Goldman Sachs' head of PR Lucas Van Praag plays a starring role in the latest profile piece of CEO Llyod Blankfein. New York magazine's eight-page feature on Blankfein examines the continued reputation crisis that Goldman, and by extension Blankfein (remember "God's work"?), faces from the public and regulators as the nation tries to emerge from a crippling financial crisis, as well as its inability to comprehend why that anger is directed at it in particular. The profile comes at a time when many on Wall Street are wondering whether Blankfein will step aside soon. You can read the full article here, but I've picked out a few gems (below) on Van Praag, including when the writer asks Goldman COO Gary Cohn why they don't fire their message man given their rep doesn't seem to be improving anytime soon. At that point, "Cohn fixes me with a look of barely controlled irritation. For a second, I think he is going to reach for one of the baseball bats collected in the corner of his office."
It falls to Van Praag, as head of Goldman's public relations, to marry the cultural dicta set by his direct boss John Rogers with the personality of his ultimate boss Lloyd Blankfein. For the first year of Blankfein's reign, this wasn't a problem. Then the financial crisis happened. As Van Praag would put it, “Nightmare.” ...
Though Goldman wouldn't get out in front of bad press, it did defend itself—though usually in such a way that only made matters worse. The firm infuriated the Obama administration by repeatedly insisting it hadn't needed a government bailout; the reams of paperwork it provided to demonstrate that its exposure to AIG “rounded to zero” was widely mocked in the media. Van Praag became infamous for his elegantly scathing dismissals of rumors, such as press reports in 2009 suggesting Goldman's record profit levels were owed to market manipulation, which he called a “chimera produced by a febrile mind.” (“Lucas is British,” says a former co-worker by way of explanation. “He doesn't speak in American.”)
As for Blankfein, his interactions with the press were strictly limited. After the grilling of bank CEOs in front of the Senate Banking Committee in February 2009, he was spirited out a side door without talking to the media, while Jamie Dimon sauntered over to the press table. “Can I help with anything?,” he asked winningly.