Challenging times for HBOS merger

City PR professionals have warned that Lloyds TSB has a 'comms tightrope to walk' if it is to explain fully how it suddenly became Britain's biggest bank.

The fine line the comms operation needs to tread in the current chaotic market was illustrated by the way its takeover of troubled HBOS was first communicated. News of the takeover was leaked to the BBC on 17 September, with Lloyds TSB then forced to issue a hasty statement setting the record straight.

'Some people in the City are incandescent with fury about the fact it was leaked to the BBC in the middle of the trading day rather than via an official statement,' said one City agency PRO. 'Fund managers were enraged and it cost people a lot of money.'

While such huge mergers usually trigger a daunting lobbying task to get regulatory approval, many believe the Government and Financial Services Authority were an integral part of pushing the deal through.

The principal challenge for Lloyds TSB, observers say, is to explain that the risks inherent in HBOS' business will not transfer to the merged firm.

Lloyds TSB is one of the few City brands seen as risk averse and the firm cannot afford to undermine that solid reputation.

'The most important comms strategy now is to pre-empt rumours and speculation,' said Patrick Donovan, MD of Citigate Dewe Rogerson's financial practice.

'Lloyds TSB needs to be vocal in getting its message out and remain consistent. But above all it needs to ensure all comms include the retail public,' he said.

The message that the merged banks will have greater market share, pricing power and efficiencies may play well in the City, but could be seen as undermining consumer choice and confidence.

'Communicating as early as possible the benefits of the merger to all stakeholders is vital,' advised Stewart Prosser of Prosser Associates. 'The degree to which staff need to be reassured at times like this is also very significant'.

Media coverage has been dominated by the supposed 40,000 job cuts to come but Lloyds TSB has attempted to squash this quickly by calling the figure 'absurd'. It has yet to come up with a more realistic figure, however.

Lloyds TSB's comms team is led by group comms director Mark Lidiard, aided by retained agency Finsbury.

HBOS' PR is led by Shane O'Riordain, general manager for group comms. The bank will work with Brunswick through the takeover period.


HOW I SEE IT - Gay Collins CEO, Penrose Financial

Lloyds TSB needs to communicate to its customers, shareholders, staff and media simultaneously. If it prioritises shareholders over the media, misinformation will get to customers and they will lose control of the message. In takeover situations media relations is essential, but you also have to be guarded about what you are saying in print.

It is a difficult balance - be too quiet and you look scared to communicate, but be too vocal and you can be accused of making false statements. Internal comms can be tough during takeovers as there are often barriers to speaking directly to the staff of the new company, so online comms often plays an important part.

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