The four ex-bankers called before the Treasury select committee gave a performance described by the Daily Mail’s Alex Brummer as ‘rehearsed to death’ (see below) – but this preparation cut little ice with the media.
The Daily Mirror called the contrition of Lord Stevenson, Andy Hornby (both ex-HBOS) and RBS’ Sir Tom McKillop and Sir Fred Goodwin ‘the most pathetic apologies in history’. The Sun went with the front page headline ‘Scumbag Millionaires’.
Several articles referenced the PR ‘coaching’ the individuals received in the run-up to the confrontation and the committee hearings, with current banking chiefs set to attend the committee as PRWeek went to press.
Mindful of accusations of over-preparation, the banks themselves were reluctant to divulge specific information around the pre-appearance briefings. But one in-house source acknowledged : ‘Clearly you would want to ensure they are extremely well prepared and would use internal and external sources to do that.’
The banks’ government affairs teams are understood to have been leading the comms operation ahead of the hearings. RBS’ head of public aff-airs Roger Lowry was even perched behind Goodwin and McKillop during the committee.
Agency involvement is being driven by the banks’ retained public affairs consultants, with Burson-Marsteller aiding HSBC, Weber Shandwick working for Barclays and Citigate Dewe Rogerson coaching Lloyds.
Financial comms agencies have also had a secondary input, but, according to one public affairs source: ‘At its core this is a political issue playing out in the media; it is not a financial media-driven story, it is a news media story’.
As the session progressed, John Mcfall, chair of the committee, was unimpressed by the uniform apologies, asking the bankers: ‘What exactly are you apologising for? Are you expressing sympathy because your PR advisers tell you to?’
One senior agency source said that the depth of contrition did not appear to be particularly profound as the bankers continued to insist they had durable risk management processes in place.
11 Feb headlines
The Sun Captured the mood (See photo, right)
‘We’re so sorry (for ourselves)’ Daily Mail
‘Bunch of losers’ Daily Mirror
‘Four apologies from the bankers, then RBS says it must sack 2,300’ The Guardian
‘Regrets? We have had a few, but then again… it wasn’t our fault’ The Times
‘Cuts and bruises but no fatal blow’ The FT
Jobs to be shed at RBS, announced on Tuesday
Amount Goodwin claims
to have lost in RBS shares
Combined salaries of
the four ex-bankers
Total number of apologies, according to The Guardian
Rumoured cap set to come in for RBS bonuses