A top communications role in the West Wing used to guarantee a chief communications officer position at a Fortune 100 company or key job at a large PR firm.
All of that changed last Wednesday, after rioters egged on by President Donald Trump overran Capitol Police with the goal of stopping the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Outgoing White House communications staffers had many more job prospects before the insurrection, according to a chief communications officer from a major CPG company, who called the events “an inflection point.”
“Whatever false sense of security [Trump’s comms officials] had is gone,” says the source. “Their hope was, ‘Amazon won't hire me to be at the podium, but maybe Microsoft will?’ I just don’t think that’s in the cards.”
Normally, it would be a “feather in your cap” for a company to hire someone like former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, now at Amazon, a CCO says. But if a former Trump spokesperson suddenly landed a senior position at a major company or agency, staffers would question whether they want to continue working there, the source says.
It’s notable that Trump’s former White House press secretaries, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have not moved to prized corporate roles. Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks did serve as EVP and chief communications officer at Fox Corp. between stints working for Trump, and Edelman hired former deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters.
“Lindsay is a valued member of Edelman’s business. Part of our effort is to give our clients an objective and broad view of what’s going on in America," said Edelman CEO Richard Edelman. "If communicators only have one input or point of view, when they should have two, they are going to do a worse job. She’s been with us for more than 18 months now.”
Aside from upset staffers, hiring a Trump West Wing staffer would create reputational challenges internally and externally for an agency or brand, adds the source.
“Part of the problem is that in the corporate space, credibility matters,” the executive says. “You would start immediately with a presumption that that person cannot be trusted. The coin of the realm, just being a source and a resource for stakeholders, is missing from any of those appointees.”
That point of view is in line with an op-ed Forbes chief content officer Randall Lane penned last Thursday, delivering a stark warning to companies: hire a former Trump spokesperson and risk losing all credibility given their “lies-upon-lies, repeated frequently and fervently.”
While Lane’s column was focused on Trump’s former press secretaries and ex-adviser Kellyanne Conway, he later tweeted that a journalist “expressed qualms to Edelman about their credibility” after it hired Walters. Lane declined an interview request.
One CCO adds that it would be a “struggle” to see the advantage of hiring any ex-Trumpers.
“With past administrations, the value proposition is clear,” says the source. “By sharp contrast, the only thing that would be clear here is the damage they would cause to their brand if they hired someone from the Trump administration.”
The top communications executive notes that agencies and brands routinely hire from both sides of the aisle, but Trump’s aides will be persona non grata after the Capitol riot, saying there is “tar” on staffers who worked for Trump.
“You are responsible for the violence that occurred on the U.S. Capitol and the death and injury that came as a result,” the source says.
PRWeek asked communications executives across industries whether they would hire a communications staffer who worked under the 45th president. Many formally stated that their companies have inclusive hiring processes and would consider each candidate on their own merits in the context of the role in question. Others called it a “long shot.”
One anonymous comms executive says the lack of trust, truth and transparency demonstrated by White House communications officials during the past four years has been “deeply troubling.”
“While we have no bias in our hiring and take great pride in cultivating a team of diverse experience and thought – including team members on both sides of the political aisle – it is difficult to imagine any circumstance where service in this administration would meet our hiring standards,” the source says. “You cannot build a trusted, purpose-driven brand by hiring people whose conduct runs contrary to that objective.”
Another anonymous communications lead says they would need to understand exactly what a potential candidate’s role was in the administration before even agreeing to interview.
“If their role in any way was to reinforce blatant lies as directed by President Donald Trump or to feed credible media a series of false or misleading information, I would most definitely pass,” says the source. “The most important value the comms industry cherishes is trust. If they are comfortable perpetuating falsehoods, they can find someplace else to work.”
Other top comms execs were more nuanced. Procter & Gamble chief communications officer Damon Jones says he has long believed politics are a fertile training ground for corporate communicators, grounded in his own experience and that of many successful executives. Jones was director of press relations for the Democratic National Convention Committee in 2008.
Asked if P&G would hire a Trump administration communications staffer, Jones did not give a yes or no answer.
“Of course, the relevance of someone’s skill set to do the job, and the strength of their character to do it well are table stakes,” says Jones. “But someone’s track record of superior judgment on a foundation of truth and transparency, and a lasting, positive impact on their leaders, their organizations and those they serve, would make all the difference in the world.”
Another CPG comms head echoes Jones’ statement, saying their company is open to “anyone who has the right experience, ethics, values, attitude and is willing to work hard to drive positive results.”
A different executive says the best a former Trump staffer can hope for is a role as a consultant or at a small firm, adding there’s “no possible way” his company would bring on a comms staffer from the Trump White House.
Yet another anonymous brand communications leader says he is not a fan of blacklists, saying it is “dangerous and concerning” to paint any group of candidates with a broad brush, particularly in an industry that needs to make stronger advancements in inclusion.
“If you’re going to stand for inclusion, that means viewpoints, as well,” the executive explains. “That said, you want to make sure you’re getting the absolute best people in positions and people that have demonstrated an ability to help speak truth to power and meet the needs of a wide range of constituents.”
PRWeek also asked a range of agency leaders whether they’d hire from the Trump West Wing. BCW has no “current plans” to hire from the administration, says global CEO Donna Imperato, but she added that the WPP shop will always consider hiring strong talent who can best work with clients.
“BCW has a long history of hiring talented communications professionals who have worked in various administrations and across multiple government agencies, and we will continue to do so,” says Imperato. “BCW also has a strong track record of working on government contracts, with notable clients including the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Asked the same question, Praytell founder Andy Pray doesn’t hold back, referring to Trump staffers as “radioactive.”
“Absolutely not,” he says. “We care about values as an agency, values which would be betrayed by a hire from that administration. Folks who signed up with Trump knew they were abandoning traditional Republican vs. Democrat ideals to instead join a cult built on disinformation and hatred.”
Another anonymous PR head concurs with Pray, adding that there would be “no place” for one of Trump’s staffers at his firm.
“The behavior of those in comms positions at the White House point up the difference between propaganda and hard earned reputation building,” the PR leader says.
This story was updated on January 15 with comment from Edelman.