So it is hard to resist a shudder at the news late last week that their trade body, the London Investment Bankers Association, has been asked by the Financial Services Authority to draft a code for the PR industry in the handling of price-sensitive inside information.
Whether or not the industry needs the code is a moot point – over the years there have been many more prosecutions for insider dealing of people working in banks and brokerages than of those engaged in financial PR – but even if the need for a code is accepted, investment bankers are quite the wrong people to draft it.
Theirs is a totally cynical attitude to PR. They see information as power and the controlled dribbling out of information as a lever in the pursuit of a deal. They have no concept of even-handedness or – more to the point – the fact that they may need the help next month of the journalist they happily propose stitching up today.
Indeed, one still smarts at a conversation overheard in a corporate hospitality suite a few months ago, where the head of one of the biggest banks in London was declaring that he could see no point in the financial press. They never wrote what was wanted, even when stories were given to them exclusively, and their influence was much less than his. By way of illustration, he claimed to have a direct line to Gordon Brown and Ed Balls and, whenever they suggested something he did not like, he simply threatened to pull his bank out of London. He had all the influence he needed without the indignity of having to treat with hacks.
Humility not being their strong suit, investment bankers hate to admit that, on any given panel of advisers in a takeover battle, it is the PR consultant who is likely to be the most experienced. This is not just because the likes of Alan Parker, Angus Maitland, Tony Carlisle, Nick Miles and a string of other senior figures have been working in the City much longer than the typical investment banker, but they have also been involved in far more deals.
So if a code is needed, they should be the people to draft it. There is, after all, a most recent precedent. The private equity and venture capital association brought in an outsider, Sir David Walker, to draft a code for the PE industry, but most of the members of his committee are industry specialists.