Author’s Note: I must preface this article by emphasizing that this is in no way an endorsement of Donald Trump in his bid for the presidency. It is, however, a study of his ability to attract and ignite new voters.
In July 2015, Trump declared his candidacy for president of the United States while at the same time taking his first step into the country’s political sandbox. He has gone from New York businessman to presumptive GOP presidential nominee in less than a year, and seemingly broken every campaign rule along the way.
Now I am by no means an advocate for many of the tactics Trump has used to attract and retain his millions of loyal followers, but as a communications instructor and marketing professional, I cannot help but take note of his messaging success.
We in agriculture all seem to understand the goal, but too many consumers are still unaware of our mission and unwilling to listen to our point of view. Maybe it’s time we reassess how we conduct our own campaigns and take a few cues from the man who has made himself a household name.
The following are my five takeaways from Trump’s political playbook that I believe can help us in agriculture continue to connect with consumers and activists:
1. Connect with their issues. Trump has expanded the tent of the Republican Party by speaking to voters who previously felt abandoned and ignored. He specifically calls out the obstacles and difficulties people face and at the same time draws in voters who previously felt abandoned by the party and ignored during conversations.
As advocates, we must lead with empathy and meet consumers where they stand. It’s not about finger-pointing and name-calling but finding common ground and mutual understanding.
2. Find new faces. Trump’s ability to step outside of the traditional GOP talking points and policy stances has enabled him connect with millions of people who previously never felt embraced by the party and political system. These legions of new voters are now part of the conversation and the Republican electorate.
Many agriculture advocates can tell you which mommy bloggers or movie stars are anti-GMO or have spoken out against animal agriculture, but have no clue what their neighbor thinks about pesticide use and organic produce. Sadly, I’m guilty as charged. I often overlook the people in my daily orbit as I reach to connect with those outliers. Our conversations must start at home and travel with us to everyone we encounter.
3. Find your voice. In a sea of politically correct speech and party-approved talking points, Trump quickly rose to the top with his brash yet simplistic speeches and rallies. He has no stump speech he repeats at each rally or acronym-filled policy musings to fill the time. Instead he uses his own unique form of speech to simplify his message and drive home his thoughts.
Every one of us fighting for the future of agriculture has a unique story to tell. While we all have common interests and goals, our voices and approaches can and should remain our own. Use your own viewpoints and beliefs to connect with voters. It may not look or sound the same as the farmer next door, and that’s OK.
4. Always be willing to talk. Many have blamed the media for Trump’s rapid success, claiming their willingness to give him free air time and publicity has given him a clear advantage over others running for office.
Trump’s amazing amount of media coverage is largely the result of his willingness to speak with journalists anytime and anywhere. A reporter for The New York Times Magazine recently wrote a profile on Trump and revealed that Trump’s press secretary often travels with him and will simply hand the phone to Trump when a reporter calls asking for an interview. No games, appointments or worrying about the who and what. Trump simply takes the call and talks.
Few are comfortable enough to speak with reporters or members of the media at a moment’s notice, but we can all make ourselves more approachable and available. Take every opportunity to connect with reporters and tell your story, because if you don’t, someone else will. And it may not be the story you want told.
5. Bad hair, don’t care. Trump has risen to fame despite a head of hair that has been the butt of political jokes this entire election cycle. He owns his looks and doesn’t let a little comb-over get in his way. It’s part of his character and over-the-top persona.
None of us is perfect and we rarely look camera-ready, but that that shouldn’t prevent us from stepping up and stepping out. We’re all human. We all have unique characteristics that endear us to one another. We shouldn’t let our waistline or wrinkles prevent us from speaking out and sharing our story.
When we allow our imperfections to shine through, consumers will see that we are also just moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, trying to do our part to provide quality food for our families and theirs.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Kansas AgLand, published by The Hutchinson News.