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President Trump’s PR spokesperson - the toughest PR job just got tougher

January, 2017

Press secretary to President Trump, Sean Spicer has just made his life so much harder by not following the fundamental rules of PR. Andrew Metcalf, director of Kent PR and marketing agency Maxim, examines what’s behind the epic media fail and how things might be turned around.

Summoning the White House press corps – the country’s top political journalists – for your first briefing on a Saturday night, only to rebuke them was a massive missed opportunity and has seriously damaged relations.

Tell the truth or lose respect

Instead of building bridges, Sean Spicer insisted the President's swearing-in was watched by the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period”. He went on to describe the press as "irresponsible and reckless" over what he called "deliberately false reporting" around the inauguration.

To make matters worse these pointless falsehoods were clearly contradicted by photographic evidence, undermining his position, respect and credibility.

Answer questions

After getting the press away from their family and friends on a Saturday night, Sean Spicer’s refusal to take any questions, shows at best a lack of understanding, at worst a monumental lack of respect for the press, but he’s not a former journalist.

Asking questions is a fundamental right of the press, a spokesperson might not want to respond but ultimately that is your job, and you need to be properly briefed and prepared.

Dampen down, don’t add fuel

President Trump’s counsel Kellyanne Conway didn’t help matters. When questioned over Spicer’s falsehoods during an NBC interview, she replied that they weren’t lies, but “alternative facts”. As a result the interview reignited the story and took it one step closer to the President.

Don’t threaten

President Trump in a visit to the CIA’s HQs branded the media “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” before saying “they’re going to pay a big price”. Kellyanne Conway then said the new administration “might have to rethink” its relationship with the press, and showed a lack of commitment to rebuilding any bridges with the media – making the life of the PR team even tougher.

Be appropriate

President Trump’s PR team need to recognise that they, and the President, are no longer on the campaign trail, but are in the White House. As the apparent Leader of the Free World, Trump and his advisers will have to act accordingly in the eyes of the media, and the public.

It’s unclear how much PR advice Trump takes, but one thing’s for certain: he can’t be lambasting the media, minorities, security services, in person or on Twitter, on a daily basis.

Transparency matters

Trump’s team needs to be transparent – and while Kerryanne Conway may not think the President’s tax returns are of interest to the US public, they are to the US press who see their collective role as being to hold public officials to account.

It’s vital for the new administration that every effort is made to rebuild the relationship based on transparency and openness.

Switch-off the source

The source of many of the negative stories surrounding the President is his Twitter account. The last thing any PR person wants to wake-up to is an incendiary tweet and the social media firestorm it creates before you’ve had your first coffee.

Twitter is the oxygen to most of Trump’s recent spats with the media or parts of his electorate – switch off the account and you stop the damage. Many US corporations will also thank you as it’ll stop the impact of his critical tweets on their share values.

Social media is not the media

Trump may own and control his Twitter account, and see it as his way of engaging with his supporters. However, he hasn’t the same control over mainstream media and online news sites and recognising this fact should make life easier for his PR team.

Move the agenda on

Although the first press briefing didn’t go according to plan, they’ll now want to swiftly move on and get back to his core message of America First, but that might prove difficult after antagonising and alienating some in the media.

The PR agenda should focus on Trump’s vision for his first 100 days, rather than how many people did ¬¬– or didn’t – attend his inauguration. The voting public will want to see action, and the media will report on it.

Equally the global media and national leaders will want to know what America First means for the rest of the world. It’s another challenge for Trump’s PR team.

Act quickly

Importantly, his PR team needs to quickly stop presenting their side of any future negative story as ‘alternative facts’, as that way leads to a toxic relationship with the press – and lampooning by satirists.

Donald Trump has the lowest approval rating of any President coming to office, if he doesn’t turn his relationship around with the press quickly, the ratings will probably fall further.

A week used to be a long time in politics, thanks to the combination of Donald Trump, his Twitter account and the global focus on his pronouncements, a day now seems a long time.

Andrew Metcalf - Director

Andrew Metcalf

Maxim / Managing Director

posted in: advice, digital, marketing, media relations, public relations, reputation management, social media,

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