How not to spin out of control like Scaramucci

Even as we started to learn about him, and guess what on earth his appointment meant for the world, Donald Trump’s potty-mouthed communications director Anthony Scaramucci had been fired. It’s widely reported that he was “10 days into the job” – in fact his official start date would have been 15 August.

In going before he arrived, “The Mooch” seemed to burn brighter and faster than a walk-on part in The Thick Of It.

To start with, a few reminders of the man’s style (not least because we got a lot less of it than we were expecting).

In an interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis on Wednesday Scaramucci said he couldn’t stand “the back-stabbing that goes on” in Washington. “Where I grew up, we’re front stabbers,” he added.

Here he is brow-beating a New Yorker journalist Ryan Lizza: “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”

He also told Lizza: “I’m not Steve Bannon [Trump’s chief strategist], I’m not trying to s*ck my own ****. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f***ing strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.”

Whitehouse chief of staff Reince Priebus, who reportedly delayed Scaramucci’s appointment, was, he added, “a f***ng paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac”, he added for good measure. When Priebus was forced out in short order, we all assumed Mooch was in the ascendant.

Then a four-star general arrived as new chief of staff, and Scaramucci was the one left with a front-facing embedded dagger problem.

Is the judgement that the public has tired of/ see through this sort of PR/ comms? Professionally, I’m always horrifiedly gripped by a comms person getting a high-profile push.

Scaramucci has done many things in his career – Harvard law graduate, hedge-fund manager. But he was a little green on the comms front.

Here’s some of the rules he broke:

  1. Don’t eclipse the client. His loyalty to president Trump was said to be fierce (not just sweary). But loyalty’s not enough – Scaramucci seemed blind to the fact that he made himself the story. Irreverence, unpredictability, a loose grasp of political correctness – these are his boss’s stock in trade. It was his almost-job to explain his boss to the world.
  2. Don’t present a bigger target. It did seem that suddenly Trump’s detractors had two targets to shoot at – when The Donald took time off tweeting to run the free world, up popped The Mooch with his own Twitter habit.
  3. Don’t try and run the show. Comms directors shouldn’t be firing chiefs of staff – how are we even discussing that?
  4. Don’t lack a plan. Distraction can’t be the permanent comms plan – was this guy changing any minds? Changing minds is what the president needs to do if his stalled legislative programme is to make progress.
  5. Don’t get obsessed. The obsession with leaks sounded unhinged – the president needed objective professional advice from a cool dispassionate adviser. And, surely, removing those responsible for a leak should be more coup de grace than coup d’etat?
  6. Don’t mistake getting away with something as a skill. How did Malcolm Tucker, and the real life spinners he was based on, get away with being so pugnacious? Well, journalists tell me it’s really only because these people are gatekeepers to people and information – they dealt with the macho-posturing of these people because they had to deal with them. But for the press, the record of unpleasant conduct by spinners makes it all the sweeter when the spinners become the story for all the wrong reasons.

If you’d like help managing your comms – or even with a swearing problem – I hope you’ll get in touch.

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