Peter Donolo is vice-chairman of Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada. He served as director of communications to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
Dear Sean Spicer,
Well, you can't say we didn't warn you.
Six months ago, after your first few media briefings, as press secretary to U.S. President Donald Trump, my colleague Jason MacDonald (former director of communications to Stephen Harper) and I offered you some friendly – albeit unsolicited – advice. Call it a professional courtesy. We like to think of it as an example of bi-partisan co-operation on our part – something almost as rare in Canada as in your country! So what if you never got back to us. You were a pretty busy guy. Besides, we're Canadians. So we're used to being ignored by Americans.
Four simple rules of spokespersonship (we made up that term) for a G7 leader. That's all we suggested. So basic that almost any idiot could follow them:
1. Don't suck up to your boss; tell him the truth.
2. Never lie to the media.
3. Don't become the story yourself.
4. When you're in a hole, stop digging.
It's not that you didn't take our advice. Hey, as a former prime ministerial adviser, I get that. I didn't win every battle myself. It's that day after day you went out and broke those rules. Every time you stepped in front of cameras. Every time you gave briefings without cameras. Even when you gave briefings in the bushes. In the dark. (By the way, you really deserve points for creativity for that last one.)
If I didn't know that you had completely ignored our advice in the first place, I'd almost think you purposely went out there every day (until you sort of disappeared altogether a few weeks ago) to deliberately break those rules.
And really, where did it get you? Even before you finally resigned, all President Trump did was complain about you to anyone who would listen. He wouldn't even take you on the one foreign trip you really wanted to go on – to the Vatican. Now you're a member of a very large – and growing – club: discarded Trump loyalists. Not much to show when it comes to Faustian bargains.
On the other hand, you certainly did make a name for yourself. You are, beyond question, the most internationally famous White House press secretary in history. The only problem is that's sort of like saying that Rob Ford is the most internationally famous Toronto mayor in history.
But you'll have the chance to start cashing in on some of that fame. Book deals. Speaking tours. Maybe even a Saturday Night Live appearance alongside Melissa McCarthy. The kind of opportunities that a competent media spokesperson could never dream of! It's true, even that kind of residual fame won't last forever. Even in America. After all, who knows what Kato Kaelin is up to these days?
But I can tell you that the kind of experience gained and skills honed as the communication chief to a national leader can set you on a solid, lifelong career path. That's how it's been for me. And for many others who have played this same role for other presidents and prime ministers.
In fact, as a consultant, I find myself calling upon many of the same basic approaches in advising clients that I used advising the prime minister. All you have to do is remember four basic rules… Oh, right.
Well… I hear that the Venezuelan and North Korean presidents are looking for a spokesperson. Best of luck, Sean.