It’s the oldest trick in the politician’s playbook. When things aren’t going well the problem is always the same; we’re not getting our message out. We have an image problem. We have a communications problem.
President Trump, the most unconventional and unusual of politicians, has fallen back on the same, tired old line and like so many before him he’s barking up the wrong tree. His problems can’t be fixed by better communications or a new comms director, they are more fundamental than that. His problem is him.
Throughout my career, I have crossed paths with leaders who fall into the same lazy trap. They are not popular enough with customers or stakeholders; the staff survey results are disappointing; they aren’t receiving the gushing press they would like. It must be the fault of their communication outfit. We are not telling our story well enough. We’re not getting our side of the story out there.
I’m not the sort of communications professional who is defensive or complacent; often, there is a need to improve the sharpness of outputs, hone a more compelling narrative, shift gears in the work of the comms, PR, marketing or public affairs teams. But, like the old saying about the excrement and the glitter; good comms will only get you so far. It cannot iron out all the creases of bad strategy or paper over the cracks of poor leadership. In the end, only the right business strategies, approaches to customers and colleagues and the most effective operations that can deliver long term success.
The reason for President Trump’s problems is not to be laid at Sean Spicer’s door – even though he was a highly ineffective and unimpressive face for his communications – it is in the Oval Office where the administration is coming unstuck. A lack of focus. Too many petty, insignificant distractions getting in the way of effective policy-making. A too slack and frankly disrespectful approach to the constitutional norms of the office of president would be a better place to look to provide the diagnosis and then the medicine or surgery to this political patient.
As so often in the past, the leader under pressure looks to shoot the messenger. It is a mark of their failure of leadership not to stand up and be counted themselves; to take responsibility; to set the right direction. Trump will keep sacking people – from his communications teams and across his administration – the Attorney General looks odds on to be the next to go – until eventually there is no-one left. Ultimately he will pay the price for his appalling conduct as president and it won’t be failure to communicate that will finish him off; it will be his failure to be fit for the office he holds.
Photo is taken from The New York Times website: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/us/politics/sean-spicer-resigns-as-white-house-press-secretary.html