The corporate PR world can be dull - no really. Come ride with me as we take a weekly sideways glance at the world of PR in the lofty world of big business, from someone who has been there, done that, and was mostly fired.
I presume it is because of decent last-minute guest speaker drop-outs, or maybe because conference organisers like my sweary approach, but over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to speak all around the world on digital PR, traditional PR and all the associated gumf that comes with our industry.
Putting my obvious ego to one side, the reason I mention this is because one of the most frequent questions I am asked at conferences, aside from “why are you dressed so oddly?”* is why certain businesses do really well in the media and why certain businesses just don’t.
The answer I give is that businesses that are “PR-centric” – ie have a strong public relations professional involved at the top-level strategy and planning meetings – are the companies that do well. Some obvious examples being Virgin, McDonalds (unscathed from horse meat saga), HSBC (very good comms strategies) and US Airways which spent years turning around its reputation and perception, culminating in the great press it got over the way it handled the Hudson River crash.
At the other end of the spectrum we obviously have Lloyds. Oh dear. After the banks royally bull-f**ked (financial services term) themselves with the whole PPI mis-selling scandal the likes of Lloyds had one... simple... job... Repay the monies paid and compensate the victims. Simple yeah. No, they have ballsed it up. [Sample headline from today: "Lloyds Banking Group 'using loophole to cut PPI compensation payouts" - the Guardian.]
This is where the PR-centric thing comes in. I am 99 per cent confident that no public relations person was sat in the senior level strategic meeting where the decision was made by Lloyds to find an alternative and lower pound value way to compensate its victims.
If there was a PR person in that meeting they either did not understand what was going on, or they were too weak to stand up to the person leading that meeting.
These meetings can be tough, I don’t underestimate that. I once worked for a financial services company that was, at my time of working for them, the 15th largest company in the world. That kind of size of company is so big that it attracts a certain type of focused, driven and dynamic type of employee. Probably why I did not fit in: far too ploddy.
I am never going to try and convince you that I was sat in CEO level meetings, driving the strategy of this multinational, but I sat in plenty of meetings where the odd thing had not gone to plan and decisions were being made on what to do by senior people.
It takes a strong PR person to stand up and point out the ways that the situation could play out, not just in the media but also for the customers. It is people dealing with people after all.
The bean-counters will always go for the option that saves money over helping customers out and doing the right thing. Always. This is where the PR person needs to act as the conscience.
This is why someone in the comms team needs to have challenged the decision by Lloyds' management team. It was purely and simply a way for them to save some money. The only thing that Lloyds can hope for is that this brings other banks out of the woodwork that have done the same. Maybe then, the focus will shift away from the bailed out bank.
*The answer is that I get dressed in the dark so as not to wake our 3 children up
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