When Donald Trump won that election two things happened.
One, a lot of people cried. And two, the hiring of crisis communication consultants peaked.
Why? Because President-Elect Mr. Trump had squarely aimed his thumbs at numerous companies and brands, including General Motors, Lockheed Martin, Vanity Fair and Boeing.
Not to mention The New York Times too.
Numerous articles popped up online with headlines like “When Trump Attacks: How Companies And Countries Should Handle A Presidential Twitter Tirade”
What was happening had seldom been experienced before; a world where the potential leader of the free world was using social media to rattle the cage of corporate America.
It started as a form of political pressure to stop jobs being moved overseas. But in time it became more than that. Speculation gathered momentum, grudges perhaps? Old flames? Trump finally had the platform to deliver his rather strange and juvenile form of justice through the medium of social media.
Then it happened. He won that election, and during his first week in office Trump issued 23 140-character press releases on Twitter. Of those 23, six were complaints about a news organisation he frequently focusses on: The New York Times.
In the presidential race alone he tweeted on 60 separate occasions about The Gray Lady.
From irritation at not being featured on the front page.
To accusing journalists of phony reporting.
Such frequent, sustained attacks then shifted to the business itself. The White House has called it “the opposition party,” and an “enemy of the American people,” it appeared that the mainstream media was in the midst of a brand problem.
Growing tired of the rhetoric, The New York Times Chief Executive Mark Thompson, a man who previously led the BBC, called his leadership team into a meeting. Looking at his CRO, Meredith Kopit Levien and Deputy Publisher, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger he asked them:
“What would you do if I gave you $10 million dollars?”
They decided to join forces with Droga5, the creative agency renowned for crafting the communications that put brands Ecko, Android, and Under Armour on the map.
In an interview with AdAge, Kopit Levien said that the campaign was built around the idea that “news became the news.”
Sensing an opportunity, the team created a campaign to reiterate why quality journalism truly mattered and returned in February with their rebuttal – a TV spot during the Oscars.
This idea was encapsulated in a powerfully simple piece of work. A plain white screen with rotating typography presenting conflicting statements anchored by the words “The Truth Is”.
The ad served to remind the world of the power of journalism in delivering the truth. It also reminded us that the free press is there for holding power accountable.
“We blew about half of our budget on the airtime of that 30-second spot,” joked Thompson as he told the story on stage at The Marketing Society’s November ‘Brave Conference’ hosted at The Science Museum in London.
Nevertheless, the first ad did exactly what it was supposed to do.
It stirred opinion and created serious fanfare. Everyone had a say on it, including Trump himself. Naturally, Thompson welcomed it. Trump was playing into their hands:
Strange things started to happen too. People gathered to protest outside the offices of The New York Times in what Thompson describes as a ‘Pro-Truth’ rally. The accompanying print ad was also being displayed en-masse in stores all around New York.
“It was fascinating and totally unexpected,” he said.
Not soon after they released part two of the campaign. Two videos beautifully directed by Darren Aronofsky who took us on a photographic journey of two stories, Tyler Hicks and Bryan Denton. The pair were photojournalists and the ad highlighted the extraordinary lengths they went to during their time covering the refugee crisis in Greece, and ISIS in Iraq.
Droga5 executive creative director Tim Gordon says if the first part of the campaign was a kind of grand acknowledgment, almost empathizing with the world for the lack of places to turn for truth, this second phase is around the dedicated journalists whose job it is to find it all costs.
So what do you do if you are attacked by Donald Trump? Thompson summarised before he left the stage:
1. Mission makes the best branding
2. Even when you’re the center of attention, it’s worth telling your own story.
3. Your employees and your customers are your best brand champions – activate them.
4. When the world goes mad, bravery is the best option.