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Media Planning and Buying Crisis PR Natwest

NatWest versus Farage: a stunning case study in crisis PR ineptitude

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By Gordon Young, Editor-in-Chief

July 26, 2023 | 4 min read

Gordon Young, editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Drum, shares his view on the fallout of the Nigel Farage Coutts scandal that felled bank owner NatWest's CEO.

Natwest

What planet was Dame Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest, the UK banking group living on? Yesterday, she finally admitted it was she who briefed BBC business editor, Simon Jack about the financial affairs of former politician Nigel Farage.

She met the journalist at a dinner as the bank found itself in the middle of a media storm. Farage had just made claims that his accounts with NatWest subsidiary Coutts had been closed because of his political views.

Not so, Rose inferred to Jack. The real reason the account was closed is that Farage no longer met the financial criteria required to bank at the elite institution which is also favored by British Royal Family.

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However, a subsequent dossier emerged following a subject access request by Farage. It revealed how a bank committee deemed him a racist transphobic grifter. And it confirmed that he was indeed debanked because of his political views.

Since then all hell has broken loose. The UK government is urgently tightening regulations to ensure individuals can not have their accounts closed simply because someone disagrees with their political point of view.

Coutts and NatWest have both been hammered with negative publicity, undermining the key requirement of any institution - trust. The BBC and Simon Jack have been forced to apologize to Farage - and must be seething at being led up the garden path by Rose as a result.

This episode is already a stunning case study in crisis PR ineptitude. It is enough to keep students of the black arts of comms engrossed for months. But the story continued to twist and turn. Despite apologizing yesterday Rose, initially refused to step down - even though it was blindingly obvious to all and sundry she had no choice. This is an executive who earned £5m a year for goodness sake. £5,000,000 a year.

You’d think she would have better judgment for that amount of cash.

Of all people, she should have grasped that even blabbing to the media about a client in the first place was inexcusable. But then misleading the likes of the BBC was doubly serious. Then not to mention the original scandal that got Farage debanked in the first place - a scandal that never would have emerged unless the dossier was made public.

The board initially said it maintained full confidence in her. But within hours, she had gone.

Not before many newspapers had gone to press with front page splashes wrongly last night saying she remained in post. Again Fleet Street will be seething they were misled once again.

As a result, I suspect NatWest will be about to de-bank a few more members of its senior team. It is the only way it can start rebuilding trust. But such is the damage, this process will take years.

Media Planning and Buying Crisis PR Natwest

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