Federal Communicators, the Media and Donald Trump

by admin on November 10, 2016



Have federal communicators and the media lost the confidence of the American people?

We need to respect and serve the people we are communicating with. If we don’t, the backlash is considerable.


Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, over fifty national and regional awards.


There are two premises in this article, one is media cluelessness, another is the federal government’s inability to communicate. Both contributed to a rebellion of the American people and swept Donald Trump into power.

I worked for federal and state government public relations for thirty-five years. I won over fifty awards, and wrote “Success With the Media: How to Survive Reporters and Your Organization (Amazon, and Barnes and Nobel at https://amzn.com/151948965X).

For the purposes of this article, I won multiple national awards for government customer service through proactive outreach.


We have a system of communication that is mistrusted by the American people; they don’t trust the media, and they don’t trust the federal government (references at bottom).

When Donald Trump proclaims that he is going to, “drain the swamp,” is he referring to us?

When Donald Trump rails against Washington, D.C., is he protesting policy, how we communicate, or both?


Politico: Trump’s secret was almost exactly the opposite of what even the best-paid consultant would advise. He has run a media campaign directly against the media, helping himself to the copious media attention available to a TV star while disparaging journalists at every podium and venue.

NPR: Donald Trump’s election early Wednesday as president — utterly unprecedented, utterly unexpected — caught the media flat-footed. The distance between the nation’s political press corps and its people has never seemed so stark. The pundits swung and missed. The polls failed. The predictive surveys of polls, the Upshots and FiveThirtyEights, et al. with their percentage certainties, jerked violently in the precise opposite direction of their predictions as election night progressed. There are endless additional examples (i.e., polling data) as to the cluelessness of the media and their unwillingness to consider Trump to be a serious candidate.

The Federal Government

I had a conversation with federal representatives regarding the proper use of Facebook and advertising (I still have their e-mail responses) .

We within government don’t pay for Facebook page announcements (you have to pay Facebook to insure that all who like your page get follow-up posts). Only a small fraction of people signing up for Facebook page alerts get them (less than 20 percent per industry articles).

We don’t tell people that when they sign up. My question was, “Shouldn’t we tell people that it was highly probable that they would not get our messages?”

“That’s not the point,” I was told at high levels of federal digital service. “People share what they get and that helps us get our message out.”

I reiterated, “Isn’t it fundamentally or ethically wrong to promise communications when we know we can’t deliver them?” The response was that I should “grow up” and understand that I am a servant of the people.

This is just one example as to how the federal government doesn’t communicate ethically or well. There is no consensus as to how federal agencies should communicate. There are no rules as to best practices. There is little training for federal communicators. There is nobody bringing federal communicators together to work as a concentric whole beyond the National Association of Government Communicators.

The premise is that the American people have a profound mistrust of the federal government per polling data. Considering all the good things the federal government does, does our inability to ethically and effectively deliver that message make a bad situation worse? If we communicated ethically with precision and speed through products people want, and truly served their needs, would the feds be perceived as poorly as they are?


We need to rethink how we do business with the media. We need to co-produce media articles that serve the interests of the public, see https://www.leonardsipes.com/can-spokespeople-and-reporters-save-quality-journalism/. Informative, fair and balanced journalism serves the interest of the media, government, and the people we serve. Are we doing everything possible to reach out to the media to forge understandings that prompt excellence in media coverage?

There should be a federal center to create products that serve citizens while concurrently training federal spokespeople as to best, ethical practices.

We need to communicate proactively . We now have the tools through audio and video podcasting, story-based articles and fact sheets to communicate our own stories through websites and social media.

Those of us in public affairs need to reevaluate the way we do business. To me, it’s all about ethical proactive and reactive communication. Those training communicators need to produce creative producers of audio, video, story-based articles and fact sheets “and” people who know how to serve both reporters and their organizations. It’s all about quality communications. In the private sector, it’s all about content creation. We should emulate that philosophy.

We need to respect the varied learning styles of those we communicate with.

If we within media and government service did all the above consistently, maybe, just maybe we wouldn’t be at the bottom of the barrel as to trust.

See my website at http://leonardsipes.com for more on communications.

Contact me at leonardsipes@gmail.com.

For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X









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