Misfired Desire

What you can learn from the �departure� of Desir�e Rogers

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Let’s face it.  An early “departure” from a coveted position in the White House is a re-branded way of saying you were fired–plain and simple. It broke my heart to see a brilliant, beautiful black woman “fired” in such a way for making a mistake–a dangerous mistake–but a mistake nonetheless.  Personally, I blame those in charge of security and protecting the President’s life more so than America’s Chief-Event-Planner, but they did not ask me.

With an MBA from Harvard and an awe-inspiring career history, the past several months following the infamous White House state dinner debacle must have been beyond embarrassing and disappointing for Desirée Rogers.  As such, I am sure that the end result is not reflective of the tremendous amount of effort and energy she exerted during her time as the Social Secretary for the White House.

Still, the fairytale journey is about to end, as Rogers announced last week that she would step down from the position, effective later this month.  The question is, Why? There is a major issue with the retention of top African-American talent in every competitive industry in this country.  So, I ask, what was the real reason behind her departure?  Sure, we will continue to receive perfectly scripted answers from the White House and Rogers (unless she decides to write a book–hey, I’d buy it!).  I gather President Obama was most disappointed not with her abilities (she is unquestionably talented), but rather her failure to execute in a manner that aligned with the Obama brand.  Yes, I said the Obama B-R-A-N-D.  I believe the ultimate mistake here was Rogers taking her eye off the prize.

As the owner of a brand management firm working with professional athletes, entertainers, and also high-end companies like Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Tiffany & Co, I notice that many people easily make the same mistake.  It is a very thin line, but the line still exists.  People, even those with the best of intentions, get caught up in the glamour of an industry and forget whose star is the one that is supposed to be shining.  In this economy, there is no such thing as job security.

Here are two critical personal branding lessons you can learn from the potentially misplaced, misaligned, and misfired desire of Ms. Desiree Rogers.

-    Lesson Number One:  Remember Who is Number One.
When you are hired, never forget you are being brought aboard to do a job.  Your personal image matters, but your boss’ image always matters more.  No matter how much your boss “appreciates” your talent and supports your dreams, no boss wants to compete with members of his or her staff for attention in the media.  Do I think President Obama was jealous–absolutely not.  But, the President hates to be embarrassed, and rightfully so.  Rogers is being replaced by Julianna Smoot, someone whose name you probably have never heard before.  She has a finance background and is seasoned in the politics of politics.  In other words, she knows how to stay behind the scenes.

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  • C

    Interesting.  I think that’s true if you assume that a) the White House wasn’t behind the “Hollywood” push and b) that the White House wasn’t trying to help her get some heat off of her and into another situation that might be a better fit.  A lot of people that the administration brought in as their staff are there just to help leverage future opportunities and aren’t necessarily expected to stay for the full term or even half of the term.  The benefit is in having attained that position, not necessarily in carrying it out, since it’s really all about access and who you know.  As I understand it, the policy seems to be that if something better comes along, then go do it.  

    I can’t say any of this with certainty because perhaps she does not have another opportunity lined up just yet, but I thought it was important to consider the other side of the matter, too.  

  • Under Pressure

    Marshawn you’ve made some very strong and powerful points regarding Desiree’s departure. It is unfortunate that she has to leave her post, but I agree that she must. You are correct when you state one must keep their eyes on the prize. The spotlight can be very tempting for some but clearly in this case she would have been better off in the background.
    My question for you is how should professional’s re-invent or re-brand themselves after very public or private blunders such as what Desiree faced? What should she or others do next to recover?

    • Thank you for your comments. We all make mistakes and act in away contrary to our brand intentions. My point with Desiree Rogers is that we have to be very careful with subtle mistakes that can make a big difference.

      To answer your question about HOW you recover from a public blunder (and I speak as someone who was fired in front of millions by Donald Trump!), there are few steps to take.

      First, remain humble. Accept responsibility and acknowledge when your performance was lacking. At the same time, make sure you appropriately point out the strong areas of your work and contributions. This is one way to reinforce your best abilities and give your employer / supervisor better perspective on your overall performance. Nobody expects you to be perfect, but they do expect you to add more than you subtract.

      Second, never make the same mistake twice. If you are given a second chance, make sure that you do not repeat the same mistakes again. That will require you to make a conscious effort to do things differently. Pay closer attention to the things that went wrong in the first place.

      Third, create a new brand image by doing something new. I often tell this to the professional athletes I manage at EDGE 3M Sports & Entertainment (www.edge3m.com). The biggest mistake you can make in rebranding is continuing to repair an old mistake without creating new impressions. For instance, with Michael Vick, I think he should start doing community work in an area outside of animal rights. The longer he serves in animal rights arena, the more he reinforces his past transgressions with dog fighting. His mistakes remain in the present. However, by serving in an area that is completely different, Vick would create an impression that is new and fresh.

      KEY TIP :: For those in the workforce or trying to repair a client relationship, think about what you can bring to your employer or client that is so unexpected (yet relevant and helpful) that it will help them to see you as an asset instead of a liability. There is no such thing as job security. We all have to prove our value. Ask yourself, why should my employer/client keep me?

      In the coming weeks I will be sharing some key advice regarding reinvention and rebranding – I also dedicate an entire chapter of branding strategies in my book SKIRTS in the Boardroom…pick up a copy and let me know your thoughts…it’s good for men too!


    I think you are totally off base with your opinion in this matter. Firstly, Desiree did execute her job as social secretary very well and definitely aligned with the Obama brand. She wasnt trying to be in the spotlight or compete against Obama! That’s ridiculous! If you had any knowledge about the job of Social Secretary then you would know that their job IS to be up front and not behind the scenes! They are in charge of setting up events and MUST attend events to make sure things go as planned and she must also always look FABULOUS (as she did) as she is representing the Obama brand (or any president residing at the time)! She has to have her own “spotlight” which has nothing to do with the President and our president and first lady knew this and were proud to let her shine and “do her thing”, unlike any other social secretary before her! You must remember that alot of people were or are envious of her (and prez obama) from the start and had every intention of trying to catch her in a ‘gotcha” moment to bring her down and make prez obama look bad! The security of that event should have not rested on her when the president is supposed to have the SECRET SERVICE protecting him who should screened way before the guest even got to her!!! Please dont believe the hype! Because she and the president knew that the “haters” werent going to stop until they made life miserable for her especially since Prez Obama had her back and wouldnt let her go back when the incident happened as they wished he would!! They have an agenda to fulfill and didnt want to waste energy and time having to defend stupidity so i’m sure Desiree did the “regal, classy” thing and resigned just like Van Jones!! Remember racist america couldnt take seeing those smart, confident, beautiful black people in the White House “running things”, especially when they know that they cant compete with desiree or van! Those haters have a philosophy of “if you cant beat em, try to destroy them I’m so glad the way both of them and our president are handling these rought times!

    • Lynn – thank you for your comments.

      I run a sports & entertainment brand management firm, and I have the opportunity to produce a number of very high end celebrity events. I (like Desiree) enjoy getting dressed up! I have my hair and make-up professionally done, and everyone knows I love designer duds, too. Image is very important…especially at high-end events.

      As the event producer (and often times as the client’s manager), I am representing the client, our luxury sponsors, and my agency. Certainly, Desiree was representing the Obama family and the excellence synonymous with that name and the White House. I have no problem with her carriage that evening, or during her term as Social Secretary. She is an exquisite and extremely intelligent woman. Style and substance go hand-in-hand for a job like this.

      However, I also know what a thin line you have to walk to make sure that the focus STILL remains on the prize…which is always the client, your boss, or the bottom-line. Let’s never forget that we only look at fault-lines when an earthquake hits. No one really notices problems until something cause them to notice!

      When you fly at high altitudes, you have to expect turbulence. Someone has to take the heat and the blame…especially in politics. I am always completely aware of that with all of my companies. If something goes wrong on my watch, my NFL or NBA client does not look at the security we hired. He looks at me because I hired the security and my staff is ultimately in charge for coordination of EVERYTHING.

      My point, is that part of the problem with retention rates is that we have to make sure we are “retainable” people. Small mistakes make a big difference when you’re flying at high altitudes. You cannot get much higher than the White House.

  • I agree security should have been tighter and should probably be blamed; most likely Desiree was misfired. I think like most of these civil service type positions there was an suspect agenda in pointing fingers at Desiree. From my experience working civil service type jobs, Desiree probably was being harrassed everyday since the incident occurred. Thank God she was strong enough to step down before stooping down to the level of ignorance that started this whole charade. I hate to see a young black female leave a prominent role; especially around black history month! Hopefully she will have a brighter future..

  • Beverly

    Excellent recap! I think you summed it up perfectly and I agree with your conclusions. I think Ms. Rogers will be fine in the end as she’s a educated, brilliant, professional African American woman.

  • Jane Eyre

    She was fired because she forgot that she was the help. Every other social secretary remembered their place–and it was not in the spotlight. Being black, brilliant, and well-educated is no reason to be exposed. Maybe the first mistake was the Obamas’, in hiring her, because she was (and, I assume, is) a friend. It’s difficult when you hire friends and relatives, because they don’t always understand that the job and its demands come before the relationship. She acted as if she was a peer, a friend. She forgot that she was the help, and she deserved to be fired.

  • APW

    I would have fired her on the spot and had security pack her desk and throw it out on the curb. Rodgers is lucky she was afforded the dignity to announce her “resignation” herself. The national media spent one week focused on the gatecrasher scandal when we should have been discussing healthcare, budget and foreign policy. Her situation is self made and not a question of gender or race, but competence.

  • Harrison Chastang

    I had a friend who was an event planner and she produced some high profile events. You could not get into any of her events without personally seeing her at the check in table. She might be in an evening gown but she would be at the table making sure there were no problems with people who were supposed to be in but not on the list and discreetly telling people trying to crash the even that they can’t get in. Ironically this woman’s last event was a gala on inauguration night for people who couldn’t go to Washington. She passed away two days after the event. The message I received from her was that if you’re running the event, the best way to make sure the right people get in is to be at the door. Ms. Rogers wanted to be the star, not the producer/director.

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  • Your article provided excellent “constructive criticism”. It will certainly help me to “check” my pride vs. humility when I may have the opportunity to serve someone who truly deserves to be in the spotlight, despite my desire to grab a little bit of that light for myself. There is a lot of temptation that comes with a job such as the one Ms. Rogers had. I won’t comment about why she had to annouce the presence of her dress designer, however you made some excellent points by stating that her time could have been better spent by serving at the door, checking ID’s…which doesn’t require a designer outfit…and about the various magazine cover photo, etc. Your article may have been about Desiree’, but I definitely will keep your “Lessons” top of mind, for sure! Wow! How easy it is to get “caught up”.

  • The Dr.

    The next level changes the game: PERIOD. Ms. Rodgers went from Chicago to the White House. Clearly, there are some parallels; yet, the game was heightened – and for the first time Ms. Rodgers was viewed as a a behind the scenes star instead of a major player. Essentially, she executed as though it was Chicago-business as usual – I’m here with friends. I believe the faux pas was of the security force on the tangible; however, at the end of the day Ms. Rodgers was in charge. She will continue to be successful; but let’s keep in mind that for many African Americans, no matter how high up we get, some of us are first generation “big time”; less mentors to push when necessary, and to pull back when we go too far. Hopefully she wlll write a book as we are learning while we go…and even when we get there.