Barley blog: The toughest job in comms?

Have you ever really messed up on your first day in a new job?  Maybe overstated something to try and convince people you know what you’re doing?  Or antagonised someone you’re going to have to work with for the next few years?  Perhaps even come across as aggressive when you’re trying to over-compensate for being unsure of what you’re saying?

You could almost feel sorry for Sean Spicer as he achieved an inauspicious triple whammy of the above on Saturday.  It was his first day post-inauguration as the White House Press Secretary and Communications Director for Donald Trump and he immediately landed himself in the spotlight.  A man whose name we shouldn’t easily remember has become as talked about as the topic he was attempting to put to bed – the low numbers at Trump’s inauguration.

Now #spicerfacts is trending on twitter and I dare say he is dreading this week’s Saturday Night Live.

Spicer has taken on a challenging role.  As White House press secretary he’s in the tricky position of speaking on behalf of President Trump and, at times, the American nation.  It is a position that requires a firm grasp of the facts and careful management of the Washington press pack.  The new President’s tendency to bombastic claims and twitter rants are bound to make this trickier.

Sean Spicer is on paper eminently qualified for the post.  He has over 15 years’ experience in political communications and over that time will have built up strong relationships with key journalists.  Unfortunately, he seemed all too willing to throw this away, as he adopted the combative style of the President himself, berating journalists and issuing veiled threats to “hold the press accountable”.

And as for the facts…well, they’re not what they used to be are they?  Spicer continued to state “facts” that can (and have been) easily disproved.  After that car crash of a press briefing and the ensuing ridicule in both mainstream and social media, Counsellor to the President Kellyanne Conway was reeled out for comment.  Conway added further fuel to the fire in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, where she clarified that Spicer was merely presenting “alternative facts”, leading to a fresh wave of twitter mockery.

When Spicer’s appointment was announced in December 2016, there was speculation that the daily press briefings which have become a feature of White House communications might no longer be televised.  Based on his first performance, I can see why he might be keen to drop them, but in principle these press briefings should be an invaluable bridge between the President and the media and are a fine tradition if handled well.  It will be fascinating to see Spicer back in action at his first full briefing today, live at 6.30pm in the UK.

Sam Williams, Partner, Barley Communications