RBS in-house team leads media relations around Stephen Hester bonus

The media handling of the controversial bonus of nearly £1m for the boss of RBS has been led by the banking group's in-house team, which issued statements to the media last night.

RBS CEO: Stephen Hester
RBS CEO: Stephen Hester

The RBS team, led by head of group media relations Jason Knauf, started issuing statements to the media last night as it emerged that chief executive Stephen Hester has received a bonus of £963,000 in shares.

The coverage this morning includes the Daily Mail's front page headline: '£1m reward for failure'.

The media relations team declined to discuss with PRWeek its media handling of the announcement.

The bank issued a statement to the media from RBS remuneration committee chair Sir Philip Hampton, stating that Hester's pay is ‘strongly geared to the recovery of RBS, which he was recruited to turn around, having played no part in its collapse’.

Insignia Communications founder Jonathan Hemus said of the media handling: ‘Addressing the issue requires one of two approaches: realigning stakeholder perceptions by convincing them that the bonus is fair, appropriate and necessary. Or changing corporate behaviour so that it more closely matches stakeholder perceptions, which could be achieved by, for example, Mr Hester refusing to accept his bonus.  

‘RBS is currently focusing on the former, with robust statements and other communication which explain the context of the award. But with the public, politicians and the media ranged against them, it remains a mighty issues management challenge.’

Political pressure has mounted in the past two weeks for RBS to cut Hester's annual bonus, which could have been £1.66m. Earlier this week, David Cameron agreed that the RBS chief should not receive a bonus of more than £1m.

Last month, Lloyds Banking Group chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio refused a 2011 incentive worth an estimated £2.4m, placing further pressure on Hester to decline his bonus.

Despite being cut, Hester’s payment has been derided by many, including David Fleming, Unite national officer, who dubbed it ‘disgusting and offensive’.

The statement issued by RBS’ Hampton reads: ‘The board is aware of the difficulties in trying to reconcile the competing objectives of all our stakeholders. This is especially true on the issue of pay.

‘A safer and more valuable RBS is in the interests of our customers, shareholders and the UK economy, and we are progressing well towards this goal under the leadership of Stephen Hester.’

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