What took him so long?
After months of working as White House Press Secretary for a boss who offers zero guidance, zero trust and maximal public abuse, Sean Spicer finally resigned.
Good for him.
Every day, Spicer went to work knowing that his function was unappreciated, his counsel ignored and his contribution to any public understanding of the Administration’s actions, virtually impossible.
Here are the five reasons why any press secretary, no matter how competent – be it Anthony Scaramucci, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Laura Ingraham or Mother Theresa – is doomed to failure with Donald Trump as their boss.
1. No Understanding Of/Respect For Public Relations.
Most CEOs haven’t the slightest idea what public relations is all about, but since they pay for it, they accept the function, work to understand it and, in some cases, grow enormously to respect it.
Not so Donald Trump.
He doesn’t understand that public relations is all about building positive relationships, by communicating clearly and honestly, actions in the public interest. Positive public relations is built on truth and transparency.
In Trump’s view, public relations is there to do his bidding, to communicate what he wants when he wants it, regardless of appropriateness or veracity. Public relations, Trump feels, requires no particular skill or experience. That’s why he appointed a hedge fund manager to run his communications office.
Trump considers himself a master of public relations (He’s not.). And he considers his public relations spokesmen as necessary evils.
An impossible workplace for a professional public relations person.
2. Public Relations Instincts are All Wrong.
At his White House media introduction, incoming Communications Director Scaramucci credited his new boss for having the best public relations instincts.
Left to his own instincts, Trump is a walking public relations disaster; the original “Ready Fire Aim.”
Trump’s recent New York Times interview with three rabid Timesmen eager to roast him, is the latest example of bad instincts getting worse. The Times’ interview, in which Trump, inexplicably, berated his own Attorney General and once most ardent supporter Jeff Sessions, was apparently concocted by the President himself. Accompanying him to the crucifixion was Hope Hicks, a longtime Trump public relations defender not especially known for pushing back.
The interview had no strategic purpose, no talking point game plan, no reason to be conducted. In other words, pure Trump.
Real estate mogul Trump’s wrongheaded public relations instincts could be hidden by selective media exposure. Candidate Trump, the anti-Washington outlier, could also get away with misguided public relations decisions.
But President Trump, in the spotlight 24/7, has no place to hide.
3. No Advice Wanted.
A professional public relations person aspires to become a counselor, advising his employer as to the most optimal communications strategy and messaging to realize organizational goals.
A smart employer will consider public relations counsel equally with legal counsel; arriving at a decision that is balanced between what is legal and what is right. A savvy boss will include his public relations person in all high-level discussions.
In the White House, Spicer groused about being limited in his access to the President. The former Press Secretary learned early and often, Trump doesn’t want public relations advice. He knows what to do, and you don’t. So shut up and do what he says.
4. Second Guessing/Public Shaming.
One reason Sean Spicer chose to cut back on the daily televised White House Press Conference was that his boss would famously sit in front of a TV in a nearby office and rate his Press Secretary’s performance.
Usually, Spicey failed; whereupon Trump would let it be known publicly how displeased he was.
A good boss, of course, first informs his trusted subordinates about what’s going on, discusses with them how issues should be handled and then gives them latitude in handling difficult questions from the media. If occasionally, said subordinates mess up, a competent executive will bring them aside, in private, point out deficiencies and suggestions to improve.
Trump, on the other hand, who can hardly be classified a “competent executive,” seems to delight in public shaming, especially of those who work for him.
5. The Emperor Has No Clothes.
And that, in the final analysis, is the real reason that any public relations professional is probably doomed working for Donald Trump. (Are you listening Sarah Sanders?)
Donald Trump is the original man born on third base who thought he hit a triple. His father owned miles of debt-free real estate in Brooklyn and Queens, which ultimately bailed out his overreaching son when he verged on bankruptcy. Critics accuse Trump of being a blatant self-promoter, who lacks humility and tends to, ahem, stretch the truth.
And, of course, they are right.
So for any professional public relations person to accept a position with this White House, they must first get a promise, in advance, that their advice will be listened to, their position will be respected, and they will never be bad-mouthed publicly.
That requires a public relations person who is self-assured, confident in his or her expertise and independently wise, not to mention wealthy; in other words, an individual willing to walk away the moment the Commander-in-Chief violates the promise.
Sean Spicer clearly wasn’t that individual. But I bet he feels a lot better today than he did last week.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He is the author of the Prentice- Hall text “The Practice of Public Relations,” now in its eleventh edition, and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation" and "Idea Wise.” He may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.