'Bonk boss': Did Lloyds CEO get it right with staff apology over extra-marital bad PR?

Married Lloyds Banking Group CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio's apology in a staff memo for "adverse publicity" generated by reports he was accompanied by a lover on a business trip has been generally commended as a good PR move.

Horta-Osorio's memo, which is reproduced in full on the BBC website and in other media, was published on the company's intranet at 7am, and was designed for internal consumption. However, some journalists were later shown the statement, and the bank also provided it to media on request.

The bank is in the middle of cutting 3,000 jobs, according to the BBC - a misery that has been compounded by reports of Horta-Osorio's personal misdemeanours, with The Sun referring to him as 'bonk boss' in at least two front pages in recent weeks.

The memo includes the lines: "My personal life is obviously a private matter as it is for anyone else. But I deeply regret being the cause of so much adverse publicity and the damage that has been done to the Group's reputation.

"It has detracted from the great work which you do for our customers on a daily basis and from the major accomplishments of the past five years. This includes the Government shareholding having reduced from over 40 per cent to around 9 per cent with over £16 billion plus dividends having been returned to taxpayers."

The CEO also wrote that he expected "the highest professional standards from everyone at the bank", including himself, and he thanked staff for "messages of support over the last few weeks".

James Acheson-Gray, MD of the London office of public affairs and comms firm APCO, said of the memo: "Horta-Osorio’s statement strikes the right balance between humanity and resilience by expressing personal regret and ensuring the Lloyds brand remains strong.

"He’s done the right thing to address the situation head on, and now should encourage further commentary from other key executives and customers at Lloyds to further put this issue behind them," he told PRWeek.

Neil Bayley, corporate director at PR agency Good Relations, said: "It’s a sensible move to act decisively in addressing the issue and expressing regret. The internal focus on staff is right too, as he’s an advocate of high standards, so admitting his mistake will protect some credibility internally. He is fortunate the bank needs stability ahead of the government's planned stake sale.

"Provided he quickly gets back to proving his value as a leader delivering successful business results, he should be able to move on and reputation damage will be minimised."

However, Telegraph journalist Charlotte Lytton was less impressed, writing: "If Horta-Osorio wants people to buy the idea that he feels genuinely bad, coming out and saying so – rather than opting for meaningless management-speak – would have been a lot more convincing."

Horta-Osorio was praised by some commentators for his openness in talking about his wellbeing after he took time off for exhaustion in 2011.

Lloyds' deputy director of corporate affairs Ed Petter is to leave the firm in October to join BT, PRWeek reported earlier this month.

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