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PR and Trump: Five Attributes of a Good Media Spokesperson

Media Spokesperson Disaster - Anthony Scaramucci and Trump

Media Spokesperson Disaster – Anthony Scaramucci and Trump

The saga of PR and Trump rolls on unabated. The world’s most overconfident man, with the poorest grasp of what his job entails, desperately needs a good media spokesperson.

But the beleaguered US President’s selection of Wall Street big-hitter Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci as his communications director, a role for which the foul-mouthed mega-rich financier was remarkably unsuited, again illustrates that PR and Trump are like oil and water. And that leadership is not something that comes naturally to the gaudy New York property developer, braggart and social media maniac.

So, what are the key attributes of a good media spokesperson?

* Understanding journalists. A good media spokesperson needs to have an excellent grasp of what the media wants and how journalists tick. To do this, it is highly advantageous to have worked at a national level as a journalist. It helps you comprehend the thought processes of journalists and to appreciate what you can and cannot say to a reporter.

In this respect, Anthony Scaramucci was a babe in arms. He did not have a clue, as illustrated by the disastrous briefing he gave to a journalist in which he described Trump former chief of staff Reince Priebus as “a f*cking paranoid schizophrenic” and said Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon was “trying to suck his own c*ck”. The story was reported all over the world and led to Scaramucci’s sacking after less than a fortnight in post. Has a media spokesperson’s briefing ever been so appalling, disastrous and self-destructive?

* Acting as a “conduit” for your employer. For a communications director or media spokesperson such as Anthony Scaramucci, the clue is in the word “spokesperson” (or spokesman or spokeswoman). You are a person, man or woman who speaks on behalf of another person or people. In this case, Anthony Scaramucci was supposed to be speaking on behalf of the circus clown known as Trump.

Admittedly, Scaramucci, with his huge fortune and big ego, was highly unsuited to this role, but he should have been able to work out that the basis of a media spokesperson’s job was to take a brief from the boss and relay it to the media, rather than ad lib with journalist, stating his own repulsive opinions.

* Behaving professionally at all times. Believe it or not, most media spokespersons and communication directors are professional in their behaviour. They don’t swear, tell outright lies or bad-mouth people. Granted, political media spokespersons have a poorer reputation for professionalism than those in the business world or the voluntary sector.

In politics, many a media spokesperson has come a cropper for getting too close to the Malcolm Tucker model. The testosterone-charged, obscene, sweary, inadequate bully is something that appeals to a certain type of sad party-political apparatchik. But in practice, the Tuckers of this world crash and burn. Just look at Theresa May’s former dirty duo, Timothy and Hill, and what happened to them. And in this latest case, Anthony Scaramucci’s 11 days as Trump’s media spokesperson illustrate how vital professionalism is to a media spokesperson.

* Keeping your own house in order. As a media spokesperson, you speak for your organisation and its leader. Your role is to defend and protect the boss – while maintaining your integrity to the best of your ability. Of course with Trump, a walking, talking, tweeting PR disaster, this is never going to be easy. But it is just about possible.

It is key not to become the story, as Anthony Scaramucci quickly did with his dirty talk, poor judgment and car-crash personal life, generating stories such as “It’s Donald or me: Trump’s foul-mouthed media chief dumped by wife who is tired of his ‘naked ambition'”, Mail on Sunday, 30 July 2017.

* Inspiring confidence. To be a successful media spokesperson, it is necessary to have personal credibility. You do this by having a polite and professional (that word again) approach to your colleagues to journalists (and everyone else, for that matter). As a media spokesperson, you are unlikely to agree with all the views you hear.

Indeed, it would be impossible. But that is neither here nor there. With the boss and other colleagues in your organisation, department or administration, you find and work out the information, lines and tactics you need to brief journalists successfully. To journalists you need to be fair and measured in your approach. You must remember that they are neither your friends nor your foes. They are professional people with a job to do. If you respect them, they will respect you. End of story.

Anthony Scaramucci, with his raging ambition, £64million fortune and silly nickname, seems to have lacked all of the basic skills of a media spokesperson. Moreover, he failed to act with the prudence and patience needed to ease himself into a job that was well outside his field of competence.

Anthony Scaramucci - sacked media spokesperson

Anthony Scaramucci – sacked media spokesperson

Perhaps, Trump needs to spend less time playing golf and tweeting and more time considering whether specific skills are required for a specialist job. I doubt he would hire a firm with absolutely no experience of building, or desire to learn, to put up one of his tower blocks. So, why did he choose someone with no media spokesperson experience, or aptitude for the role, to speak for him? A Trump Mini-Me who he had to sack.

* This article is purely the view of the Brighton-based author who leads media spokesperson courses and press release writing courses in London and Sussex.