Written by Oliver Buckley, Associate Director, Madano Energy Practice

News that US President Donald Trump will withdraw the United States from the global Paris agreement on climate change has reverberated around the world. Criticism has poured in from a swathe of world leaders, as well as captains of industry and leading scientists across the US.

The consequences are potentially huge. The Paris Agreement was signed by 195 nations, binding the world community together in tackling the damage being done to the climate and environment by spiralling global temperature rises. Although the US agreed to only fairly modest targets by global standards, the departure of the world’s largest economy from the deal is sure to cause a major headache for advocates of concerted global action on climate change.

For me, one of the most significant aspects of the matter is that Trump is acting to fulfil a promise he made during a highly charged election campaign. He said he would do something and he’s done it. Agree with him or not on the decision, at least you can say he tackled an issue he felt strongly about head-on.

Not only that, but Trump is moving in a direction that all data, evidence and scientific wisdom should tell him is wrong. That has significant ramifications for communications practitioners.

Trump has framed this issue as being about protecting coal jobs and putting America first, so he probably believes he’s doing the right thing. Announcing his decision, Trump told America that he was elected to serve the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris (though even the Mayor of Pittsburgh has come out against Trump’s stance).

This is an extension of his ‘America First’ energy policy, but as most people in the energy sector know this goes against masses of evidence that the rapid expansion of renewable energy is real and increasingly cost-competitive with coal and other fossil fuels.

That’s important, because we commonly assume that communications strategies should be developed more and more using better data collection and improved analysis. For the US President to ignore the data and make a huge decision like this shows that gut decisions and emotions are still as important as they ever have been.

Actually, this isn’t a surprise. There’s a revealing Trump quote on page 58 of a 1987 issue of New York Magazine, where he talks about the lesson he learned from having narrowly avoided losing $50 million on an investment in the oil & gas sector that on paper sounded like a great opportunity:

“That experience has taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper.”

The important thing to remember is that communications is always about both the rational and the emotional. The rational side of the brain is driven by data and facts and it’s vital that businesses invest in insights-led campaigns that get to the root of solving problems and challenges in all sectors. But on this issue, Trump clearly had a stronger emotional reaction based on his preconceived ideas of the state of America, one that all the data in the world couldn’t change.

What does this mean for communications professionals? Ultimately, when trying to solve an issue or make a big decision, it’s crucial to frame the issue and appeal to the emotional core of your audience, even if the topic in question appears to you to be totally fact-based and objective. To influence busy and confident leaders – whether they run a business, a not for profit or indeed one of the world’s superpowers – showing numbers and clever algorithms just doesn’t cut it sometimes. The old-fashioned gut feeling is still as powerful in communications as it ever has been.

Madano’s dedicated Energy and Insights practices are specialists in developing strategies where communications are critical to success. We use in-depth knowledge and data-driven insights to create a compelling, integrated communications offering that makes a tangible difference to your organisation.

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