Gini Dietrich

Anthony Scaramucci Cannot Fix a PR Problem with Better Messaging

By: Gini Dietrich | July 25, 2017 | 

Anthony Scaramucci Cannot Fix a PR Problem with Better MessagingSean Spicer is out. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been promoted. And Anthony Scaramucci (aka The Mooch) is the new White House communications director.

The Mooch is a hedge fund owner. We can’t call him a hedge fund manager because he doesn’t trade.

Rather, he moves money around to other hedge funds for them to invest.

In 2009, when President Obama challenged Wall Street not to spend extravagantly, The Mooch flipped him the virtual bird by creating the largest party Las Vegas has ever seen.

According to Vox:

Every year, Scaramucci hosts the SkyBridge Alternatives, or “SALT,” Conference in Las Vegas. Pressler described the “hedge-fund bacchanal” in 2012 as being “launched in 2009, in defiance of former President Barack Obama’s warning Wall Street to stay away from partying while the rest of the country suffered.”

He has voraciously defended Trump, famously telling MSNBC:

Take Donald Trump seriously but not literally—or better yet, take him symbolically.

He was the subject of a retracted CNN story that Trump points to as evidence that the Russia story is “fake news.”

The Mooch has not always been on Trump’s side.

In 2012, he was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton.

And he certainly thinks he’s above the law when it comes to sexist and misogynistic comments.

Yet, here we are.

The Mooch now holds the highest communications position in the country—without any actual communications experience.

What the Job Should Be–and What the Job is

Syracuse University professor and PRSA national director, Anthony D’Angelo, says Scaramucci’s lack of experience could be a big issue.

Anthony Scaramucci’s appointment signals that Trump appears to value loyalty and a certain star power over actual credentials for a communications job.

That’s not to say Scaramucci can’t do the job as White House communications director, but his background as a hedge fund owner is not the typical career path for a top-level communications position in the White House or anywhere else.

The job of communications director should be to improve media relations.

The Mooch should be with Sanders in the briefing room every day to calm journalists, be transparent, to stop calling them “fake,” and to respond to opposing views.

A person with communications expertise would know how to do these things—and how to counsel his or her client to repair his reputation.

He or she would know the true client is the people of America, not the bully in the Oval Office.

But it’s more likely The Mooch will continue the media attack, support the lies Trump wants out there, and help to take focus away from the Russia investigations.

The Mooch is an Adoring Fan

And that’s because Trump hired The Mooch because he’s a notably successful self-promoter, a billionaire, and an author who keeps a high profile on social media.

Not because he has communications experience.

He hired The Mooch because he has zero problem saying how great Trump is, while defending his alternative facts.

This gives Trump great confidence in The Mooch’s ability to continue the fake news tirade.

Not because he has communications experience.

It’s become evident Trump likes to surround himself with the people who won’t tell him no—and The Mooch will continue that trend.

During his first press briefing on Friday, The Mooch proclaimed his love for Trump at least three times.

He showered the president with compliments, comparing him to a favorite coach, praising his election victory, hailing him as a hard worker, and denying there is anything to the Russia story.

He also blamed the White House woes on poor communication, not a burgeoning scandal.

On State of the Union on Sunday he repeatedly argued the White House needs to fix it’s public relations problem:

Listen, there’s obviously a communications problem. I just think we need to deliver the messaging a little bit differently than we have been doing it in the past.

But anyone with communications experience knows the problem isn’t a public relations one.

The PR Problem isn’t Actually PR

Trump wants someone in the briefing room who is smooth, confident, and fast-talking.

He wants someone who relishes the chance to spin.

While the communications director doesn’t typically fill that role (the press secretary does), The Mooch’s performance on Friday begs differently.

Add on top his Sunday morning news appearances, where it looked as though The Mooch was speaking to only one viewer (Trump), and we may see more of him at the lectern.

I’m reminded of the West Wing episode when Sam is still at the law firm.

The legal team is talking to their client about buying a reduced-rate ship.

Though it could cause problems for them in the future (and it does, two seasons later), they say:

We have PR firms for PR problems.

It seems Trump truly believes his problems are all that of communication failures.

So why not bring in someone who can “fix” all of that?

I can’t say this any better than The Atlantic posed it:

If he were right, Scaramucci might be exactly the trick he was looking for. But since these are not all marketing problems, Scaramucci is the right answer to the wrong question.

During Friday’s briefing, Scaramucci told reporters he sought a “de-escalation” of the tensions between the White House and the press, and as he stepped down, he blew a kiss to the assembled journalists.

How long will the lovefest last when it becomes clear to Trump and Scaramucci that messaging can’t fix everything?

Because, truly, PR cannot fix the PR problem when the problem is in leadership, not in communications.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • KensViews

    Your last sentence says it all.

    • It drives me crazy, across the board, when people think they have PR problem. Like Penn State with Jerry Sandusky. Not a PR problem.

  • Dawn Buford

    Did anyone else think of Mary Katherine Gallagher when looking at that picture?!

  • Not to forget, he also got his ass handed to him by Obama in 2010. His new boss could never hope to be as elegant and as educated as the former President.

    • I actually had that in the first draft, but it didn’t fit when I was finished writing. And I agree, not in his wildest dreams could he be close to Obama.

  • John Trader

    Did you happen to catch the similarities in body movements and gestures between Trump and Scareamucci (misspelling intended) that was on Morning Joe today? It’s scary. The problem is definitely not going to be fixed with spin and messaging. There needs to be fundamental changes in policy and smooth, fast talking, confident spokespeople aren’t going to fix it.

    • I did! It’s like he watched and practiced and practiced some more.

  • Edward M. Bury

    Frankly, I’m not surprised by this development; we have a reality show star as President, why not a Wall St. guy leading communications. Seriously, this “new normal” is quite disconcerting and I don’t see any immediate resolution. The First Amendment is being trampled on.

    • We were just talking about this in our staff meeting and how this administration is all about reality TV (I like our hair and makeup person) than it is about serving the country.

  • Stephanie T

    Amen sister.

  • Nice job, Gini.

    But, I disagree with your opinion that “leadership” is the problem.

    The real problem is dishonesty, plain and simple. That’s what makes a communication director’s job next to impossible.

    Correction: That’s what makes a communication director who’s also a raving fan’s job, impossible.

    Trump has been lying about stuff his entire life. It’s a problem.

    One more thing: Scaramucci took a short-term position-and he probably knows it. But, it’s a resume-builder…even with the dysfunctional and dangerous President that’s currently in power. (But not for much longer, me thinks)

    The Franchise King®

    • Yes, I agree. It’s the leader who is doing the lying, hence a leadership issue. And I use leadership really loosely here. I don’t even think he’s a good manager.

  • Keena Lykins

    As you say, this isn’t a PR problem or a communications problem. I don’t think it’s even a leadership problem. For any of this to be a problem, the current administration would have to WANT to have a good relationship with the press and would have to believe at any level they work for the people. The WH seems content to be a sideshow distraction to what’s going on in the legislative branch.

    • All he seems to care about is slick TV coverage that follows his alternative facts. My favorite right now is the 17 years we’ve been dealing with Obamacare.

  • Dotti Gallagher

    My concern about Scaramucci is that he denigrates the PR profession – hey, anyone can be a communicator! Sean Spicer didn’t help advance our profession, and Scaramucci will do even more damage. How long will it be before 45 realizes that implementing a communication strategy – one that he and the staff align with – is critical?

    • redparrotspi

      You cannot have a communication strategy when there is no entity with a coherent organizational mission, goals and strategy that has been embraced by the chief executive and his directors?

    • This is exactly the conversation Joe Thornley and I have on next week’s Inside PR. It’s bad enough that we tend to have executives who say, “I don’t need you! I can get myself on the cover of the NY Times.” And now this…

  • Heidi Farmer

    LOVE this post! I love that episode of the West Wing, and it reminds me of my favorite sign on my cube wall.

  • This says it all: “PR cannot fix the PR problem when the problem is in leadership.”

    I wonder how long this circus will go on? There are real problems happening out there that need to be solved.

  • Bill Smith

    I’ve been waiting for a bit before adding my two cents in so here are my thoughts. Bringing in a Big Swinging Dick from Wall St. to manage the White House Communications file is a recipe for disaster. For those wondering what a Big Swinging Dick is, a Wall St. Trader who is exceptionally brilliant at selling securities (usually bonds) to unsuspecting investors (mostly institutional, some private wealth). They can be of either gender and are psycho alphas with potty language that would embarrass a full patch Hells Angels Nomad. That’s why Scaramucci was brought in. He’s an Alpha, with no comms experience what so ever and his sole job is to overwhelm the media.

    Now, for that lovely New Yorker rant. I’m wondering if Scaramucci is Trump’s id. First rule of comms, don’t be the story, well we know what happened there. How long will He last as White House Comms Director, maybe six months, maybe until the Trump Presidency goes down like flaming Zeppelin, which ever comes first. Karma is already catching up with Scaramucci, his wife filed for divorce because she wanted no part of the White House circus.

    My fear is the long term damage to the PR profession, if all it takes is a loudmouth who plays fast and loose with the media. Who needs thoughtful strategy, well crafted messaging and well honed media relationships. This is a bigger mess than most people think.