Scaramucci debacle shows danger in becoming the story


Charles Ansdell

Scaramucci debacle shows danger in becoming the story

Job insecurity has been a big issue in the news recently. Zero-hour contracts, flexible working and the gig economy has transformed traditional notions of job security.

It seems that such employment insecurity has now found its way to the most powerful office in the world - the White House. With hiring and firing an almost daily occurrence, the communications team has been particularly prone to disaster during the Trump administration. Who can forget Kellyanne Conway (expected to be the new communications director), Trump’s ‘attack dog’, becoming the target of liberal vitriol during his presidential campaign? Or gaffe-prone Sean Spicer, defying reams of evidence to claim that Trump’s inauguration was better attended than Obama’s?

Indeed, the life of a Trump communications guru has so far been extremely precarious, with the perpetual threat of Trump reliving his Apprentice reality TV persona and confining them to the presidential garbage can.

Few, however, have had a rise and fall as spectacular as Anthony Scaramucci.

The Trump’s firebrand’s reign lasted just 10 days, during which time he ousted one press secretary and one chief of staff, before meeting this fate himself. The same week, his wife publically started divorce proceedings, reports citing his unreasonable “naked ambition”.

To cap off his “Setimana Horribilis”, this drama played out in front of a gleefully acceptant global media.

So where did it go so wrong? 

The key to his ignominious downfall lies in Scaramucci himself becoming the story. There are two fundamental problems in this.

Firstly, Scaramucci’s behaviour reflected badly on Trump. His should-have-been “off the record” interview with Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker laid bare the chaos and infighting in the administration. Moreover, his profanity-laden barbs at fellow colleagues exposed him as a Trump demagogue and zealot, and revealed a severely flawed character. This was aggravated by his clumsy attempt to force a reporter to reveal their source, showing a lack of media know-how.

Secondly, Scaramucci distracted from Trump himself, a man not known as publicity shy. His braggadocio of his proximity to the Presidential “inner sanctum” was unlikely to impress Trump. Emperors rarely tolerate their subjects hogging the limelight.

Ultimately his demise was brutal, played out against a baying media and the personal drama of his divorce. The hubris of a politically-ambitious, Wall-Street magnate’s fall is editorial manna for a political media weaned on slick, well-drilled communicators. Icarus-like, Scaramucci flew too close to the Trump supernova.

There are lessons here for all communications directors.

Their role is to protect the reputation of a company and its leaders. They should shield against negative opprobrium, but shine a light on their successes and achievements. They should be a trusted adviser and senior leader, but put the interests of the company before their own.

There is an old adage that, as a communications professional, you should never become the story. Ultimately, you should be the invisible hand that promotes and protects, that serves and supports. The Scaramucci debacle shows the risk to those that fail to heed this.