Is Scaramucci An Impetuous Brat or A Potential PR Whiz?

Written by Janitha Sukumaran, Founder & Consulting Director of Rantau PR Malaysia

Have you read Anthony Scaramucci’s communications plan for the White House and President Trump? Well, I did, and I am confused, as there is such a disconnect between the plan and the controversial hothead who supposedly drafted it. There are just too many recommendations that run contrary to The Mooch’s action in his 10-day tenure as White House Communications Director, when he seemed to have been on a one-man public relations mission to outdo his boss’ unorthodox, no-apology style of conversing.

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Take his Priority #1 - Improve the Culture
The Plan:
This is the key—everything is possible with a good culture, nothing is possible without it

Scaramucci’s action:
Foul-mouthed tirrade against two senior colleagues calling the then chief of staff, Reince Priebus, “a f***g paranoid schizophrenic”, and alluded that unlike Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, “I’m not trying to suck my own c***k” in courting media attention.

Then, there was his outburst to “f**king kill all the leakers in the White House” as he believed that someone had leaked his dinner engagement with Trump, Melania and several media personalities.

Priority #2 - Comms is a Customer Service Operation
The Plan:
The media is an important Comms customer
- POTUS can choose to fight with the media, but Comms can not.
-Comms should seek to de-escalate tensions with the media.

Scaramucci’s action:
Dissing New Yorker correspondent Ryan Lizza’s tell-all article via twitter “I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again.”

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The Plan:
All Comms actions/decisions need to be evaluated through one and only one prism
—does it help POTUS. To this end, I will lead by example and make sure that my
overall conduct, tweets, internal and external comments meet this standard

Scaramucci’s action – Where do we start….. It is fair to state that even Trump was shocked by his Communications Director’s choice of words and action, enough to agree to his removal by the new chief of staff John F. Kelly.

The Plan consists of 5 priorities with over 30 points each with additional subpoints. While some points sound naïve and altogether ambitious, especially for the Boss, overall it actually is a pretty good public relations plan, and if fleshed out and implemented, may have led to some interesting outcomes. Furthermore, there was actually a ‘To-Do List’, with some of the bullet points, once again, in complete contradiction with Scaramucci’s past opinions of some of the people he was planning on meeting.

Here are 15 points from the Plan that I have picked out, which are hopeful in either identifying an issue or providing a course of action for the White House and Trump.

Taken from CNN Politics (as printed, so mind you, this was a draft that they published) (http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/02/politics/scaramucci-comms-plan-text-only/index.html)

i) Implement a series of professionalizing initiatives immediately. For example, no WH communication staffer goes home without returning all calls, emails, and texts. People may not like our answers—but they should always be treated professionally and respectfully (obviously, this starts with the new Director of Communications)

ii) Recognize good work in a consistent and formal way. Establish a meritocracy where real contributions to Comms are recognized

iii) Upgrade talent incrementally - prioritize culture. New communication staffers must make others better/more effective. We need to be a great team, not a collection of talented individuals with their own agendas.

iv) A rapid response group dedicated to handling hot issues/crises to ensure more effective responses while enabling Comms to stay on point/message and conduct normal operations (i.e. the Clinton White House Lewinsky model).

v) Comms should establish a constructive "complaint box" for the media to make complaints. Where possible, Comms will seek to make changes that make sense. Regardless, relations with the media will improve if their complaints are welcomed and considered.

vi) Comms talent throughout the administration has been underutilized. This can be remedied by sharing information freely, soliciting input, treating colleagues professionally, and coordinated empowerment

vii) Comms needs to be run like a news channel with producers, scripts, and narration.

viii) Comms needs to act as a gatekeeper/air traffic controller over all external communications from the small (i.e. email blasts) to the large (i.e. cabinet member appearances on Sunday shows). To do this, Comms must be super responsive. For example, Cabinet members need to be well-informed, well-prepared, and fully supported in a timely manner (i.e. not on the morning of an appearance)

ix) Comms needs to better explain how POTUS's actions are helping Americans. For example, deregulation is an abstract concept to most voters. We need to illustrate, with real life examples, how lifting burdensome regulations produces jobs

x) Comms needs to equip POTUS with opportunities to make many more positive announcements. The ratio of positive to negative is out of balance, and the responsibility to correct this lies with Comms. There are achievements/wins throughout the government that go unpublicized. Comms should help POTUS convey a Reaganesque "happy warrior" image by sourcing and packaging these wins. Comms should study the ratio of "good," "neutral," and "negative" communications from POTUS and help move the ratio towards the "good."

xi) POTUS should regularly provide op-ed pieces to major publications. The op-eds will (almost always) produce the story of the day, and POTUS will be setting the terms of the discussion. Op-eds provide a vehicle for him to articulate his policies and ideas in a well-reasoned, thoughtful and persuasive way. Most Presidents have used op-eds sparingly to maximize effect. But, the media world has changed, and POTUS should write frequent op-eds to advance his agenda (and use adversarial newspapers to his own advantage).

xii) Rather than traditional press conferences, POTUS should take questions from real citizens via Facebook live and/or other social media platforms.

xiii) The message should be that businesses are investing more and creating more jobs because they have confidence. The source of their confidence is the election of a successful businessman to the Presidency.

xiv) Every positive piece of economic data needs to echo throughout the Comms ecosystem, and Comms needs to find ways to connect positive economic data to real people. The growth in new jobs is life changing for every day Americans.

xv) When the media or Democrats attack POTUS, Comms should pivot to the
economy. For example, real Americans do not care about palace intrigue in the White House. POTUS is leading and fostering an economy that makes their lives better. That's what real people care about.

Some content of this communications plan were apparently articulated by Scaramucci in a draft memo to White House staff on July 30, a day before he was fired. Could this plan have been the turnaround for his own behaviour the previous week and his subsequent tweet, an attempt of an apology. Would this plan have worked in reshaping the ever-increasing negative perception of Trump’s Presidency? Whatever the inspiration behind this plan, Scaramucci has successfully tainted the image of the West Wing and his successor has a titanic clean up task ahead.

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It would be interesting to know though, who came up with the communications plan in the first place, if not Scaramucci, cause that person(s) should be recruited to the team for having some vision and hope to right a PR chaos happening inside and outside the House. If it actually was Scaramucci, then too bad that his misguided passion to mirror Trump brought about his all too soon death as White House Communications Director and reaffirmed early scepticism that he is not cut out for a job in public relations.

As much as I am affronted by The Mooch’s actions in the name of public relations, I feel rather cheated actually, cause it would have been interesting to know how he would reimagine Trump as a “Happy Warrior” and what he would have done to raffle off a round of golf with POTUS.

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When Your Communications Director Turns Rogue

Written by Janitha Sukumaran, Founder & Consulting Director of Rantau PR Malaysia

In any organisation - government, corporate, non-profit – a Communications Director champions the vision and mission that have been crystalised. He manages both internal and external communications, and often becomes a key spokesperson for the organisation. He speaks in ‘One Voice’ with the leader of the organisation and should put his ego and personal ideologies aside if he is to be successful in this position.

So, when a Communications Director detracts from the messages that have been agreed upon, there is bound to be chaos in the house, and should he remain in this position, then the organisation must brace itself for ‘disrupted business’ compounded with embarrassment. At this point, it is time to fire the spokesperson.

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This pretty much happened in the White House. Its 10-day old (temporary) Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci aka The Mooch, was fired by newly appointed Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, with President Trump’s blessings.

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