Danny Rogers: A harsh comms lesson for bank bosses

Sir Fred Goodwin's decision, two weeks ago, to take on Phil Hall Associates for media advice - revealed exclusively by PRWeek - now looks more prescient.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Few would have imagined that a Treasury select committee inquiry could turn into such a media circus. And the news image of the week – and probably this year so far – was the quartet of ousted HBOS and RBS bosses lined up like criminals in a courtroom.

The Sun’s headline on Wednesday summed up the mood on the streets of Britain: ‘Scumbag Millionaires’,
it screamed. And it was telling that the standfirst below this headline – ‘shamed bosses sorry for crisis’ – had a sceptical tone. A subsequent torrent of blogs and radio phone-ins revealed a British public far from convinced.

Conventional crisis management theory holds that saying ‘sorry’ is pretty central to the process of maintaining one’s reputation. But, crucially, you need to sound like you mean it. The mealy-mouthed opening response to the MPs created the opposite effect. The bank bosses muttered, in turn, that they were ‘sorry for the turn of events’.

We must of course avoid naïvety. These individuals had been briefed to be cautious for fear of subsequent legal action. But even so, their media performance – for this was of course a media performance – was lacklustre to say the least.
One suspects however much emergency help they received from comms advisers in the run up to the hearing, it failed to make up for years of being shielded by their corporations.

It is another reminder of how essential excellent communication skills have become for people in high office. Arguably for people in any office.

As PRWeek was going to press, the serving bosses of British banks were trooping into the hearing. They face exactly the same challenge. But beyond this, they will be required to deploy that second essential element of crisis comms management; explaining exactly what they are going to do to make things better.

They are learning the value of comms in the hardest possible way.

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