Russell Hargrave: Charity PR teams can learn from The Mooch

He had obvious flaws, but maybe Anthony Scaramucci was misunderstood, writes our columnist

Russell Hargrave
Russell Hargrave

Ah, The Mooch, we hardly knew you. He was fun while he lasted, but he really didn’t last very long.

Anthony Scaramucci was Donald Trump’s communications chief for 11 whole days before the president this week did what the president so often seems to do, and fired him.

Anyone who is suddenly dumped out of a job has a right to know why, The Mooch included.

Maybe it was because he threatened a journalist who refused to reveal his sources. Or because he unleashed a tsunami of Anglo-Saxon bile against his colleagues on the same call. Or because, thanks to a patchy understanding of what it means to be on the record, those comments were then read by millions of people.

Or maybe it was because he clearly liked being the president’s comms supremo so very, very much. If your boss is obsessed with the limelight, it probably isn’t wise to steal attention away from him.

One is reminded of the BBC’s Emily Maitlis recounting how she secured an interview with Scaramucci: she spotted him on the White House lawn, taking selfies.

Which leads us to a question as well suited to us here in charity land as it is to Washington.

Is a good PR person someone you don’t see? Should they be working feverishly behind the scenes, crafting messages and buttering up journalists and editors, but then melting into the shadows when the cameras roll? 

Or do you want your press folk to possess some bombast? Press relations work can be an unsightly scramble sometimes: don’t charities need people with their own profiles, who are perfectly comfortable giving interviews in person?

I lean towards the latter. The fact I write this column is ample evidence that I am a show-off, but this really is one of those areas where you’d be a fool to be too prescriptive.

For example, having PRs raring to go can in practice be pretty pointless. The press have a built-in bias for talking to senior staff, broadcasters in particular. Your average BBC researcher wants to tell their boss they have secured a chief exec to talk live on the radio that evening, not the press person.

In that case, PR success lies with getting the right messenger in place to get the right messages across; it doesn’t extend to jumping in front of the microphone yourself.

And yet, this makes PR life look rather cushy. Who wouldn’t want a job that involves asking colleagues to shoulder all the risks of looking silly in public, while you hang back and grimace if someone fluffs their lines?

So it is definitely worth putting your name in lights occasionally, not to hog the glory but to share the risk. The person who critiques media performances probably needs a few good performances of their own to point to. If you are brutally editing a blog – and lord knows, some charity blogs need it – it helps if you already have the occasional byline of your own.

There is an ironic postscript here. Scaramucchi’s full comms plan, completed before he was fired, has been leaked. And you know what, it is pretty sensible and measured.

Maybe there was more to him than a man in aviator shades taking selfies. Maybe he wasn’t just an egotist but also a canny operator behind the scenes.

Maybe The Mooch was misunderstood.

Russell Hargrave is press manager at the independent trust Power to Change

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