Judge and Jury: Barclays stops the media from making a drama out of its crisis. After losing its new CEO on his first day, Barclays managed to protect its image due to the efforts of a skilled crisis management team, says Nick Fitzherbert, director at Col

There can be no denying that, in PR terms, 1998 was an annus horribilis for Barclays. On the agenda were the resignations of its chief executive, deputy chairman and head of communications, together with mishaps such as dealing losses in Russia, a tumbling share price, and then the indignity of a profits warning.

There can be no denying that, in PR terms, 1998 was an annus

horribilis for Barclays. On the agenda were the resignations of its

chief executive, deputy chairman and head of communications, together

with mishaps such as dealing losses in Russia, a tumbling share price,

and then the indignity of a profits warning.



By February 1999, however, Barclays was beginning to look in better PR

shape - it succeeded in meeting its profit target and then watched its

share price climb as it announced the appointment of a new chief

executive.



Michael O’Neill appeared to be ideally suited to tackling the company’s

needs and delivering on the objectives laid down by chairman Sir Peter

Middleton.



Image-wise, Barclays was on the road to recovery, but it would be a

while before it came off the critical list. So when O’Neill failed to

turn up for work as scheduled, you could almost see the vultures

circling. But when the worst happened - ’Barclays chief quits on the

first day’ - media reaction to the situation was far from the

incredulity that might have been expected.



The FT’s Lex column led with: ’Barclays can justifiably claim bad luck’,

continuing: ’Barclays has addressed many of the concerns vexing

investors ... and has been the best performing UK bank over the past

three months.’



Sure, others trotted out speculation over Barclays’ position as a

potential takeover target, but the important thing was that the bank had

created solid communications foundations in some of the most

authoritative places in the media, with positives emerging even from

O’Neill’s bombshell.



Much of this success can be attributed to Barclays’ handling of the

situation as the bank acted swiftly, plugging gaps that could have given

rise to query. Perhaps the best move of all was summoning O’Neill

straight to London, complete with ’against doctor’s orders’

references.



The challenge now is to turn the commentators away from knocking the

bank and drawing the focus instead to both the core business and its

innovations.



The former is ’going like a rocket’, according to Sir Peter Middleton

and the latter has been undergoing a renaissance with such

ground-breaking products as b2 and services such as the internet

stockbroking service and Barclay Square, which have all but passed

unnoticed.



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