Episode 16:

Brett Bruen of Global Situation Room on Crisis Management in Politics – Part 2

What does Trump get right on crisis and branding? President of the Global Situation Room, former Obama Director talks 2020 elections and crisis.

Part 2 Transcript

Rudy Fernandez  0:00 

Hey everyone, this is Rudy Fernandez from Creative Outhouse. In part two of my conversation with Brett Bruen, we talked about – what else –  politics and the upcoming 2020 elections. Brett worked for President Barack Obama as the head of Global Engagement and frequently speaks about politics and crises. Hearing his ideas and how candidates need to communicate was awesome. He gets into what President Trump does well, that has led to his success in politics. impeachment proceedings, notwithstanding that part for me coalesced so many different ideas about the president and his brand. Anyway, check this out. Welcome to Marketing Upheaval.


Earcon  0:34 

You’re listening to Marketing Upheaval.


Rudy Fernandez  0:47 

Brett, I wanted to take advantage of having you on the podcast to ask you about the upcoming political contest. This is going to be an enormous campaign season. So what are some basics every candidate ought to know in regards to crisis because you know, they’re going to be encountering something.


Brett Bruen  1:05 

Oh, absolutely, I think you should, first and foremost, have a pretty intrusive investigation into not only things that you may have said or did, but what could, as we’ve seen so many examples recently of videos or audio that has been sliced and diced to suggest that you said something or did something, even if in actual fact you didn’t. Same goes for your cyber security. And we saw this play out in the French Presidential campaign where the Russians engaged in this kind of tactics. They hacked into the McCrone presidential campaign emails and you know, you will often see companies and we’ve got clients that have very high tech secure communication systems, but their employees are still sharing information on personal email and personal social media accounts on apps that is very insecure. And so understanding those vulnerabilities and not just building better security protocols and the like, but preparing for those eventualities where you might have to be in a situation where you’re battling against truly fabricated information. And how you do that how you ensure that you’re not on the defensive as I think the McCrone campaign was. It’s a case study that U.S. candidates should really look closely at to glean some of the ways in which they anticipated and they prepared for that. I’d also say the challenge these days of the media environment being so intense and so occupied with whatever is the newest new news, and it’s tough to get in there and it’s tough to try a breakthrough. We’ve seen presidential candidates struggle with this. The old tactics, the old tradecraft of campaigning really does need to be rethought. And I think Elizabeth Warren is one example of, her sort of selfie political campaign strategy of, just getting as many selfies as you can. So you’re spreading throughout this social network of all of the people who’ve attended your events. I think you got to get more creative.


Rudy Fernandez  3:29 

You talked about old school methods. What are some differences? You think in terms of campaign now versus campaigning in the past?


Brett Bruen  3:36 

Well, I think one, the speed, the speed with which these crises emerge, and this is something that we’ve talked to a lot of clients about is you no longer have the luxury of time. And you know, one of the tactics that we encourage our clients to engage in is understanding who are either your adversaries or your potential adversaries. Figure out what are they focused on an internet political campaign, this is easy enough to do. Because as you track that focus, as you track the frequency with which they’re making those attacks, the ferocity with which they’re making attacks, you start to get a picture of, well, maybe I’m next or maybe this is sort of the next issue that they’re going to latch on to versus I think one of the mistakes whether it’s candidates or companies make is that they tend to have you know, social listening up media monitoring up, but they’re only tracking essentially themselves, or maybe you know, their industry or issue. And you need to have a much more expansive view of where risks could emerge because, you know, quite frankly, it’s not just a limited any longer to your sector or to your company or to your candidacy. It come out of left field and trying to figure out, you know, where those vulnerabilities where those hot button issues are and how do you keep tabs on them so that you’re not caught as off guard is perhaps You wouldn’t be if, if it came out of the blue.


Rudy Fernandez  5:03 

That’s a good point. You have to look at how your opponent is attacking others. And that’ll help you prepare for how you’ll be attacked. Because you have to monitor the whole media landscape to see where you might be vulnerable. Well, let me ask you, since you know, Georgia, where I live is going to be a huge battleground state. We have two Senate seats up, it’s also a state that’s moved somewhat more purplish over the last few years. So I’m anticipating some pretty fierce content being thrown at us. What do you think are some do’s and don’ts in terms of messaging in this type of environment?


Brett Bruen  5:39 

Well, I think first and foremost, you have to define yourself. And few candidates, define what they are against. And we’ve seen this play out on the presidential campaign trail, and there is a lot of room still and I think there’s oxygen. My colleague at The Global Situation Room and former Obama branding expert, Johanna Maska says it’s all about that oxygen and so offering in the spirit of Obama, the change the hope, but what does that look like today? What is that that aspirational message look like today? I think we’ve also seen, interestingly, in the form of this young Swedish environmental activists, 16 years old, who has, you know, challenge some of the, the orthodoxy the world leaders on these issues. And so why are we not seeing more candidates, not just, you know, in terms of the old tactics of the Green New Deal, not speaking to the merits of it so much as you know, the green new deal is kind of like the Old New Deal. It’s, it’s offering a plan in the light, but it also requires from a communication standpoint, I think, the kind of adventure the kind of ambition that you see, with Greta Thunburg and her voyage across the Atlantic in a boat with some of the ways in which you’re not just talking about these ideas, you’re living them, you’re showing them. So I think we have to as candidates and as as companies as well look at how we don’t just tell, but we are able to show we are able to live out some of those values and some of that vision.


Rudy Fernandez  7:22 

So how do you do that and still come across as authentic. And you take this young woman, for example, she’s a private citizen. And so it’s easy to see her motivations are because she’s passionate about what she does. But if a politician or candidate does it, you automatically have that sense of “Oh, he or she is just doing it because they’re running for office.” So how do you bridge that? How do you make it feel more authentic? You know, so that it doesn’t feel just like a modern day kissing a baby type thing?


Brett Bruen  7:56 

Well, I think it is this idea and you know, It’s ironic because Patrick Jephson in that former chief of staff to Princess Di and I had conversations about how in some respects, obviously not in all respects, Donald Trump had the appearance of authenticity and one not dissimilar from Princess Di. And by that we meant you had someone who was speaking seemingly in an authentic way seemingly in a direct way. Whereas Hillary Clinton whether you like her or not, was much more measured in her comments. She was different and structured and what she was saying, which does make it more difficult to resonate and you know, I have talked about before how brands candidates, you know, almost be like the skyscrapers in Mexico City, it’s less about being a very cemented and strong brand as it is having that sway if you want to take a lesson from the Trump playbook it is the ability to – not everything he says is perfect, nor should for companies or for other candidates, everything they say be perfect. There is an attractiveness to those errors and to something that is less than polished or refined. Obviously Trump takes it to an extreme. But I do believe that as we see everything today, we expect to see everything today because of social media because of that constant presence of you know, selfies and filming and do you know capturing everything we do? We want more authentic experiences and talk about how information is less institutionalized now. And so you know, the old concept, and this comes back to crisis management, the notion that you write up your press release, and then you deliver it to the news outlet, who then gives us the news anchor who incorporates it into their evening broadcast is pretty outdated. You have to be able to communicate this or across social media, you have to be able to communicate this in a way where someone else can come with a phone and capture information that or images that that would show that you aren’t be fully transparent or that that you perhaps have some level of hypocrisy in your comments. And, and so that authenticity is is not just a nice to do it is a neat.


Rudy Fernandez  10:26 

Wow, I just had an aha moment. You’re right. people crave authenticity more and more. And here we have a president who mostly speaks in an unscripted unpolished way, and tweets in an unscripted unpolished way. And because he’s doing that people are more willing to forgive when he let’s say is less than accurate.


Brett Bruen  10:51 

Absolutely. And, and it’s coming back to this concept of reservoirs of goodwill and the way that I would describe it. You know, Trump’s descent down the escalator and Trump Tower launching his presidential campaign was essentially to say, in Yiddish, New York parlance. You know, I’m a schmuck. That’s who I am. And it’s, you know, hard after that to fault him because he’s pretty much put it out there. This is who I am. And now what do you have? Where, as you know, and obviously for other candidates and companies, it’s not necessarily a smart indication strategy to go out with or lead with, I’m a schmuck or we’re schmucks. But I would say that there is a lesson to be taken from that experience of saying, no, we’re not perfect. If I go back to Chipotle, we, we’ve got errors in our supply chain, we will fully admit it and we will dedicate ourselves harder, more aggressively to fixing them. But and there’s this you know, analogy you may have seen in the talks that I’d given “What would I have done?” If Samsung had come to me before the Galaxy Note 7, and cell phone batteries, weakness, you could identify even without a degree in cell phone technology, which I do not have. But thinking about it and saying, Okay, well, cell phone technology is kind of like a lunar mission. Not everyone is going to succeed. Not every initiative or endeavor is good. But it’s always about pushing the frontiers of what’s possible. And so stick with us, and we will give you the latest and greatest technology. We will learn from the safety you know, mistakes, just like you know, with the Challenger disaster, I remember so vividly as a young boy, we will learn from them. But we will not stop in our pursuit of getting you that new technology, so stick with us and even if I can only impact 10% of consumers – the Galaxy Note 7 disaster is estimated to cost Samsung $17 billion. So I use this as an example to say, if I can only impact 10% of consumers, that’s $1.7 billion, that I’ve been able to save the company. Something tells me that would cover at least half of the cost of my crisis communications work.


Rudy Fernandez  13:22 

Well, it’s funny you say that we just passed the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. And I had, I was reading some reading some information about it. And I came across a speech that Nixon was to give in case it didn’t make it and it’s online, you can read it. So they had a speech prepared, in case the mission failed. Maybe because government deals more with a real crisis, they tend to have more of that crisis mindset.


Brett Bruen  13:48 

I draw from my experience on the National Security Council and say that it really is essential for companies to adopt more National Security mindset, it’s this idea that you do have to track those issues that are happening, you have to build more not just, you know, scenario plans, but actual scenario countermeasures to use in those situations, you won’t have the time you won’t have the luxury of being able to build this on the fly. And one of the points that I would leave the audience with is the notion of applying the right medicine at the wrong time. And so often what you see in these crisis management scenarios is not just oh, I had a great plan. In fact, we detailed it with excruciating detail in our 150 page crisis management book, but when it came time to actually execute on that, there is the lag time lag of trying to then get it off the ground, well, first getting agreement, okay, we’re going to do that, and then getting it off the ground and building it and then implementing it. And by the time it’s actually moving out into having an effect the crisis system.


Rudy Fernandez  15:12 

So with regards to marketing, communications and crisis management, what on the horizon excites you most? And what concerns you the most?


Brett Bruen  15:21 

Well, what excites me most is how quickly things are changing. And you’re seeing just whole industries that from one year to the next year being completely upended. And so anything seemingly as possible, what scares me and I come back to this idea that we are living in an age where risk has become a constant, where the ability to fabricate facts is pretty sophisticated. And you just got to, I think, have mind shift in how we are looking at crisis management from one where, okay, we’ll go out with the firefighters and we’ll douse the flames and we go back to normal. It’s no longer that luxury of living in an episodic or even, you know, rare occurrence of prices, these are going to become more regular, just like the hurricanes, they’re going to become more ferocious and intense. And we’ve got to develop new tools, we got to develop new ways of thinking about them, that almost you know, girds us for the world of much more ferocious reputational risk. And that’s the challenge that we confront.


Rudy Fernandez  16:40 

By the way. Did you know that had category five? I’ve never heard of those.


Brett Bruen  16:44 

I just found out about that, too.


Rudy Fernandez  16:47 

I could talk to you for hours.


Brett Bruen  16:48 

You bet. Thanks a lot Rudy.


Rudy Fernandez  16:51 

Well, that was part two with Brett Bruen. Thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse. If you want to learn more about the Global Situation Room, visit GlobalSitRoom.com or follow Brett on Twitter for his latest insights on latest events. For show notes, previous episodes and previews to upcoming episodes visit www.creativeouthouse.com/podcast. And if you liked this podcast get on your favorite podcast app and give us five stars, subscribe and share with your friends. Our producer is Susan Cooper. Special thanks to Gopal Swamy and Acoustech Music for creating our earcon to Jason Shablick for his audio advice, and to Jack D’amato for helping us get Brett on the show. Thank you, Jack. Well, that’s it for this episode of Marketing Upheaval. And remember the current state of marketing has got you confused. Don’t worry. It’s not going to change. See ya.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Podcast credits:

Host: Rudy Fernandez

Producer and Cover Art: Susan Cooper

Earcon sound design: Gopal Swamy

Audio Consultant: Jason Shablik

Post production provided by: Music Radio Creative

Hosting provided by: Buzzsprout

Transcripts by: https://otter.ai