A lesson in crisis PR: prepare for the mutual media onslaught

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By Andy Barr | Head Yeti

June 21, 2013 | 5 min read

For the third time in as many months I find myself mentioning the dearly beloved Co-op.

Standby for the mutuals' PR fightback

My first was a poke, my second was praise for how they had seemingly turned it around (and even eating some humble pie) and today it is purely because their situation will no doubt trigger a media shitstorm from the cardigan clad mutuals.

That’s right, this week's Co-op actions have resulted in lofty city journalist types calling into question the overall business model for mutual financial companies.

The effect of this is going to be awesome to watch. You see, the mutual organisations out there, especially the building societies, are not going to tolerate such nasty talk.

Everyone loves building societies, myself included. I worked for one of the top 10 as its first ever externally appointed public relations people (I was quickly dispensed with I should hasten to add). Having just recovered from a horrific job with a utility company, the shiny lights of financial services looked dreamy.

How wrong I was. Now the company I worked for was top drawer and I will never have anything said against them, but the mutual sector as a whole was the most lofty, up its own bum sector I have ever experienced.

My single worst moment in that job, and probably my career, was when my boss told me to “get coverage for a new mortgage product at any cost”. He signed off on my idea of rubbishing a competitor's product but soon after I found myself in the directors' offices (very plush) getting a bollocking for rubbishing the said competitor.

Turns out all the building society directors kinda know each other. You hit one and 20 hit back in unison. My plan had ruffled feathers, my boss bottled it in terms of supporting me and I was made (literally made, my boss sat next to me during the call) to phone the PR team of the company I bashed in order to apologise. That was a horrid call.

Now I am merely a punter I can sit back and watch with glee as the building society sector starts winding up its media machine to defends its mutual model. You know what, they are going to ace it as well.

You see, these kinds of crisis comms situations are planned for day in, day out by building societies. The company I worked for had a far better crisis comms plan than the utility company (who actually needed crisis comms badly) ever had.

Right now, behind the scenes, there will be meetings being facilitated by the Building Societies Association where cross sector comms people will be planning how to not only react to the attack on mutuals but how they will show the country how strong they are.

You may have been, like I once was, naive to the building society mafia. I thought it was all beardy, cardigan-wearing, pipe-smoking, real ale drinking types who work for them. You could not be more wrong.

Some of the sharpest minds work in this sector (that was my downfall, well, that and a vehicle-related set of incidents) and they will not rest until the media begs for forgiveness for having the audacity to challenge their awesomeness.

Let’s just sit back and watch as my old crew comes out fighting - think Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction.

Who’s with me? Thought so... berate me on the Twitter @10Yetis

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