PR pros: The White House comms team is harming industry's reputation

A study from USC Annenberg asked 900 PR pros about the White House comms team's performance.

LOS ANGELES: Most PR pros believe the White House comms team is damaging the reputation of the industry, according to a new study from USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.

Across the political spectrum, 73% of PR pros surveyed said the White House comms team is impacting the PR profession’s reputation. That number was lower among self-identified conservatives (53%) and higher among liberals and moderates (77% for both).

"When we went into it, it was an idea to see whether there was a connection between what was happening in the White House and what was happening in the industry," said Fred Cook, director of USC Annenberg’s Center for Public Relations. "The results were staggering in terms of people's opinions about the White House team. I was surprised that the percentage was so high."

The survey asked 900 PR pros about the comms team’s performance. A whopping 83% agreed that the top reason the White House team is damaging to the industry is that they "constantly change their views/statements" said 83% of PR pros. The survey also revealed that a majority of PR pros agree the White House comms team "distorts the truth" (80%) and "purposefully lie" (63%).

This perhaps stems from several missteps by the White House comms team, including Press Secretary Sean Spicer claiming President Trump’s inauguration had the "largest audience ever" and the mixed messages coming from the White House around the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

Although, some people think it’s a matter of circumstance, 36% agreed the White House comms team "do their best despite the circumstances." Only 11% agreed that the comms team acts like PR professionals.

With these negative perceptions of the White House team, it’s not surprising that most PR pros would not take these jobs in the current administration. Only 6% said they would accept the White House Press Secretary or Deputy Press Secretary role. Among conservatives that number was higher, with 25% saying they would accept a role in the current administration.

"A lot of people have gone on from those positions to very high profile jobs in the industry," Cook said. "I thought it was interesting that this current crop doesn't seem to have that same level of endorsement."

The two most prominent members of the comms team were also believed to make the most negative impact with 90% agreeing that Spicer and Kellyanne Conway add to the negative perception. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t have the same effect, only about half of PR pros agreed she had a negative impact.

"I think that our industry gets a bad rap because of some certain individuals who operate differently than the rest of us," Cook said. "That creates a reputation problem and that’s what we saw in this survey. People seem to feel that this small group in Washington, D.C., is negatively impacting everyone else in the profession."

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