Just when you thought things couldn’t get any stranger, the White House does it again.
It’s widely accepted that one of the Trump administration’s major failings has been its inability to stay “on message”, with major announcements and centrepiece policies relegated to being mere footnotes to knee-jerk reactions and personal attacks, often instigated by the President himself.
You might think the appointment of a new communications director would represent something of a sea change; however, the immediate aftermath of Anthony Scaramucci’s hiring (with more than 100 articles in the UK media alone in the week following his appointment) would suggest he is very much cut from the same cloth as his employer.
While it is all too easy to focus on the (many) failings of the Trump communication machine, the administration’s difficulties raise some important communications considerations that can and should be learnt from.
Aside from its inconsistency, perhaps the most prevalent feature of this White House’s communications efforts is that they are personality-led and defined by the individual rather than the message.
Personality based PR is tricky (just ask Theresa May…). This isn’t to say it doesn’t have its merits – it certainly does and can be hugely effective, particularly at a time when media is evolving rapidly and communication is increasingly direct between commentators and target audiences, be this via various social media channels or the varying digital offerings of more traditional media platforms.
By implication however, personality-based PR is completely reliant on having a high-quality spokesperson who can engage an audience and clearly articulate their views. Media training can of course help to develop these skills but such communications are only truly effective if the individual in question is enthusiastic about their subject and, above all, can command the respect of whoever they’re speaking to.
A further complication of relying on personalities is “key man risk” and the problems that can arise from this. The “star manager” culture in the asset management world, for example, is not without its pitfalls and there are plenty of examples of businesses that have suffered because a prominent individual has disappeared from the scene.
With that in mind, the best approach would appear to be one where the workload is shared and various people, who are all well-trained, have responsibility for communicating a central message.
All of which brings us back to a US administration that clearly doesn’t understand this, lacks quality and is easily side-tracked by the actions and comments of individuals, the majority of which have little or nothing to do with its central political goals. These issues are all fixable, but almost certainly won’t be because it is all about Mr Trump, the individual. Those in the communications world should take note – this is how not to do things.