Two Masters?

3 06 2008

From time to time, I’ll cross-post from my personal blog Client Service Insights…(CSI/Season 2) in an effort to drive more conversation on particularly important topics. Great Scott? Hardly. touches on a subject that has not only been all over the news, but relevant to all of us as PR professionals. So to whom is the press secretary more accountable? The American people who pay his salary or the President to whom he/she is appointed to serve. What are your thoughts?

Great Scott? Hardly.

So what did happen? Well, it would appear to be a case of Scott McClellan trying to serve two masters and failing to serve either. Though I’ve never visited the West Wing, I understand that the Press Secretary’s Office is located at a (more or less) equal distance between the press room and the Oval Office – symbolic of the Press Secretary’s responsibility to serve the President and the citizenry.

What I find interesting of course is that we somehow accept the notion that serving both parties represents competing rather than complementary interests. The President and the Press Secretary should be serving the true client here – the American people. You know, the people who pay the taxes, elect our leaders, and send their sons and daughters to war. Yes, those people.

When I was a little kid, I remember waiting for a haircut when a fight broke out between a mother and a petulant little brat who was screaming about how he wanted his hair cut (like it really mattered). Finally, the barber, who was ready to give both of them a crew cut at this point said, “who’s paying for this?” The kid continued to scream, but the barber took his instructions from the mom who was paying the bill. Simple barber shop wisdom.

Future press secretaries would be well advised to consider that while the government may sign the check, the American people are the ones paying the salary. There’s only one client here, not two.