10 Yetis boss Andy Barr, who worked in senior PR and media roles in the financial industry with the likes of AXA and Chelsea Building Society, looks at Barclays' handling of its £290m fine for rigging the key lending rate between banks.
As someone who has worked in the PR department for a few brands that have been on the wrong end of a regulatory decision, there are a couple of areas that we need to get straight before looking at the public relations consequences of Barclays' £290m fine from the FSA.
1. Barclays will have known that the fine was coming in advance, so why was the bank so slow to react?
2. The financial institutions that I worked for were all hugely well prepared for negative situations and diaries were always cleared for the most senior people when situations arose, but the PR101 rule of putting up your most senior person seems to have slipped Barclays by. (Under pressure boss Bob Diamond has only belatedly surfaced to comment, and refuse to resign, this morning.)
As I type, three more banks are being dragged into this scandal by the FSA; RBS, Lloyds and HSBC. Barclays could do well to have a look at how HSBC will deal with this situation. Every PR and Social Media conference that I have attended (not that many, they can be odd events; tight jeans, Paul Smith shirts and man bags - and that is just the girls) is swimming with praise for the HSBC PR team for the ways in which they handled a situation a short while ago whereby their cash-points decided enough was enough and stopped dispensing cash to their punters.
HSBC took to Twitter, got statements out from their most senior people and hand-held journos through what they were doing. The net result; lower volumes of hate aimed at HSBC in media coverage and praise for the comms team. Natwest are also a good barometer in terms of how to handle a sumo wrestler sized IT glitch. The Chief Executive had a statement out quicker than you could say "will this affect my credit rating" and the comms team had convinced the board that forcing 7000 of its staff to forgo their Sunday roast in order to open branch doors to help customers was a great PR move. It was!
Before we write off Barclays, let me also share another insight gleaned from my years of working in financial services; customers don't give a fig about the wider pluses or negatives of a bank or building society. Here is the crunch: customers only care about the best rate they can get for their savings, mortgage or loans product.
One of the companies I worked for spent more than I care to recall on trying understand whether customers cared about our Corporate Social Responsibility plan and the amount of sterling work we did with the community and more to the point, would buy more of our financial products because of it. They..did..not..care..one..iota (I was going to capitalise that, but trying to appear more modern with full stops). We tested this by offering a market leading mortgage rate and our customer numbers went through the roof.
This leads me to think that public relations people like myself can puff out our chests and pretend that our insight is deep, meaningful and keenly read by the Barclays Comms Team; but the reality is that Barclays can simply offer a market leading savings or mortgage product, watch the customer numbers rise and then simply highlight this rise as an example of the current media mess as having no real effect.
Could they have handled the situation better? Undoubtedly. Will it mean long-lasting damage? Only in PR text-books.
Before forming 10 Yetis with his business partner, Andy Barr worked in a number of Senior Public Relations and Media Roles within the financial services sector for the likes of AXA and Chelsea Building Society. He has also been responsible for managing the media side of several regulatory body investigations for companies that he has worked for including: OFCOM, OFGEM and the OFT (all of which he is happy to admit he handled poorly)
You will be sent a verification email. Click on the link in the email to post your comment.
Opinion, blogs and columnists - call them what you like - this is the section where people have something to say. You might agree or you might not - whatever opinion you have make your views known in comments. Views of writers are not necessarily those of The Drum. If you would like to contribute a comment piece, email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.