White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first press briefing was a case study example of how not to work with the media. Here are five things a professional communicator wouldn’t have done, especially on the first day in the role.
1) Making friends: build bridges not walls
Spicer spent around 80% of his first briefing rebuking the media, accusing them of ‘false reporting’ about the number of people in attendance at President Trump’s inauguration. Bearing in mind how divisive Trump’s campaign has been to date and the fact his personal popularity rating is as low as 32%, any professional communicator would instead have used the platform to begin to build relations with the media, not alienate them.
2) Lies, and damned lies
Spicer’s position was made even weaker by the fact media could easily corroborate their reporting with images, facts and figures. No decent public relations person would ever go public with data they couldn’t substantiate. Membership of a professional body means adherence to a code of conduct and therefore no lies or deception. If the government can’t be trusted to tell the truth about something that is so obviously in plain sight, how can it be trusted on critical policy issues?
3) Waste time on trivial matters
A good public relations practitioner would not have wanted to draw attention to the fact Trump drew small crowds to his inauguration, particularly in comparison with his predecessor. The opportunity to show decisive leadership on key policy matters was completely wasted and he actually drew more attention to the issue, rather than move the conversation on.
4) Not take questions
A critical media is an important part of a functioning democracy. Spicer refused to take questions from journalists signalling that the new administration will make used of owned and social media to communicate directly with the public. That’s all well and good but those in power need to be held to account. It’s propaganda not public relations.
5) Vision and purpose
Spicer missed the opportunity to set out the vision and purpose of the Trump administration and communicate a plan with key milestones. This should have been a fundamental part of the briefing. It’ll be interesting to see how the media respond next.
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