Show me the value

The first Director of Communications at the White House was Herb Klein, who stayed in post for four years and 162 days.

Roll forward nearly 50 years and note that President Trump’s Directors – Sean Spicer (45 days), Mike Dubke (88 days), Sean Spicer again (49 days), Anthony Scaramucci (10 days) and the just resigned Hope Hicks (169 days excluding her time as the interim post holder) – have averaged between them fewer than 100 days each. Something is clearly not working as it should.

A long time ago, in this very galaxy, when Jeremy Clarkson was a power in the land, each Monday following the broadcast of a new episode of Top Gear, Comms and PR directors whose company products had featured on the show, were criticised by bosses and colleagues alike if the showing was caustic and the verdict damning.

“Why can’t you control him?” was the oft-asked question.

Well the truth is that in those heady days, British motoring journalists were powerful people, mostly independent of the industry about which they wrote. They made their judgements about a car’s technical merit, and design, knowing that their views were largely untouchable and that they would always (mostly anyway) be protected by their publishers.

So it is in serious political reporting today. Journalists and their editors on the great newspapers of the world – New York Times, Economist, Washington Post, Financial Times and the Guardian – have been rigorous in the way that they have reported the President’s words and actions. It is the same at the BBC, CNN, ABC, ITN and other professional news broadcasters.

We have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the President has taken the words ‘most powerful man in the world’ too literally. He now wants to know why his many Directors of Communications have failed to control the media and were thus forced out, for that specific failure.

His ego, we are told, is as fragile as it is humungous.

The value of a great director of communications, in commerce as in politics, is mainly to be found in two specific areas. First, she or he must be a brilliant manager of time, money and staff.

Second, he or she must have the forensic judgement and courage of Machiavelli, the intellect and writing skill of Cicero and the street-fighting gutter instincts of Alastair Campbell.

Wise indeed is the boss who understands and appreciates these skills, listens very carefully when the comms chief speaks unpleasant truths, and appreciates that managing an organisation’s communication is a long game, sometimes reactive and more often proactive.