PR pros weigh in on Scaramucci and the credibility of communications

Anthony Scaramucci...in a "gentler" time / Wikimedia

As Will Rogers famously said, “Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else.” So goes the revolving door that is becoming Trump's White House as Anthony Scaramucci lasted all of 10 days as communications director after a borderline Greek tragedy saw him ascend to the top comms spot.

Sure, as the Twitter denizens take aim with memes and all manner of parody, the fact is that this is a crisis that may very well have a more destructive effect than anyone in this country, or the world, really understands. So in deference to the legendary humorist Rogers — it ain’t that funny.

For the moment, though, this is yet another whack across the world’s knees using the bludgeon of bombast and the communications profession is taking a collective step back and pondering, quite frankly, WTF?

“Following Scaramucci’s outburst to Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker last week, it’s very hard to see how this story could have ended differently,” said Tiffany Guarnaccia, founder and CEO of Kite Hill PR and CEO/founder of Communications Week. “As a communications professional, the last thing you ever want is to become the story – not only does that distract audiences from your client’s message but it also permanently erodes your credibility.”

Credibility is a major issue with the White House — not just with the electorate in the US, but overseas as well — and it appeared clear that Scaramucci really had no business being in the role in the first place.

“I think that he didn’t have the expertise of the background to serve as a director of communications,” said Jane Dvorak, APR and a fellow and the chair of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). “His lack of understanding what is simply on the record and his unprofessional behavior are prime examples of his interaction with the media. It's important that you have credibility, and it's important that you maintain that reputation, and you do that through being credible, and credibility is built on reputation that is consistent, that's honest, that's truthful and that's transparent.”

“The truth is the Mooch [Scaramucci] was never meant to be a communications director. He had two jobs only: to kiss Trump’s backside (and it’s so big, it’s tremendous, it’s really, really great) and to sniff out the leakers,” added Janet Northen, director of agency communications at McKinney in Durham, NC.

What is concerning is that communications, as a craft, may not be as well-understood to the general public and that the behavior of the White House is par for the course.

“These jobs are a lot harder than you think, and that's really why you need to hire someone with the expertise and background in communications that can communicate,” said Dvorak, also president of JKD & Company in Lakewood, Colorado, outside of Denver. “It is my hope that this has illustrated the strategic role the communication professional plays in the companies that they work for, the associations, whether that's municipal, government, whatever role that is. We play a very strategic role in helping companies to be able to communicate their stories, their products, their programs, their services — and there's much more to that than just a quick quip or a tweet or a post.”

The practice of solid communications is one thing, but approaching the White House as a brand, something that Trump seems to excel in, may be an issue that is in play and could very well be successful, but for a narrow audience and one that is ravenous, waiting for the next jab to the establishment.

“The totally insane s**tshow at the White House has not stopped since day one and doesn't look to be letting up. Regardless of political bias, the White House has demonstrated a completely unique approach to managing its brand, and messaging from a marketing and communications standpoint,” said Paul Kontonis, chief marketing officer of Whosay. “Is this an example of how not to manage your communications or the most amazing example ever of how to message to your core audience? The diehards are eating this up in sheer delight. Can this White House get them to buy more? I think we have not reached the end of the wallet for the happy repeat customers of our current President. They will buy more.”

And now it's up to the incoming chief of staff, John Kelly, to reel it all in. But a question still lingers, especially after the exodus of Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, who endured his own foibles, about whether or not anyone is truly up for turning this communications Titanic around.

“If you get someone in there that understands the position — and I don't think it's an easy job...it’s one of the most difficult communications jobs in the United States, by far — I think you can bring and lend some real credibility to what's transpiring there,” Dvorak added.

Time will tell whether that credibility is earned. In the meantime, though, expect a constant diet of memes and parody to rule the day.

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Doug Zanger

Doug Zanger is the Americas editor for The Drum. He leads the Americas editorial team’s content activity in the growing region. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is committed to sharing the most meaningful stories that benefit the global industry and its people. A Minnesota native, Zanger has covered a wide range of brands, issues and personalities, including Aloe Blacc, Seu Jorge, Wendy Clark, Susan Credle, Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and more. Fiercely dedicated to diversity, equality and talent, he has interviewed several women in leadership roles through his Exceptional Women of the World podcast.

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