JP Morgan stems Enron flap with proactive comms plan

NEW YORK: As negative media and rumors barked at JP Morgan Chase's door last week, sending its shares sliding, the banking giant embarked upon a communications offensive that began on Sunday evening, July 21, when CEO William Harrison sent a mass e-mail to employees acknowledging that the bank might be in for a long week.

NEW YORK: As negative media and rumors barked at JP Morgan Chase's door last week, sending its shares sliding, the banking giant embarked upon a communications offensive that began on Sunday evening, July 21, when CEO William Harrison sent a mass e-mail to employees acknowledging that the bank might be in for a long week.

Sources close to the situation say that the e-mail was sent as word reached bank executives that congressional testimony scheduled for Tuesday would allege that JP Morgan, and chief rival Citigroup, were complicit in helping Enron hide debt from its investors and creditors. On Tuesday evening, after JP Morgan shares fell 18% in the wake of media coverage of congressional testimony, company executives and the communications team orchestrated a quick response to the media crisis. That evening, at a communications powwow, Harrison displayed an eagerness to quickly address the issue head on. Harrison would first reassure all 100,000 employees via a voicemail and a much longer e-mail that the firm had acted properly in its dealings with Enron. The firm also decided to have vice-chairman Marc Shapiro appear on CNBC before the open of trading on Wednesday. Despite Shapiro facing many very pointed questions during the CNBC interview, it still fell neatly into the firm's plan. "What was great about that the interview was that those questions were on the minds of employees, shareholders, the press, and regulators," said a well-placed source. "And the bank could have just allowed all its competitors, or others with an axe to grind, to give their version, so while every question was hard, at least Marc got the bank's side out there." That appearance was quickly followed by a conference call hosted by Harrison and Shapiro, which allowed for a Q&A session with analysts and investors. Yet, perhaps most importantly, Harrison publicly announced that he and Shapiro would personally be buyers of JP Morgan's beaten down shares. "Although he (Harrison) felt the shares were undervalued, it wasn't so much an investment decision as it was a tangible way to show confidence, said another source close to the situation. The aggressive communications plan seemed to have been a key contributor to a 16% jump in JP Morgan shares on Wednesday. Some commentators pointed to the bank's public reassurance for bolstering its shares. Aggressive communications is nothing new for JP Morgan, which has been quick to swat rumors and answer critics since the early days of the Enron debacle. Outside counsel has been provided by George Sard, chairman and CEO of Citigate Sard Verbinnen, who declined to comment for this article. By contrast, Citigroup has been quiet. As PRWeek went to press, the bank's CEO Sandford Weill was largely absent from public view. Citigroup's primary reaction to the news coverage came in vigorous rebuke of a scathing New York Times article, which was posted on its corporate website on Wednesday. On Thursday, Citigroup posted a letter on the site from Weill to the bank's employees trying to ease concerns about the bank's role in the Enron affair. The letter, however, indicated that Citigroup would be reviewing some of its policies now under scrutiny. ----------------------------------- The week unfolds at JP Morgan Chase SUNDAY, JULY 21: After receiving word of impending congressional testimony, JP Morgan Chase sends e-mail to employees preparing them for media coverage, and presenting the firm's side of events TUESDAY, JULY 23: After JP Morgan shares slide 18% following coverage of Enron dealings, the firm devises a communications action plan. Harrison sends e-mail and voice-mail to employees WEDNESDAY, JULY 24: Vice chairman Marc Shapiro appears on CNBC an hour before trading begins, and handles pointed questions about the Enron dealings. Shapiro and Harrison hold analyst investor conference call 30 minutes before NYSE opening. Shares go up 16%, and help lead 488-point surge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the index's second-largest one-day gain ever.

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