City & Corporate: Banks feel pressure to rejig comms

Japanese bank Nomura will bring on board key personnel from Lehman Brothers' European comms team as it looks to integrate the bankrupt US bank's European operations.

Nomura recently purchased Lehman's European and Middle East investment banking and equities divisions.

PRWeek understands that Patrick Meyer, the head of Lehman's European comms team, will be joining Nomura along with the majority of his team. They will work under Paul Abrahams, head of corporate comms for Europe at the Japanese bank.

Nomura is unlikely to be the only bank rejigging its comms functions in the coming weeks, with at least one large UK bank rumoured to be trimming its team to cut out duplication across the group.

'If anyone has a chance to streamline comms it's the banks,' said one senior PR source. Another described some consolidation as 'inevitable'.

The banks under most pressure to restructure internally are Lloyds, HBOS and RBS, which took part in the recent government bail-out.

But senior comms professionals argued that a slashing of the comms function at these banks is unlikely and would be hugely damaging.

'The need to communicate when you are owned or part-owned by the Government is just as important as before,' said Ed Gascoigne-Pees, MD of financial communications at FD, which advises Northern Rock.

He argued that because the taxpayer is essentially a shareholder in these institutions, this necessitates a wide-ranging refocusing of comms.

He said: 'Financial PR traditionally focuses on investors, analysts and city media, but for the part-nationalised banks the remit becomes wider'.

In recent weeks RBS has come under fire for a 'lavish' staff bash and Northern Rock has faced criticism for its aggressive pursuit of struggling homeowners. Both stories contained explicit references to 'taxpayers' money.'

'The softer stories take on a much great significance,' one city PR specialist noted. 'Banks may be entertaining clients, but they will find themselves fighting suggestions that public money is being wasted.'

He argued that other areas of comms, such as high-profile sponsorships and government relations, also come under far greater scrutiny.

But Northern Rock's comms director Brian Giles said there was still a need to behave like a public company in many senses. 'Some of the audiences have changed and there is more intense focus on key areas,' he said. 'But in many regards we still need to act as a listed entity.'

HOW I SEE IT - Richard Campbell, managing director, Capital MS&L

For those banks in which the Government is taking a stake, their audience for comms is clearly going to be much broader. There will now be a responsibility not just to communicate with investors and potential customers, but taxpayers in general. These banks will have to be very careful about how they are seen to be spending money. The tabloids have already highlighted trips and parties abroad and these stories would not be getting any prominence without the taxpayer issue. The banks will need to communicate clearly with the public every step of the way.

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