COO of America – And why this isn’t working in the press room


by Rebecca Roberts, Founder of Thread & Fable

It’s no secret that U.S. President Donald J. Trump is clashing with the world’s media and his press conferences have gone from being tense to just weird, in a matter of weeks.

It’s easy to throw eggs here but let’s try and understand where some of this is coming from – I have a theory. It stems from working in communications teams within the public sector as well as with public affairs specialists. Trump has not come from either a political or public sector background, where the breadth of media must be effectively engaged with in order to debate (the good and the bad) the representation of the people and the use of public monies.

Obviously, there’s always a desire to engage certain journalists more than others, you’ll know the ones you can work with best and those you can predict exactly the type of challenges they’ll raise. But despite the challenges, you’ll work to develop how you respond appropriately to get that statement out, mediate those tricky interviews, develop even the most challenging of relationships and mitigate negative output to ensure open and effective communications.

But let’s face it, that’s part of the job. Where I think Sean Spicer’s press relations are going AWOL is that any challenge and debate from the media that isn’t agreed with is being labelled as “fake news”. Trumps ‘lock down’ on media is now resulting in top outlets being banned from the press rooms and whilst we’re not quite seeing propaganda worthy of a tense North Korean promo film, we are seeing engineered questions that are not addressing the key issues of the day from outlets that are just glad to be in a press conference.

Now, if you were COO of a business working in a more commercial setting, you might get more of a sense of control and a power dynamic with the press. Having worked in Premiership Football, the example of Sir Alex Ferguson refusing interviews with the BBC after taking offense to a reporter is a prime example. A lesser one is a manager refusing to speak with Sky Sports because his Sky Box was broken – that one didn’t hold long. But you get my point; the commercial setting of communications is worlds apart from the public sector.

The COO of the United States therefore has much to do to align his previous experience with the media to the expectations in public sector. Something tells me though that there’s a little way to go before this happens and I’m sure this would instantly be deemed #fakenews anyway!

Written for Comms2point0’s blog which is full of great stuff – read more here