The Pitfalls of Hiring an Amateur

The well-known adage ‘if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur’ has never been more apt in the PR world.

Firstly, Donald Trump, in a now characteristic display of dubious judgement appointed Anthony Scaramucci as his new comms director. Scaramucci, or The Mooch, has no professional communications experience yet the POTUS didn’t view this as a barrier to holding one of the most important communications roles in the world.

Unsurprisingly, it all ended badly with Scaramucci being shown the door after just 10 days. Proof, if it was needed, that being a ‘successful entrepreneur’ or spending a ‘lot of time on television’ isn’t generally enough to navigate the complicated world of global political communications.

Closer to home, the heart-breaking story of little Charlie Gard again highlighted the potential for disaster when people with little or no experience get involved in managing a highly controversial, emotive front-page story. If ever a story needed a calm head, compassion and professionalism, this was it.

Instead of being handled by an experienced comms professional though, the Gards were unfortunately advised and represented by three people totally unsuitable for the task; someone who sold stories for a living (rather than offered professional counsel to her clients), a US pro-lifer and director of the Christian Defence Coalition, and a former marketing exec and UKIP councillor without any PR experience.

With each of these seeming to have their own agendas, the result was far from ideal. Ultimately a tragically ill little boy ended up being used as a political football, two desperate, traumatised parents found themselves in the middle of a media circus and the staff of Great Ormond Street Hospital were on the receiving end of some very nasty and unfair criticism and abuse.

If professional communicators aren’t even seen as necessary for handling an individual’s or organisation’s reputation at a global level or on the front pages, is it any wonder that so many businesses see fit to put inexperienced people in charge of their comms?

At a local level, I regularly see companies advertising for an apprentice or intern to handle their comms, or asking one of their most junior team members to take on responsibility for social media or blogging.

The fact is that effective PR and communications requires expertise and experience garnered over years, not the simple ability to string a few sentences together or understand a hashtag. I studied A-level maths, but I understand that doesn’t make me an accountant. I can knock up a pretty good lasagne, but I really wouldn’t recommend asking me to take charge of catering for your wedding.

When a company’s communication is poor, the effects of that can be disastrous. Similarly, when a company starts communicating with its audiences effectively, the results can be transformative.

Another well-known adage is ‘it takes years to build a reputation, but seconds to destroy it.’ Whether you’re the president of the US or the head of a Yorkshire-based SME, don’t take the risk of putting something as important as your reputation in the hands of an amateur.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Creative commons.

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Elizabeth Hudson

Elizabeth was once told by a university professor that she wrote too ‘journalistically’ for academia – something she’s always taken as a compliment. She's been fascinated by the power of words from an early age and loves reading and writing articles that challenge viewpoints and provoke debate.

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