Before we could even get tired of having a Queen-inspired “ScaraMOOCH! ScaraMOOCH!” earwig, we’re already shifting to “Another One Bites the Dust.” And this time, absolutely no one should be surprised.
With this administration, it’s just par for the course.
It’s probably safe to say that this White House will learn nothing from the most recent hebdomas horribilis, but one of many in what will certainly be an annus horribilis. But perhaps there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the constant stream of textbook-ready DON’T examples for communications professionals. Just in the past week, we’ve seen perfect examples of six principles that anyone who opens their mouth in public should understand:
Always tell the truth
Well, if you’re with this administration, this could be an impossible bar. It’s even questionable whether it is a bar they’ve chosen to aspire to. Alternative facts rule the day and without real reporting, it’s impossible to tell where the lies end and the truth begins (if at all).
Scaramucci fit the bill perfectly, publicly touting blind loyalty to Herr Presidente so much that one wonders how he would ever appear to be “fact-based.” His now-former-colleague Kellyanne Conway almost seems tame in her reverence in comparison. While she may be the original worshiping truth-twister, Mooch’s 14 uses of ”love” in reference to his new (now old) boss really took the big piece of chocolate cake.
There is no “off the record” if you’re “off your rocker”
The ouster of Anthony Scaramucci after just 10 days as communications director — or rather ACTING communications director, since he was never sworn in -— is a welcome surprise to those of us in the PR business whose reputation he was sullying by association. One can only assume that the sudden firing is a result of the infamous tirade of the other day, combined with the new appointment of General John Kelly as chief of staff. Hard to imagine those two things co-existing under the same roof. One can only hope, for their sake — for our sake as a country — that the General is given the authority to bring a little discipline to this out of control situation.
Don’t name call
You can almost feel a little sorry for Reince Priebus, whose fall from grace was ultimately hastened by Scaramucci’s vicious-yet-childish verbal attack. And that’s another terrible habit that Trump et al are trying to normalize.
In communications 101, lobbing ad hominem attacks like this will get you an F. Any time you make your argument about the person rather than the issue, you lose. Or at least you should lose (sigh, Benghazi, email).
Rhetorical analysis aside, this is just horribly unprofessional, and it’s bound to come back and bite you where it hurts. It’s happened a few times in the White House, too. “Late Great” President Lincoln fired a general for calling him a “well-meaning baboon” and Truman fired MacArthur for smack-talking the President’s military strategy.
Know your audience
OK, it’s not all about the Mooch. When Donald Trump agreed to address the annual Boy Scouts Jamboree, it’s as if he forgot to read the invitation, or maybe he got confused and thought he was back at the annual American Conservative Union CPAC event. Despite the cheering (from my experience, boys age 8-13 will cheer at pretty much anything if it involves a big arena and a lot of pomp and circumstance), this speech was downright embarrassing for all of us.
And that’s not the only bluster blunder from him this week. It was also the week during which Donald basically told a phalanx of police officers on Long Island that it’s ok to rough up those they arrest. WHAT? What country are we in? Giving a free pass to police officers by telling them not to be “too nice to suspects” makes us wonder if he realized he was potentially putting people’s lives in danger.
As if to change the subject from, well, just about everything, the President’s unexplainable tweet regarding trans people in the military came out of nowhere. This sudden Trump dump had Donald threatening to irrevocably change the lives of thousands of individuals already defending our nation. Ill-considered for sure, but also totally flying in the face of his own remarks during the campaign. For example, on June 14, 2016, he famously tweeted, "Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”
While clients often think that PR is so easy, anyone can do it - it’s not. And so it’s generally better having someone in the role who has done it before, or at least who’s open to learning the basics - like how to talk to reporters, what is off the record, and when you should talk and when you shouldn’t.
Calling a reporter to rant about leaks while you’re leaking yourself is an obvious blooper.
When it comes to Congress, looking to those who’ve come before can be instructive. Instead of harkening back to the Congressional leaders of the past who have modeled a tradition of bipartisan government, they are trying to forge a new single party system that has proven disastrous.
The good news is that now, Congress has no choice but to work more collaboratively across the aisle and trade on the experience Senator McCain talked about on the floor last week, a speech that we can hold up as an example of good communications. And we also hope it’s the start of trend toward another PR principle: Taking responsibility. Because eventually, lying, going on tirades, contradicting yourself, being inappropriate - these will only make bad situations worse.