Crowd Psych in a C-19 Capitalism Crisis

Before I deep dive into the covert machinations of influence and news media message massaging, click here for an update for seafood producers, whether wild capture fishers or aquaculture farmers. It’s a statement from Bernadette Jordan, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard.

The fisheries industry in Canada imploded in large part when China shut its borders – very little is going in or out. China purchases more Canadian seafood than any country in the world. Consequently, when Asia struggles for breath, Canadian seafood producers also gasp for air.

Minister Jordan and her team have been scrambling since the pandemic took hold. You can see the results of some of their work in the links at the bottom of this article. The information applies to almost all businesses, including fisheries that require special considerations.

The Covid-19 common sense rule of thumb is to FIRST take care of yourself and your family, and then your business. Our goal as Canadians is to get through this together. If you’ve never trusted the government in the past, you might want to relax your bias a bit and clear your mind so you can focus on the task at hand. One step at a time is good advice for everyone in these perilous times.

The blame game is incredibly dangerous today because it distracts you from doing the right things to protect yourself and your company.

Relaying critical information and keeping people calm is a leadership skill that can be learned. It helps if you also possess a natural affinity for empathy, or … if it at least looks like you care.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump are polar opposites in this regard. Trudeau cultivates calm while Trump plants panicboth leadership strategies can be effective, but the latter has serious long term ramifications.

Our Canadian prime minister injects valuable and compassionate health science information into his democratic messages, while the U.S. commander in chief, who self-named his position, “wartime president” … plays off of patriotism and capitalism.

The USA is fully immersed in a 2020 social experiment the world is watching closely, especially Canadians who share a very long border with the US – 8,891k/5,525m. We’ve heard for decades that when the U.S. sneezes, Canada gets a cold. Historically, the aphorism is reflective of the economic relationship between our two countries, today however, Canadians are also taking it literally. Many Canadians believe it’s in our best interest to protect ourselves from a neighbor that had not taken the globally coronavirus pandemic as seriously as we have in Canada. From a world perspective, news reports claim Trump reacted slowly in highly critical areas, many say recklessly. It’s too soon though, to tell in the absolute, if he’s a mad genius, or just mad.

We’ll all know in thirty days.

Great leaders are proactive,
and not
shoot-from-the-hip reactive.

Hopefully, for the sake of Canadians, and Americans of course, Trump is an exception.

I hesitate to refer to Covid-19 statistics because EVERYONE has their own accounting system. At this stage, the numbers are incredibly chaotic. When you’re talking about profit margins, fudging the numbers is not a really big deal. Morally however, when lives are at risk, misrepresentation is criminal, although you would never know it by today’s crisis reporting standards.

Trudeau and Trump use very different psychological strategies to manage their audiences.

One is calming and informative, and the other manipulative and coarse.

Both hide more than they know in order to prevent widespread panic, which is a responsible position taken by many political leaders. People are already scared and need to be assured that those in charge have a plan and that life will soon return to relative normal.  

Psychological crowd persuasion has been an intellectual artform since time immemorial. Unless you’re a dictator, there is usually little benefit to heightening fear.

Politicians often mistakenly believe that they are the masters of the mediacom universe, but the reality is that musicians take the top spot by a very large margin. Music entertainers manage crowd consciousness better than any group. John Mayer’s Drone Shot from My Yacht is a good example –950,000+ views on day one. U.S. presidents leverage the popularity of entertainers because it’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to build/buy an audience.

In an early career I ran point on operations and promotions for a global star who sold tens of millions of albums and concert tickets worldwide. The act I co-managed dominated the top ten Billboard position for over a decade on both the pop and country charts. A series of cross-over hits quickly pushed us to “superstar” status. Our crowd consciousness strategies were carefully designed to hook Hollywood talk show producers. We worked projects with two U.S. presidents as well as Fortune 100 companies, and learned from them all, as they did from us. We sold out Radio City Music Hall in NYC countless times, plus the 65,000 seat Houston Astrodome and every major city and whistle-stop across Canada, the U.S., and around the globe. Success like that is all about managing the message effectively.

Landing a hit song is literally about having everyone in the world, industry and fans, sing your new song all at the same time. You do it by appealing to and managing the target audience’s emotions. The challenge is to draw everyone into YOUR world and convince them into believing that you not only have the best song, but that you are the best act to deliver it. There are many one-hit-wonders who luck into it, and fall out just as quickly. We “made” our luck, and nailed hit after hit for almost two decades. They all weren’t #1, but they were top ten, which means we were audience top of mind in a pool of very exclusive entertainers. Unlike Trump’s grandiose self-proclamations, we didn’t refer to ourselves as superstars, but we did wear the accolade with pride. Humility, ironically, is one reason we had hit after hit, year upon year. Unlike many of our peers, we focused on long-term goals. “Never let your short term greed get in the way of your long term greed.” anonymous

I know from first hand experience over many decades that when you’re top of mind it means you’re trusted, and when you’re trusted you can say almost anything and your core fans will happily go along for the ride. Leaders like Trudeau and Trump know this clearly. One of my tasks as an entertainment manager was to help formulate a message and disseminate it to the world. We got pretty good at it after issuing thousands of media releases resulting in thousands of interviews. We learned from America’s best Hollywood and NYC agents. We also knew how to obscure information, and how to manipulate a message using news media in a way that brought us closer to our diversified audience.

In a later second career, I wrote and produced business newsletters about strategies to manage news reporters during a media crisis. The newsletters were read by thousands of c-level executives and high ranking politicians, including a dozen U.S. senators, plus MBA students at Harvard Law School. When our clients got into PR trouble, through no fault of their own or due to an innocent mistake, we taught spokespeople how to manage the message to ensure that their side of the story was fairly represented. I wrote this newsletter for almost twenty years and can attest that Trudeau is a master at delivering messages and gets critical information across so his audience feels heard and respected. Does he hit the bullseye every time. No, but who does? Whether the information is accurate is for you to decide. The point is that Trudeau delivers information in a manner that helps Canadians understand as much as he and his team need the public to know at the time.

The secret to managing a wide-cross-section crowd, which is what Covid-19 represents – old and young of all persuasions, is to not alienate your followers. Quite literally, “don’t piss anyone off” was our motto. Relatively speaking, in the world of music, it’s often less complicated to land the first hit because it’s a formula. The challenge however is duplicating your success, and that’s where the not pissing someone off edict comes into play. Once you have a fan in your corner, your main job is to keep them, and to grow your crowd on top of this base. Growing a crowd is rooted in a cumulative algorithm. Trudeau and Trump both get this in their own unique ways. Trudeau designs his message for all intellectual aptitudes, while Trump primarily targets the lowest common denominator.

It’s critical to conscript your early fans, the real diehards, to sing your praises, and the best way to do it is through trust and consistency. Early first fans, trust that along the way you will keep delivering the same message, but different, but not too different. The different part is important because humans get bored easily. It’s one reason the news cycle lasts about four weeks for big events. Usually, it’s one week though before news companies shift to the next crisis. Politicians in trouble often jump on the next crisis in the breech … or they create one. Like magicians, they are masters at misdirection.

Trump is extremely adept in this regard.

A new crisis distracts voters from an old crisis.

It’s important to conscript your early followers to evangelize your message. Both Trudeau and Trump do this exceedingly well. Trudeau’s style is to bring people together through a common message, while Trump polarizes and bullies people into following his lead. Both styles work in a relatively normal environment, but considering the pandemic panic permeating the world today, it will be interesting to see which strategy will contribute to saving the most lives.

Incredulously, Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick thinks that American seniors should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the good of the economy, and Trump seems to be mimicking the sentiment, although he hasn’t said it in so many words. He does maintain however that the cure should not be harsher than the disease – and by cure he means economic cure, not health. It’s a platitude many support, but is America really ready to let grandma slip quietly into the night so the U.S. can be Great Again!?  

Patrick said “I’m all in.”

For the record, “I’m all out.” (Full disclosure, I’m a grandparent and would die for my grandkids or kids, and maybe even you depending on the circumstances, but never for the economy. I’m selfish that way.)

Trump, half-surprisingly, is not at all arguing against Patrick’s ludicrous musing that seniors wouldn’t mind volunteering to sacrifice their lives for the economy. Patrick argues that because seniors no longer directly contribute to the economy and are ostensibly a pandemic liability, that they should step aside, graciously of course.  Of course.

Kids, at least for the moment in America are still safe, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that a child’s contribution to the American economy will also soon be re-evaluated.

Considering that Trump proclaims himself a wartime president, he obviously believes he’s at war. And as we all know, all is fair in love and war, which is code for justifying the dismantling of morality.

Many Americans believe Trump is acting rationally.

Some argue that Patrick was just ruminating out loud and that he doesn’t actually hold true to his statement. In my humble opinion, based on my decades of influencing the emotions of enormous global audiences; What Patrick injected into the conversation was more than a brain fart. He planted a seed that draws on the same obscure communications tactics that public relations specialists have used for decades – the hard part in any promotional campaign is introducing a new subject into the lexicon. Dropping a bomb like that was old school military.

Usually, the more controversial an idea, the better it is to introduce it in a passive aggressive way. It’s easy to back away saying, “I didn’t mean it literally and in ‘that’ context.”

The point is, the “seniors suicide” conversation has started, and anyone listening, trolls especially, will run with it. Take a look at what most people think about sacrificing seniors.

Old Boy’s Club Americans don’t hesitate to make sacrifices when the going gets tough. Back in the day it was young non-white men on the front lines. Today, it’s seniors limping towards the light who are going to die at some point anyway, so it might as well be now. A dollar is a dollar.



Government links for Canadian Seafood Producers and Suppliers, whether wild capture or aquaculture.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit for Workers & Businesses

Exemption to Travel Restrictions

Support to Businesses

Maurice Cardinal has been a fisheries marketing and communications advisor and writer in British Columbia for almost a decade and has worked with leading organisations, NGOs, and governments in Canada and abroad.