondly, others we’ll talk about in a few minutes, these were not action oriented. This is, you know, saying I’m with her, we’re stronger together is – they’re very powerful messages but they may not be as engaging as make American great again. And there’s a call to action built into that. Whether you agree with it or not there’s an element of that resonates with me more than saying I’m with her, we’re stronger together, which really is fairly generic and could be about anything or anybody including a consumer product as opposed to a political candidate. So, there’s an element there as some lessons there in terms of what you use in your hashtag and what’s going to be effective.
Looking at Facebook and Twitter the stats are overwhelming, particularly the number of like and followers on these two candidates and how active they were. It’s important to note that likes and followers don’t equal votes nor if you’re working for a non profit do they equal donations. But they do indicate visibility, awareness and engagement and the more you are followed and people like and or repost or re-tweet your material, the higher the level of engagement is. This is from an article by a professor at Northwestern University who’s referenced there on the bottom.
So, okay well, we know the election results, we know – so, what’s next, what do we do with this information other than try to figure out as citizens how we got into this situation and move forward, but that’s a political observation. From a public relations perspective there’s some key takeaways that I want to share with you. First of all again setting aside the political ideologies behind them, they keys to success on social media is authenticity and timeliness and including a call to action. Make American Great Again asks you to do something, Stronger Together or I’m With Her doesn’t have the same kind of resonance. So, as you think about social media campaigns and strategies, understand that a call to action is key.
Another thing to keep in mind is that news consumption is dramatically different, we all know this. But this research study that I’ve come across shows that people who are on social media checking it like 12 times a day, that’s probably second only to preparing or eating their meals and is way more than how often people exercise, myself included. And so, that by definition since you’re on 12 times a day and if news articles are being pushed at you by a candidate and/or because you subscribed to something, you’re going to consume your news there in those digestible little bits, than you are going to an actual website of The Washington Post or New York Times to read the article.
So, what this tells us is we as communicators have to adjust our strategy and tactics and importantly and this is just beginning to happen, I’m just hearing conversation about this from colleagues in the corporate sector and the non profit sector, where management teams are saying well, why don’t we do what Trump does? Let’s ignore the media, let’s criticize the media, say they’re biased, they’re rigged and instead of engaging with them, instead of responding to them we’re going to stiff arm them, it worked for Trump, why won’t it work for us? Well, first of all they’re not readily transferable, second of all you’re not talking about a presidential campaign and third of all you’re not talking about a phenomenon, not like Donald Trump, our now president.
So, how does this all apply to PR? Well, you know, as I mentioned there’s some best practices and notes of caution. Best I put in quotes here. Sponsored content clearly is growing in use in frequency. Companies are very actively now posting their own materials on products and services, concepts and issues, strategies and not relying on the media. One because the media is shrinking, two because not as many people are reading the media, which is why the media is shrinking and three because you can put your own story up there in your own detail, in your own focus if you put it on your own website. And people are willing to read that. And they’ll discount it to some extent as sponsored content but they discount what the media says too based on what people have been saying about the media.
So, secondly I would suggest to you reduce dependence on traditional media to communicate messages, more people are using social media, sponsored content, owned media, other means of communicating, videos and not relying on the mainstream news media to put your story out because there’s less space, less time, less readers, less viewers etc.
But the other thing to do is understand that engagement and followers are the key measures for social media success, not views or clicks or reposts. And you really have to figure out through research and interaction, and we discuss this in our social media classes and our media relations class, you have to access why they’re following you. There’s probably a lot of people, to be honest, who are following at the real Donald Trump to see what he said next. They may not have been voters or supporters of his, they were just curious. So, you have to be aware of that.
And to the extent that you can quantify and leverage the engagement that you’ve been able to clearly identify through, opting in and asking for more information and signing petitions or whatever techniques you choose, you can leverage that into sales, donations or improving your trust and reputation. So, it’s no different than saying we got a lot of news clips here to your boss than it is to say we have a lot of clicks or posts or unique visits to your website. That is only half the story.
So, in the modern era, if you want to call it that, I would suggest to you that likes and follows are the same thing as we got a bunch of news stories about this. The question is are they in the right publications, does your message come across, is the story positive, negative or neutral and how do we stack up visa vie our competition? The same thing is true with social media.
So, looking here at some best practices of the campaign, we’ve established that Trump focused on the Twitter and media and Hillary Clinton took a more conventional approach. What are some of the best practices? Well, we’re seeing more and more video online and streaming and being made available to people. This reduces a dependency on traditional broadcast media and people are accepting and willing to download it and share it with friends, understanding the source of it may be from the company versus NBC but that’s okay. People discount that accordingly but still it has an effect.
It’s also valuable I think to say, based on what we’ve seen; Twitter is a very valuable means to offset a stronger more well funded opponent. I mean Hillary Clinton had a lot of – spent a lot of more money, Donald Trump certainly has money, but she spent a lot of more money than he did but Twitter and social media drove the agenda for him and he didn’t need to spend money. We also have learned I think that as you generate media coverage, the smart thing to do as a communication’s person is to share that media on Twitter, on Facebook and any and all platforms on your own social, your own websites to increase your followers and your supports and extend the impact of the story you’ve been able to get written about your company or your client.
So, I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts here about both the author I mentioned to you earlier as well as the director of our school, as we sort of think about what happens going forward. I think the first one really talks about this being a turning point in the relationship within the news media and political campaigns, which I think we all can agree is clearly evident.
The second one really deals with what is our obligation as professionals and/or educators and/or students or perspective students in your case, in this space. It’s not enough in our view to be effective, to win at any cost. Our view and our approach and our course work going forward is to teach you how to ethical and effective in your communication’s work and not just be someone who wins at all costs because in the long run you end up where we are now, as a country and as a business environment where people are just doing what it takes to win regardless of the consequences for the organization, for the country or for their own personal brand.
And so, if this is of interest to you and this is something you find to be concerning going forward then I would suggest to you that the research and the classes and the course work that we’re doing here at GW in the graduate school political management is right in line with what you’re thinking about and concerned about. We have some work to do as a profession, public relations I’m talking about now but political communications as well and it’s our focus and our desire to be part of turning around long term because we have a situation where the situation is just out of control and no one’s happy with the way things are unless of course you view things the way certain elitist and controversial figures do, which I don’t think the average person does. But this is what we’re about at GSPM and this is what I’m about as the director of this program and I’ll turn it back over to Melissa and look forward to your questions.
Let me summarize though, ’cause I just realize I didn’t mention this, a lot of lessons here, there are a lot we can learn and there’s best practices we can take and adapt. I don’t mean to suggest that we’re going to teach our students and colleagues to attack each other but there are things we’ve learned from this campaign that can be very useful on a going forward basis. So, I will again, this is my contact information you can reach me via this email. I suggest and hope that you follow me on Twitter as well as our school on Twitter and Facebook and I’m looking forward to your questions. Melissa?

Melissa: Thanks Larry for a great talk. So, just a recap in terms of what the program is all about. So, as you can see here it’s a 10 course program, you can complete it in about 18 months, each course runs six weeks in length, one at a time and it’s all online. So, it lets you access the course wherever you can get a Wi-Fi signal essentially. So, it gives you a little bit more freedom than having to go into class if it’s not an option for you and lets you study sort of at your own pace as well.
Just so everybody knows we do have an upcoming start date, our summer term starts on May 8th, so you can apply now, get your applications in. As I mentioned at the beginning there is the little button at the bottom that will take you to speak to one of our advisors to book an appointment. That advisor is Marie, she is very helpful and very knowledgeable about the program. She’d be happy to speak with you if you have any questions about the program or about how it could fit into your life or anything like that. She can help you out. There is her contact info or you can go directly to her appointment booking site through that link.
In terms of questions I do have one so far. So, Larry, Yvette wants to know if you have any insight as to why Hillary didn’t have a call to action hashtag.

Larry P: You know, it’s hard to say. That’s one of the things, among many, being looked into. The campaign felt that, from what I’ve read and heard from colleagues who studied this in more detail, they felt that they were, people were looking for an empathetic connection with her.
And so, you know, I’m With Her was something that people felt would resonate and overcome Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again, but I think that what’s interesting is that, there’s no – what do you do with that message? Hindsight’s always 20/20 but his approach clearly was designed to say you’re upset, you’re angry, you’re worried, you’re out of work, whatever issue it might be. I’m here, I’m going to change things, I’m going to make America great again. That resonates with a vast group of people he was trying to rally to his cause. Telling people I’m with her, is a form of belonging, but so what? What are you going to do now that you’re with her? And, you know, she certainly couldn’t say I’m going to make America great again too but she might well have had an effort or more thought around that subject.
Because what ended up happening in the final analysis I think from a lot of people’s perspective is he set the tone and she got caught up in the dialogue and didn’t have her own dialogue about what she was going to as president. And between the scandals, fair or unfair, but to the FBI and everything, there was a bit of a fire drill going on there. Whereas he was just pounding away about I’m going to make America great again and if you agree with that vote for me. Now whether or not he actually does that is another discussion.
But in terms of getting elected, which goes back to my comment about there’s a bigger responsibility about just getting elected or winning in a dog fight if you’re talking about business. But nonetheless there is no clear explanation from the campaign, except the felt they had a lead, they felt he was unelectable and that they didn’t need to do more than just tell people, you know, things are going to be fine under Hillary and you don’t have to worry about him being president, and then all of a sudden he is. I hope that answers your question.

Melissa: That sounds good to me as an answer. I hope that did as well. So, a couple more of the topic questions, someone wants to know how you think Trump’s current use of social media is going, if you think it’s more positive, more negative towards his presidency?

Larry P: Well, I think there’s a lot of debate about that. The main thing is Melissa, he hasn’t even been president for a month yet. Think about that. Monday is the 20th and every day there’s something new that’s going on. So, I don’t know if he can keep up this pace or we can stand it, but we are where we are.
The ongoing use of social media by the president of the United States for many people is problematic because they think it’s not particularly presidential for him to be writing about the ratings on The Apprentice, or why Nordstrom dropped his daughter’s line of clothing or whatever else happens to be his flight of fancy. But, you know, it’s working. It worked for him in the campaign.
What I think he’s finding out and the White House is finding out, is that it’s not – governing is not the same as campaigning. And putting stuff on Twitter, I mean like today there’s a Twitter war going on between the White House, in particular Donald Trump, and Jake Tapper on CNN because the president has tweeted that CNN’s reporting regarding the resignation of the National Security Advisor and the fixation on the discussion regarding the FBI’s investigation is fake news, which is, you know, it seems to be what is said whenever you don’t like what people are saying. And Jake Tapper responds and says it’s not fake news if you’re reporting facts and actual investigations based on documented evidence of this. And so they’re having this battle.
I don’t think it’s particularly presidential, most people are kind of, you know, upset about that. I think the notion that he is going to – he continues to believe apparently, I have not spoken to him about it obviously, he continues to believe apparently that his direct communication to the public saying the media’s biased, they didn’t count the numbers right at my inauguration or they’re not nice to my daughter or this isn’t true what they’re saying about the National Security Advisor is enough for his people, whoever they might be, to say, you know, it’s unfair, the media has to stop doing this because he continues to paint the media as the bad guy.
But when I was in the PR business early on and I think it’s still true today although the analogy might not be as good, you know, we used to say you don’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. In other words you don’t argue with a newspaper because ultimately the newspaper can continue to print stories every day and now we’re talking about it being online. They have a national, whether it’s The New York Times or CNN, has a constant 24/7 platform to put out information and news and, you know, the president putting things on Twitter saying they’re wrong is not going to offset the volume of information that an organization can put out if they’re on the hunt and if they feel that their credibility has been attacked, they’re more likely to be more aggressive than if you tried to work with them on a cooperative basis.
But beginning with day one of the presidency when the press secretary came in and yelled at the media and didn’t take any questions, it’s an adversarial relationship and the argument and the position seems to be we’ll continue to say the media is wrong and we’re right and they’re not reporting the facts and hope that more people than not believe us. But I think that is not a sustainable strategy and it will be interesting to see what happens as time goes on.

Melissa: Thanks. So, in terms of the way that Trump’s been using his social media, do you – I think you mentioned that it’s not necessarily a transferable option for organizations but do you still think that people are going to try and adopt that sort of no filter

Larry P: Yes, I’m afraid they will. I’m afraid they will Melissa and whoever asked the question, I can tell you from my own experience, both at Ernst and Young and with large corporations is clients [who are] actually on staff, CEOs and senior management would like nothing better than to tell the press to go to hell. And if they get permission from the President of the United States that you can do that and get away with it, it’s going to be very hard to convince them that that’s not a good strategy.
But for the most part, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not transferable and you don’t have the personality and the brashness, if you want to put it that way, that comes with our current president. So, for CEOs to say, he told the media to go to hell and he still got elected and he’s told the media to go to hell and he’s still in power, so why are you telling me it’s really important what the media says about our company, product, service or candidate.
And that’s a real challenge as we as communications professionals are going to have to address. And we’re going to have to demonstrate the research and implementation of plans and results of those plans that you can change minds and behaviours and drive sales or improve perceptions or raise money through carefully, fairly, ethically managed media relations campaigns. And it’s not sufficient to just get mad at them.
This also has implications, one of the topics we cover in our program, and I personally am passionate about is social responsibility. And one of my concerns is a corporation will say we don’t have to do this do-gooder stuff because it doesn’t matter, we’ll just do what we do and we’ll get, we’ll make our money and it’ll be okay. We don’t care what the press says.
Realistically in the arena that we all operate and as public relations people, nobody has the luxury, I’m going to call it that, where you can control the timing and the message and the whatever, as an individual working with a company trying to get a story out. You must have a strategy to work with the media that’s fair and equal and respect their position as well as advances your own and you cannot, unless you’re going to produce your own magazines and your own websites and hope that everybody reads your stuff and not the competitor’s stuff, it’s not a practical solution. But the temptation for a lot of senior managers and CEOs and clients would be, you know what, let’s sake the Trump example and see if it works and that is not good for our profession, that is not good for business in my view long term and it’s not good for government either.

Melissa: I agree. So, Mark wants to know something a little different. In terms of alternate facts, he wants to know how those discussions tend to play a role in the professional role of journalism versus direct communications for the Facebook and Twitter?

Larry P: I’m trying to understand the first part of the question. The concept of alternative facts, which clearly is bogus, but is the question by reporting your own facts instead of relying on the media, is that what the question is asking? I’m not totally sure I understand. Can you read that again so I hear the details of it?

Melissa: Sure. His question is, he wants to ask how alternate facts discussions play a role in professional reporting and journalism versus direct communications via Facebook and Twitter.

Larry P: Well, I think that it doesn’t work. I mean you can post and do what the Trump administration is trying to do, you can post that there were two million people at the inauguration even though there weren’t or that, you know, the march that happened two days later was not that big a deal when clearly it was.
But to poke at the media with the facts as a concept it’s so big brother it’s just bizarre. That famous exchange with Kellyanne Conway and I forget his first name, Todd, it went out of my head, who by the way is a GW alum. It was famous because you are not going to be able to shop around alternative facts and the only people who are going to buy those alternative facts are people who are programmed to believe whatever you say. But for the far right maybe, the far left is not going to listen to it.
And really what we’re talking about here is a battle for the middle of the political and media spectrum. Insulting people with making up your own facts and figures is not sufficient and you can post all of them you want on Facebook but from a credibility perspective, most people still say okay I know that’s your website, it’s no different than you running an ad. If The New York Times says that’s accurate or it’s B.S then I’m not going to be, I’m not going to buy into it. So, it’s a scary concept, it’s very as I said very Orwellian, very big brotherish but I don’t think the average person that they’re trying to win over or at least offset they’re concerned are going to be made up facts that don’t really pan out when they’re tested under the light of day.

Melissa: Makes sense. So, just changing gear a little bit Terry asked where you see the real growth in the PR industry. Is it social media, data research and how does the GW program specifically contribute to career options in government or corporate?

Larry P: Well, that’s a very good question. And it’s fun to talk about something else besides the Trump administration. Let me see. I think a couple of answers to that question. Yes, I think that talking with head hunters and recruiters that I’ve known over the years and have come and spoken to our classes, social media skills are critical. Understanding how to – and by this I mean not, you know, personal media social skills but business social media skills, which we do spend a lot of time on in our course work, both as part of each of a number of courses like crisis and issues management, media and relations and sustainability communications for example and also independently in a separate course that we’re developing that will be launched probably in the next three to six months. So, it’s a big part of our program, it’s a big part of the future.
The second thing I would tell you is that there is an expectation that senior level, middle to senior level communications professions will have some data analytical skills. I don’t think the expectation is you’re going to be a wonk if you will. Let me give you an analogy. We have a course in the program which is the fundamentals of finance and business for public relations professionals. Not because we want to turn you into an accountant but because you’re going to have to talk to accountants and you’re going to have to build and manage budgets. Similarly if you have basic understanding of data analytics and how to use data to drive decision making, you have to have that but you don’t to be necessarily a data wonk to be successful as a PR person. You have to be able to understand data and work with people who are.
We also have a research course and the same thing holds true there, we don’t turn you into a public relations researcher but you’re going to have to setup, manage and drive research efforts and then use the results of the research to inform your programs. But you must understand the concepts involved. That’s a long winded way of saying digital and social analytics are going to be very critical skills for future PR professionals.
And the third thing I would say to you again is the personal observation but one I’ve seen more and more is the case and I don’t think the Trump administration will change that, and that is I believe that generationally and otherwise social responsibility, sustainability by large corporations, large profits and even now government agencies is a critical expectation by current or potential future employees, business partners etc. etc.
And the logical person to really manage and run social responsibility programs is someone who’s trained in communications, stakeholder relations, crisis management if necessary and employee communications, that’s us. So, I think that’s a tremendous opportunity and you’re seeing more and more companies hiring on sustainability communications people, sustainability programmers to build out corporate programs as companies grow and both domestically and the U.S and around the world.
There’s a real expectation that companies will give back as well as make a profit and we have a course dedicated to that for that very reason because I believe it’s going to be where a lot of jobs are going to be in the future.

Melissa: And Kaitlin wants to know just touching on top of that topic is what kind of she’s saying return on investment but I guess what kind of successes have your graduates seen of the program?

Larry P: Well, we do a survey each time graduation occurs and there’s graduate school, not under graduate school, so most of our students come into the program already working, many in the profession, many wanting to get into the profession.
So, it’s hard to come up with a number that says X% get new jobs because many cases they are already working. But what we’re seeing anecdotally is promotions advancements, exposure to new opportunities, growth potential. Many of our students will take their capstone project and turn it into a project for their company and get promoted to do that.
So, what we can see generally is that people with advance degrees over the course of their career will own something like a million dollars more in salary than someone who does not have an advanced degree. And that has to do with probably 10 to 15% more in salary for government employees, for corporate employees with an advanced degree than those who do not have it. So, we’re seeing a lot of anecdotal evidence but a definitive number that X% get jobs day one it’s hard to come by ’cause so many of them already have communication’s jobs and they get new ones and they get opportunities.
You know, there’s always great stories. I have a student who was making one level salary and he got a job and he sent me a note saying because of this degree I have doubled my salary in two years. Now that’s one person, it’s very rewarding to hear that but I think most people find that an advanced degree in communications from a recognized school like GW has currency in the marketplace in terms of getting promoted or getting a new job somewhere else where they recognized or appreciate the value of a master’s degree.

Melissa: I hope that answered the question. So, everyone else seems to have more topical questions, the next one is whether or not you think the Trump team I guess were more proactive and Hillary’s team was more reactive as opposed to Trump’s proactive approach?

Larry P: I think it was tactical to some respect. I think that the tactics chosen by the Trump team to be very active on social media, to have a very strong statement and to play to people who maybe one or two issues that would help them vote, you know, whether it was gun control or abortion rights or the wall or any other emotional issue. I think unfortunately the program for the lowest common denominator in this case worked.
I think the Clinton campaign had a higher level expectation of voters in the marketplace than tended to work out. So, I don’t know if it’s a misread of where the voting public was or an assumption that they were predisposed to want to support her because he was such an outrageous candidate and they took it for granted and they got surprised. So, I think in that regard hindsight as I said is 20/20 but I think the aggressive proactive nature of the Trump campaign more than overcame the largely reactive activities of the Clinton campaign where they didn’t drive their own agenda. He called out the tune and unfortunately they got caught up dancing to it.

Melissa: And you stated early on that editorial endorsements didn’t really matter. Why do you think that is?

Larry P: Well, I mean look at the results. She had a multiple number of publications across the country who were supportive of her as a candidate and outright critical of him as being fit to be president. And it didn’t matter, he got elected in a significant – I realize that the popular vote was one thing and the Electoral College vote was another, that’s been debated and discussed a lot and it will be for the future.
But, you know, the traditional approach to campaigning is you get leading publications to endorse you, the presumption is people who read that publication, like what that publication has to say and are reassured that their desire to vote for you versus the opposite opponent is the right thing to do because it’s really, and we talk about this in class, there’s a communication’s theory called agenda setting and the historical tradition in public relations is that you design and plant stories and promote stories in the media because the media has a way of setting the agenda or the public in terms of what they talk about, care about and believe in.
And I think the social media revolution in the Trump campaign is challenging that because it’s a clear trend that it isn’t the media that’s setting the agenda anymore. It may be social media; it may be an unusual candidate.
So, it causes us as communication professionals to rethink what is a successful PR program? Is it getting a lot of news coverage if you’re a political campaigner, is it getting campaign endorsements? Clearly not, she had multiple, multiple, more endorsements than he had. He couldn’t have cared less about it apparently and his followers didn’t care either.

Melissa: So, Corey wants to know if you think that the press has changed over the years? He gave an example where he just means that if you read mainstream media and they lead you to make a decision as opposed to just letting you make your own decision, do you find that’s something that’s going on in the press these days?
Larry P: 100%. I mean the media’s having to rethink its historical function and role in political decision making and business decision making. As I mentioned, the agenda setting theory that, you know, by getting the media to write a story about a product, a service or a candidate would, in our view, historically in the old days of PR, that was the way to get people to do things. They would buy or inquire or vote or donate because they read about it in a paper they trusted.
That’s changed. I don’t think it’s gone completely. I think that – but I do think that there are other cooks in the kitchen and I think social media is driving the agenda much more than historically and the press is having to, the traditional press is having to, come over and be very active on social media. I’ve talked to reporters who’ve come and speak to our classes from the Washington Post and The New York Times and they’ll say they have to post six, eight, 10 times a day to update the story that they ran in the paper that morning because it is no longer sufficient to do a onetime story about issue X or product Y or candidate Z. They’ve got to update it all day long.
And we all get these things from them. So, The Washington Post will write, you know, a lead story and then they put it on their website and then they update it six, eight, 10 times and they are timed and monitored by the editors by how active and how visible they are and how many clicks and how many posts and how many likes they get. So, you know, they’re having to play the social media game as well.
The game has changed, the need – so, in our media relations class we do spend a lot of time on defining success, what is a good media relations campaign, what results are you driving towards and then what are the strategies to help you get there? Clearly it’s no longer just getting a great article in a major newspaper or T.V focus because other things drive public opinion than just the mainstream press.

Melissa: And do you think that Twitter and social media will be as influential is future elections?

Larry P: You know, it’s tough to say because part of this is you’ve got a master user of Twitter, and I saw an article the other day that even Donald Trump can’t save Twitter ’cause they’re numbers are down substantially so who knows if Twitter will last for the next election cycle or not. I think people who try to emulate what Trump has done on social media just like executives who try to emulate his media relations strategy most of them will fail. Or at worst, best case, they’ll be looked at as a me too person following someone else’s example and not a trailblazer if you want to call it that.
So, I think social media will continue to be a significant driver, whatever the platform may evolve to be next of public opinion and public opinion drives votes. But the question is whether or not it’ll be these platforms or other ones and what, how important will the traditional media be in that effort? And it’s very much in a state of flux but right now I would say it’s not a given that the situation will be replicated in two to four years.

Melissa: Okay. Just two more questions I’ve got here. Alana wants to know if you know any people within the PR community who predicted the Trump victory based on Trump’s PR strategy?

Larry P: No, unless they were people who were already supportive of him. There were not very many people. Because we believe what we want to believe and we believe what our experience teaches us, then our experience teaches us that you don’t alienate people, you don’t insult people, you don’t insult the press because that’s core to our being as public relation’s people. So, we just can look at that and say there’s no way that he’ll win because he’s doing all the things differently.
And no one knows for sure, I don’t think we should give all of this to the Trump campaign, I think clearly the Hillary Clinton campaign made mistakes. I think the candidate herself may not have been one that a lot of people rallied to.
And a lot of this is just reality. If you look back at over presidential elections going back as I mentioned earlier on for hundreds of years I think there was one example that, I’m not a political science so I can’t remember the exact candidate, but we’re talking 1800s where the same party was elected three terms in a row. It just doesn’t happen very often.
So, I don’t know if we should over react to the Trump approach and jump on that bandwagon or wonder if it would have been different with a different candidate of it was just a perfect storm, time will tell.

Melissa: I guess we’ll see. So, just one last question from Carey, this is actually a program specific question, she just wanted to know if there’s any help offered in terms of job placements and networking in D.C post graduation.

Larry P: Yes. We have a full-time dedicated career service office and the woman who runs it was a head hunter on Capitol Hill and a member of our key staff. And because of my background in the industry before I came to GW, now almost 10 years ago believe it or not, our students are always asking, you know, they see a job posting someplace or I see a job posting someplace, I pass it on to Mag who runs our career service office. She puts it out on a list served to everybody.
People who are interested in a particular job I have probably three or four times a week students come by or call or email me and want to go over, I look at their resume, do I know somebody at Company X or Company Y or this firm or that firm? We don’t guarantee that you’re going to get the job that you ask about but we do get you heard. And I think that’s half the battle and the rest is up to you.
So, yes we have a dedicated person and on an informal basis we are constantly placing and helping to place and support the placement of our students in great jobs. Because frankly it’s in our interest to do that, the better our students and our alums do, the better our program does. So, the more high profile and we have 3,000 plus alums now who are doing amazing things at great companies all over the United States and increasingly around the world. And they tell us a big part of that is a master’s degree from a recognized school like GW that enables them to get in the door. And then hopefully they do the rest by getting the job and performing well.
So, that’s probably a good place to end I think Melissa. Hello? Okay, well I guess that’s the end of our session so I’ll say thank you very much for your time and I hope you enjoyed the remarks and we’ll look forward to seeing your applications come in soon. Thank you so much, bye.

Melissa: Thanks everyone for joining us. You can now contact Marie, her contact information is up there. And thanks a lot for being on the webinar today. Have a great day.

Larry P: Have a great day everybody, thanks so much for your time, we appreciate it. Take care, bye.