24 October 2016

What businesses can learn from Donald Trump's election campaign.

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It may be the American election campaign, but there are very few people in Australia (or the rest of the world for that matter) who aren't aware Donald Trump is running for the Presidency of the United States of America.

On paper, he's not really the candidate that most quickly springs to mind. He's a TV personality. He's a property developer. He's a billionaire, a casino operator, a hotel owner, but he's not a politician nor a policy expert. While it can be said he can surround himself with those things, the reality is as Commander-in-Chief he is lacking in some of the basic skills required.

If it was an application process, such as applying for a job, you'd have to say he probably wouldn't make it past the first round of resume reviews. 

But there are some lessons in his campaign that business owners should be paying attention to. Not the mugging for the camera, the outrageous statements based to appeal to only a small target of the population while repelling others. Nor the us against them operation that saw him win the Republican Nomination and possibly the keys to the White House in the November election. 

What Donald Trump has in spades is self-belief and confidence. It's an attribute that should be admired - even if you don't admire his grasp on policy.

Whatever the reason for Donald Trump's election campaign he has turned American established society on its head. The rogue candidate who won the nomination despite his flaws. Up against a more seasoned opponent, a candidate who has lived in the White House as First Lady, has been a lawyer, a Senator and the Secretary of State, on paper at least it should look like he doesn't have a shot in the dark of winning in November. 

So how did he get there?

Anyone who has read his book 'The Art of the Deal' can see the key points he made live and in technicolour on their TV screens. Donald Trump is part showman, part businessman and all about the win.

In 'The Art of the Deal', Trump outlines a series of strategies to being successful when it comes to negotiation. Nothing overly new or inventive but they work. 

Think big:

If you've spent any time at all following the Trump campaign, the first of his strategies is bluntly obvious. Think big! Trump wants to be the Commander-in-Chief, you can't get much bigger than that.

Protecting the downside and the upside will look after itself:

Preparing for the worst in this situation is losing the race to the White House. Looking after the upside however is also most blatant. Even if he loses the election Trump will emerge a winner, a bit battered and bruised, but a winner none the less. The election campaign has given him and the Trump brand world coverage he couldn't have dreamed of. Whatever he does next, wherever he goes the camera's and world's media will follow. 

Maximise your options & use your leverage:

The ultimate goal in an election campaign is to win. But Donald Trump isn't playing only one hand here. Realistically he has a slim to no chance of actually winning the election. By leveraging his campaign to create even more brand awareness and expand his influence into political circles, he has set himself up to launch whatever comes next (rumour has it he's looking at creating Trump TV). The publicity of the campaign, leveraged to launch his next venture practically guarantees it will be front page news across the world.

Enhance your location:

In this situation it's more about enhancing your exposure and your reputation. While Trump's reputation has taken some major hits during the campaign, he's showed no signs of backing down. Instead he's ramped up the rhetoric, said and done more outrageous things. If the rumours of a conservative television network are true, he's more than achieved his goal. 

Getting the word out:

This is something Trump has never been shy of. He's an absolutely brilliant self-promoter. He may not have what it takes to be the best President the world has ever seen, but he's run a campaign that captured and sucked the air out of his rival Republican nominees. Every time the media began to sway behind another Republican nominee in the lead up to the Primaries Trump pulled something out of his bag of tricks and diverted the media attention to where he thought it belonged. Himself. 

Fight back:

Trump is nothing if not a scrappy fighter. In that respect he reminds me a little of former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Both men do their best when they are backed into a corner. Neither one backs down, or away from a fight. The problem for Trump in this situation is he's fighting a losing battle when he tries to take Clinton on at her own game. For Trump, fighting back is about muddying the water and attempting to suck away the media coverage of Clinton's campaign. 

Deliver the goods:

This, is the one area of the election Trump has the most difficulty finalising. The reality is his policy knowledge is limited to slogans. He's surrounded himself with conservative and right wing media barons, not policy experts or politicians. As President his policies are best flat and lacking depth. As a potential media baron however, he's positioning himself and a possible network to go head to head with other conservative news channels like Fox, and there he could more than deliver the goods.

Have fun:

Despite him looking like he's about 3 seconds from having his head explode most of the time, there's a part of Trump that is having the time of his life. While he can't control the conversations or the 'leaks' that may be impacting his campaign, he's definitely enjoying his moment in the sun and he's learning. 

While the media crows about the trip ups in Trumps campaign, if you look at what he's doing under the context of his past behaviour he is negotiating with the American public and by extension the world, possibly for the Presidency or possibly for whatever he has up his sleeve to concentrate on next. 

Businesses - and business people - in Australia tend to be a lot more conservative and risk averse than our entrepreneurial cousins across the world. We, as a nation aren't particularly embracing of chance, preferring instead to do what we know we can do and not risk making a mistake. 

If you don't take a risk you never have the opportunity to grow, to develop and to achieve new and exciting things. Whether you're launching a start-up, working for a boss or own your own business employing the list of techniques and strategies above could help you to master the art of the deal for your organisations own future.

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

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