Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012

Who gave the most disastrous sound bite of 2012? While  the snappy, clever phrase is the dream of every publicist and journalist, life doesn’t always go along with the plan. As we look back at the year in PR and media, we present four of the deadliest quotes of 2012. In each case, silence would have been golden.

2013 romney 150x150 Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012Mitt Romney and the now notorious “47 percent. Filmed secretly at a fundraiser, the Presidential candidate gave the nuclear sound bite that boomeranged back. Whatever the context, the media wouldn’t let anyone forget that Romney was referring to a very substantial part of the electorate. From then on, it was an uphill PR climb for Romney, his campaign permanently on the defensive until its conclusion. What a difference a percentage can make!

 

 Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, for his reference to a trading loss he airily dismissed as a “tempest in a teacup.” As the losses continued and wiped $14 billion off the market value of JPMorgan, his bravado seemed increasingly misplaced.

 

 

2013 bobdiamond 150x150 Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012Then again, it’s a tough call between Jamie Dimon and Bob Diamond, CEO Of UK banking giant Barclays. Speaking at a Parliamentary enquiry into Liborgate, Bob Diamond proclaimed, “The time for apologies is over.” But as the LIBOR scandal continues to claim more scalps, including his own, and fresh allegations of money laundering and sanction-breaking by some of the worlds biggest banks emerges, Diamond’s words now seem laughably misjudged. In the public mind, the time for apologies has just begun.

 

2013toddakin 150x150 Poisonous PR Sound Bites of 2012Todd Aikin and “Legitimate rape.” A sound bite that will survive way beyond the 2012 election, this phrase was regrettably coined by Akin, a Republican member of Congress and long time anti-abortion advocate. In an interview, he claimed that victims of what he described as “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant as the “female body has ways to try to shut down that whole thing down.” Bipartisan jaws dropped in unison, and an entirely predictable firestorm ensued. Akin backpedalled, apologized, and sought to explain. “Out of context” was his initial defense, “a poor choice of words” came later, but the damage was done. He ultimately lost his seat and remains partly blamed for helping move electoral sentiment in the opposing direction.

 

 

 

Barclays CEO Admits He Was Dazzled by Diamond

 Barclays CEO Admits He Was Dazzled by Diamond

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor, former CEO of Barclays.

What to make of the recent mea culpa from Martin Taylor, the former CEO of Barclays? The Financial Times published his opinion piece, provocatively entitled  “I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth,” in which he describes his time as CEO of Barclays during the late 1990s.  Back then, Bob Diamond was running Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm, and reported to Taylor. Judging from the article, we can safely assume they don’t exchange holiday cards.

Taylor gives an insider’s view of boardroom dysfunction and a deliberate effort by traders within Barclays Capital to work around trading limits. The traders exposed the firm to massive risks by window dressing and reclassifying bets to get them past agreed internal controls. This was the late ’90s, after all.

Russia subsequently defaulted, and the markets went into freefall. Describing Barclays’ experience as “worse than most,” Taylor says the “failure to respect the internal control system” precipitated the fire sale of key assets. Traders were dismissed, and Diamond maintained that he had known nothing. Diamond offered to resign, but Taylor, concluding that the business was still in its infancy, said his direct report should stay. Taylor concludes by saying, “I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability.” Ouch!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor. After more than a decade, he has come clean with some insight. Trouble is, we’re still missing some basic information.

The PR Takeaway: Personal reflection wins people over, but ignoring key questions undoes the gain. If Bob Diamond wasn’t asked to leave, was he at least given a zero bonus for the year? Was anything else done to send home the message that the CEO running the business had bottom line responsibility? Without a full explanation, it’s hard to get past the sneaking suspicion that Taylor’s mea culpa might have been more of an effort to rewrite history than a more profound and insightful contribution.

Is Taylor’s article an explanation, or an excuse? Give us your PR Verdict!

Bob Diamond: Was It Something I Said?

BobDiamondresignation 300x194 Bob Diamond: Was It Something I Said?

The PR Verdict:”F” (Full Fiasco) for Bob Diamond, resigning CEO of Barclays.

One down and another just gone. Monday morning saw the resignation of Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius, following news of the Libor rate scandal. “The buck stops here” Agius said.  Exit stage right.  Oddly enough, his number two, CEO Bob Diamond, remained standing. By Tuesday, Diamond’s resignation had been accepted.

Up until then, Diamond apparently felt the buck didn’t really stop with him. While suitably contrite, with public apologies and regrets that made it clear that rate fixing failed to meet Barclays’ standards, there was no hint of a resignation. Hell no! Dismissing any suggestion that he was about to lose his position, Diamond told the media he wasn’t going anywhere. Two days later, he was out of a job.

Diamond’s headstrong comments over the weekend pushed forward the likelihood of a resignation. After all, if the Chairman had resigned, why didn’t the CEO, who is in charge of day-to-day business? Given that Diamond has previously fought PR clouds over his compensation and autocratic style, this unlucky third strike was bound to have him preparing the cardboard box for his belongings.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Bob Diamond. Telling the media and staff he had no intention of leaving his post wasn’t his call. An oddly cavalier declaration when his Chairman had decided to take his public lumps.

PR Takeaway: Is it the role of a CEO to decide if he should keep his job or not?  Remember, each person is only a guest in his or her position, and the invitation can be pulled at any time. Better to have deferred the issue to the Board and say that the matter of continued service was a decision for them. Diamond unwittingly gave everyone from the UK Prime Minister on down the opportunity to cry foul. With little incentive for powerful stakeholders to come out in support of Diamond’s tenure, his remaining days were nothing more than a countdown to the inevitable.

Should Agius and Diamond have resigned simultaneously? Would that have been the better PR tactic? Give us your PR Verdict below.

We will be back July 5 with a new PRV. Happy July 4 to all our readers

 

How Sorry Are You, Barclays?

 How Sorry Are You, Barclays?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Barclays. (Pictured: Barclays CEO Bob Diamond)

Isn’t it nice to know that Barclays PLC and its subsidiaries have agreed to pay more than $450 million to settle charges that it attempted to manipulate key global interest rates? The announcement of the largest-ever fine was accompanied by much huffing and puffing about market integrity. Everyone agrees; terrible business. Why, even Bob Diamond, Barclays CEO, and his three chief lieutenants waived their bonuses in recognition of the seriousness of the issue.

Barclays said all the right things on the day. It humbly acknowledged the actions “fell well short of the standards to which Barclays aspires.” This was a mea culpa, albeit somewhat measured, given that the Department of Justice is continuing with its criminal probe. This could get uglier, no doubt.

But was that it? Was there a lost paragraph to the announcement? Yes, investigations are continuing, yes other firms are involved, and yes, Barclays has been assisting every regulator it possibly can. Fair enough, but the key question remained unanswered in Barclays’ formal statement. Has ANYONE lost their job or been suspended? Has there been a clearing of the decks?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Barclays for avoiding disclosure of the most important piece of news: Is anyone’s head going to roll?

PR Takeaway: One way to draw a line over bad behavior is to draw a line over bad employees. If the bank is committed to turning a new page in ethics, why not update stakeholders about who was, or will be, fired? Even if previously disclosed, say it again. Waiving a bonus counts for something, but making it clear to inside and outside stakeholders that certain behaviors will not be tolerated goes further. This was an odd omission in a statement that went to lengths to make it clear that these issues won’t happen again.

Did Barclays go far enough by apologising and waiving bonuses, or should heads have rolled? Give us your PR Verdict, below.