A (sort of) day in the life of Stephen Harper's director of communications
Here's what the PM's new spokesman can look forward to, writes Andrew MacDougall (and he should know)
People often ask me what the average day was like as director of communications to the prime minister, a job I held for 18 months from 2012 to 2013.
As my successor, Jason Macdonald, reports for his last day of work today before Rob Nichol takes over in March, here's a look at (kind of) what happens (maybe) on an average(ish) day for Stephen Harper's chief spokesman.
- Jason MacDonald leaving PMO 7 months before election
- John Baird's resignation produces a lot to cut through
(And you wonder why they give you a red Star Trek shirt on Day 1.)
5:30 a.m. – Wake up, furious that your sleep was filled with dreams of realistic work scenarios.
5:30.000001 a.m. – Check the Blackberry for the first of 948 times for the day.
5:30.02 a.m. – Respond to urgent Blackberry PIN messages.
5:40 a.m. – Check Twitter to see what trolls have come up with overnight. Lament the fact that trolls are the least creative people alive.
5:45 a.m. - Skim the 200 or so news stories (print) that have come in from the media monitoring team. Swear repeatedly.
6:15 a.m. – Assess (exactly) how painful your day will be, and prepare accordingly.
6:20 a.m. – Respond to less urgent emails. Delete the dozens of unnecessary "hey, did you see this?" emails from people who should realize by now that you see everything.
6:30-6:45 a.m. – Fire off salvo of emails to reporters challenging various aspects of their coverage. Even if you don't have a leg to stand on. This often feels good, while achieving nothing.
6:45 a.m. – 7:15 a.m. – Shower, stuff some sustenance in your gullet, and make your way to the office.
7:15 a.m. – Mainline the first (of many) coffees. Check Twitter. Reboot crashed Blackberry.
7:30-8 a.m. – Re-watch the previous night's TV broadcasts to make sure you didn't miss a piece of "bullshit" (i.e. usually accurate) reporting that your colleagues will soon be bitching about. Check Twitter.
8-9:15 a.m. – Review the day that was and discuss the day that will be with the team. Provide recap of previous day's TV. Struggle to come up with synonyms for "crap," "brutal," and "biased," even if coverage is "accurate."
9:15 a.m. – Assess calendar to figure out exactly how little time you will have to work on things that don't have anything to do with what's unfolding right now. Check Twitter.
9:20 a.m. – Get a second coffee into the system. Stat. Eat breakfast if you missed the opportunity because of morning media crisis. Catch up on the 100 or so emails that have poured in while you're in your morning meeting. Check Facebook, just for variety.
9:30 a.m. – Meet with counterparts at PCO to survey what's on the broader government communications agenda. Make futile attempt at long-term planning.
9:35 a.m. – Have meeting interrupted by a phone call from Julie Van Dusen of CBC. Come to quick realization that she calls every morning. Every. Morning. Rename 9:35 "Van Dusen o'clock."
9:45 a.m. – Begin to call around to various bureau chiefs to see what's catching their attention.
10 a.m. – Meet with entire PMO communications team to debrief and plan for day ahead. Lament fact that Message of the Day unlikely to be actual message of the day, despite best efforts of talented team.
10:30 a.m. – Continue call around to chiefs. Catch up on the 75 emails that have come in during your last meeting. Check Twitter if trolls have upped creativity after coffee. Discover answer is "no."
11 a.m. – Review communications products for upcoming PM event. Dream of inventing Rosetta stone capable of deciphering jargon and inside baseball language of bureaucracy.
11:30 a.m. – Attend one of three possible planning meetings. Check Twitter. Reboot crashed Blackberry.
Grilled cheese...and a salad
12 p.m. – Figure out if new news has broken since previous news discussion with prime minister. Trudge over to Centre Block for grilled cheese sandwich (oh fine, and a salad) from Parliamentary café.
12:30 p.m. – Participate in question period prep with PM and House leader. Hope to God that House leader hasn't torqued up piece of news to unnecessarily inflame the PM.
1 p.m. – Full QP prep with the cabinet. Admire the eagerness with which the parliamentary secretaries participate. Admire creativity of insults lobbed whenever Heritage minister is forced to defend the CBC. Check Twitter.
1:45 p.m. – Wander down to Foyer of the House of Commons to shoot the breeze with the cameras/techs waiting for House "ins." They have the best jokes. Check Twitter. Read up to 100 emails that have come in during QP prep. Make sure none are bombshells that need to be brought to PM's attention pre-QP.
2 p.m. – Shoot the breeze with reporters who have trudged up to the House in the (slim) hope of finding some news coming out of the unedifying spectacle of question period.
2:15 p.m. – Watch the unedifying spectacle that is question period. Lament fact that you have forgotten spare Blackberry battery as battery turns red.
3 p.m. – Watch QP outs. Spin as necessary. Listen to opposition and hope they step on a rake. Tweet said steps on rakes. Grab another coffee.
3:15 p.m. – Answer emails from 5 o'clock show hosts lamenting they cannot find government representative for unedifying MP panel/segment. Resist the urge to reply: "would you go on TV to get your head kicked in?" Remember to reach out to spinners who might be doing TV. Charge Blackberry.
3:30 p.m. – Return to office and catch up on email. Check Twitter. Keep watchful eye on wire stories moving from question period. On perfect day, there will be no stories moving on wire from question period. Unless we planned one, of course.
4 p.m. – Attend one of three possible planning meetings. Figure out how to make news out of stories that we have already made news on. Scramble to finish any memos (on Blackberry) that must go to PM in his night file. Fail miserably.
4:45 p.m. – Read emails that have poured in during meeting. Scour QP transcripts (called the "blues") in the hopes that you find gaffe you missed as you were lamenting the unedifying spectacle that is question period.
5 p.m. – Put "PowerPlay" and "Power & Politics" on TVs as you lament the fact you have not had a chance to do any long-term planning or thinking. Curse with Malcolm Tucker-style creativity. Take deep breath.
5:30 p.m. – Field flurry of calls/emails of reporters who are having trouble getting answers from press office of Minister (INSERT NAME HERE). Check with office of Minister (INSERT NAME HERE) to see what's going on. Figure out that *you* are the problem.
Tired, hungry and distracted
6 p.m. – Scour notes and memos being sent to PM. Be baffled by the fact that one person can consume, digest and understand all of this material.
6:30 p.m. – Read next day opinion columns, loosen sphincter once realization comes that John Ivison and his brethren won't be loosening government sphincter by breaking embarrassing news. Watch Global National — thus making me one of the select few outside the Global newsroom to watch Global National on Parliament Hill.
7 p.m. – Make way home. Have first (of many) row(s) with reporter over online version of an unflattering — and usually accurate — story that will appear in next day's paper. Check Twitter. Reboot Blackberry.
7:30 p.m. – Arrive home tired, hungry and distracted. Try to shut off outside world and focus on the people who mean something to you. Often fail in this task as red light of Blackberry beckons.
9 p.m. – Watch CBC's The National. Lament damaging story X. Cheer up when realizing that story X won't be seen by very many people this hour. Trying to fix story X before 10 p.m. broadcast. Fail miserably. Check Twitter.
10 p.m. – Tune into CTV National News on News Channel. Lament damaging story Y. Despair when realizing story Y will be seen by over a million people at 11 p.m. Try to fix story Y before 11 p.m. broadcast. Get told to make love to self.
10:30 p.m. – Participate in issues management emails to get to bottom of story X/Y. Answer blizzard of emails from organizations A/B/C/D/E/F/G trying to match/confirm story X/Y.
11:30 p.m. – Apologize for ignoring family/pet. Fall asleep, comforted by the knowledge that you will wake up and do it all again.
Andrew MacDougall is a former director of communications to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is now the senior executive consultant at MSLGROUP London. Follow him @agmacdougall.