Why comms people should never make headline news

This week’s shenanigans at the White House are a timely reminder for us comms folk that we need to remember our professional standing. I firmly believe that it is our role to influence from behind the scenes – and that comms people should never make headline news.

Last night news broke that White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci had been fired. This came after just 10 days in the post. In addition to reports that President Trump was far from happy with his performance, he had drawn criticism after calling a reporter to give a profanity-laced tirade against his own colleagues. A perfect example of how ill discipline and lose comms-lips can sink your own PR ship.

Major mistakes

Shortly before this, White House press secretary, Sean Spicer also departed his comms role on 21 June. His indefensible claim about the crowd size at President Trump’s inauguration and comments regarding Hitler and chemical weapon use were the tip of the iceberg. It seemed like he was always making headline news for his gaffs. However, he disagreed with the appointment of Mr Scaramucci, calling it a “major mistake”. This led to his exit after just 6 months in post.

Scaramucci and Spicer are not the first comms advisors to become the headline news story. Other notables include:
Andy Coulson

Coulson was editor of the News of the World from 2003 until he resigned in 2007 after being caught up in the illegal phone-hacking scandal of the noughties. In 2011 he became David Cameron’s communications director. However, the continued media coverage of the phone hacking affair made his position untenable. In a statement regarding his departure even he admitted: “…when the spokesman needs a spokesman, it’s time to move on.” [Source: BBC]

Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill

Fiona Hill was a former Sky News and Scotsman journalist who became a special adviser to Theresa May. She was forced to resign in a 2014 dispute with Michael Gove over who was to blame for briefing newspapers about an increase in extremism in schools. She returned to the fold when Mrs May became PM.
Nick Timothy was credited with influencing Theresa May’s views on social mobilty and the need to put Conservative policies in place for working people. This backfired following the 2017 General Election with results that were not as expected for the Conservatives. The party itself reported that the pair had “taken the fall” for the prime minister. [Source: BBC]

Justine Sacco
In 2013 Justine Sacco was  senior director of corporate communications at IAC. She was about to board a flight from New York to South Africa to visit family when she tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” In the space of the flight time the tweet went viral and her life changed forever.
Reactive tweets from other social media users included:
 “How did @JustineSacco get a PR job?! Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox News. #AIDS can affect anyone!”
and
“I’m an IAC employee and I don’t want @JustineSacco doing any communications on our behalf ever again. Ever.”
Consequently, her employer pretty much fired her on social media and the whole world knew – before she did. She has since become a hate figure and has struggled to work in any job since. [Source: NYTimes]
Think strategically: think twice
I think its important for us comms folk to always think strategically. Particularly before opening our mouths or picking up our phones. We need to keep our role as one behind the story – not making headline news.

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