They may be seeking an exit from the crises of Washington to calmer experiences in the private sector — but could they return to the cutthroat world of entertainment publicity?
Friends and former associates say that people have reached out to each of them to inquire about their plans. Their tenure in a chaotic atmosphere in DC could prove to be advantageous — proof of being battle tested in the highest-profile environment, not to mention a connection to the White House. However, the polarizing nature of Trump and their close association with him could be a detriment in some circles.
Post-White House gigs haven’t always panned out: Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer is currently writing a book, “The Briefing,” but he did not land a spot as a TV pundit despite meeting with the major news networks.
Hicks and Raffel are very good friends, having previously worked closely together for Matthew Hiltzik’s crisis PR firm in New York: Hicks, the White House communications director, had represented Ivanka Trump’s product line, which gave her an entree into the Trump Organization and ultimately his presidential campaign. Her past clients included the beleaguered movie company Relativity Media.
Raffel, deputy communications director, left Hiltzik Strategies in 2015 to run PR for Blumhouse Prods. He shocked many in the industry–including his former employer Jason Blum — when he went to work for the White House in April, 2017, initially for Jared Kushner at the Office of American Innovation. Blum, who produced the Oscar-nominated “Get Out,” publicly joked to Maureen Dowd about wanting to rescue Raffel from the “cult.” Like a number of industry figures, Blum has been a prolific tweeter of anti-Trump messages.
But despite contributing to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Raffel jumped at the opportunity to work in the White House, his link being the work he did for Kushner when Kushner Companies was a Hiltzik client. When Raffel announced his departure, Ivanka Trump and assistant to the president Jason Greenblatt issued statements; chief economic adviser Gary Cohn said he was “focused and thoughtful in our day-to-day operations and in driving a policy roll-out, and he will be missed.”
A source familiar with Raffel’s thinking said that he wants to go back to New York, where he has a family obligation, and will explore opportunities from there.
“I already know a number of people who have reached out,” said a former showbiz colleague. “His job prospects are not damaged by any means. That wouldn’t be a problem.” The colleague said that Raffel had a great reputation, among journalists and executives, particularly for his work at Blumhouse, and during his White House tenure he made a point of keeping in touch with friends from the industry and kept the two worlds separate.
Hicks, too, plans to take her time to decide what to do next, a source close to her says, and she also has gotten calls from potential employers. Like Raffel, she largely shunned on-air appearances but did develop high level relationships with journalists and an ability to remain “calm in tough situations,” as a friend says. She didn’t have the same extensive experience working in entertainment as Raffel did, but her time working with Relativity put her in close contact with CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, another controversial character with eccentricities, before working for Trump. Many in the entertainment media viewed her as a publicist new to the scene, just a few years into her career, which was why her quick rise in politics was such a surprise.
Sources said that she had been talking of her departure for weeks. But she is in a different situation than Raffel and many are skeptical about the timing of her resignation. Her plans to exit were announced a day after she delivered testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in its Russia investigation, raising legal issues, and after the fallout over the scandal engulfing Rob Porter, with whom she reportedly dated. She had a close relationship to the president, as his longest-serving aide in the White House. It was a three-year tenure in which she was initially catapulted into the role of press secretary for his fledgling campaign at the age of 26, answering hundreds of press requests and questions a day.
But those ties and loyalty to Trump, which left her closer than others in his orbit, could prove problematic if she chose to pursue something in entertainment, as a number of other White House staffers have done in previous administrations. “It definitely makes it difficult,” said one top industry executive, citing the negative view in Hollywood toward Trump. “I think she will have a lot of options. I just don’t think that it will be at a movie studio.”
The executive said that there would likely be interest from publishers in a tell-all book from Hicks, judging by the blockbuster success of “Fire & Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” or even offers of a TV gig, or even another gig with a high-profile CEO. Trump himself said, on her departure, “I am sure we will work together again in the future.”
Hicks, who modeled in her teens, has avoided any appearances as a talking head for the campaign or the administration. One of the few times was at a late 2016 Trump rally, where she gave only brief remarks. That lack of public visibility actually may end up helping her transition to the next thing. Whatever that is, it’s hard to see how that will be the same route taken by her two predecessors.
After his exit, Anthony Scaramucci quickly appeared on talk shows and expanded his Twitter presence; Spicer did a self-deprecating cameos on last year’s Emmys.