Citigroup’s Doublespeak

 Citigroups Doublespeak

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Citigroup.

Dear Reader: Can we interest you in a “repositioning action”? How about something to “further reduce expenses and improve efficiency”? These were among the phrases heralding Citigroup’s announcement late last week of a major recalibration of its businesses. More interesting than the news itself was the press release; obviously passed around for management’s input prior to release, the result was two-pages of corporate doublespeak.

The message should have been simple enough: Having lagged behind its peers in recovering from the financial crisis, Citi announced it was cutting 11,000 jobs worldwide – about 4 percent of its staff – to save as much as $1.1 billion a year in expenses. Where was that crucial number regarding layoffs in the release? Buried way down in the main body of the text; the last sentence of the third paragraph read, “These actions will result in a reduction of more than 11,000 positions.” If you blinked, or were still flummoxed by the previous paragraphs of corporatespeak, you missed it.

The first three paragraphs of the Citi release are required reading for any PR. They serve as timely reminder about what happens when a simple idea is worked over and over (and over). One can assume that every conceivable stakeholder at Citi was asked to provide business input and red pen edits. The result? A longwinded press release, easily held up to ridicule. Sometimes, it might be easier to let the PR people do the talking.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Citigroup. Orwellian business-speak is trying.

The PR Takeaway: Lead with the news. It’s a simple rule of PR that’s often overlooked.  The press release announcing the “repositioning actions” (…?) secured global media coverage with the headline “Citi Announces 11K Layoffs.” When you don’t say what you mean and try to bury the lead in doublespeak, the media will make the announcement for you – in an ugly way. Next time, encourage the boardroom to keep its red marker pens to itself and let the PR people do the the job they were hired to do.

To read the release, click here.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

mike mayo2 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR Perfect) to Mike Mayo (left) a financial analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities, for his perfectly crafted soundbite regarding beleaguered banking giant Citigroup. Mayo, well known on Wall Street, was opining on the reasons for the startling resignation of  Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit. Speaking to the Financial Times, Mayo was crisp, concise, and so very on-point when he said, “Citi is too big to fail, too big to regulate, too big to manage, and it has operated as if it’s too big to care.” Zing!

 

taliban21 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Taliban, which sunk to new lows by targeting media outlets that denounced their murder attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who wants education for women. Apparently, the Taliban is furious that Yousafzai’s “un-Islamic” behavior hasn’t been presented in the press – as though that would justify her being shot in the face for wanting to go to school. Worried about the PR fallout in their own domestic markets, it’s gratifying to observe that even Islamo-Fascists worry about public perception. The Taliban in need of a rebrand; who would have thought? And where to begin?

 

brad pitt chanel 0 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

THE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” PR AWARD: The undisputed winner this week is fashion house Chanel, which has enlisted Brad Pitt for its new advertising campaign for its venerable fragrance, Chanel No.5. According to the PR blurb, the 30-second ad is meant to re-energize the 91-year-old brand with a “different point of view,” i.e., using a man to sell a fragrance for women. The commercial features Brad looking like he was plucked from a homeless shelter and saying, “The world turns, and we turn with it. Plans disappear, dreams take over. But wherever I go, there you are. My luck. My fate. My fortune. Chanel No. 5. Inevitable.”  The only inevitable thing about this commercial is that no one will have the faintest idea about what he is talking about. Truly and inevitably puzzling. To see the ad, click here.

Did we miss any spectacular highs or lows in public relations this week? Give us your PR Verdict!

Former Citigroup CEO: “Too Big” Can Fail

 Former Citigroup CEO: Too Big Can Fail

The PR Verdict: “B” (Almost a Winner) for Sandy Weill, who has joined the chorus of concern about the “too big too fail” banking ethic.

So Sandy Weill, Citigroup’s former CEO, is now conceding that what he spent his lifetime proudly building maybe wasn’t such a great idea after all. The former architect of megabank Citigroup stunned the market this week with his observation that banks may be too big to manage. Why not split up investment banking from regular banking, he suggested during an interview on CNBC. Weill revealed a new mantra: bigger may no longer be better.

Quite a volte-face from the man who fought tooth and nail for the repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act, which previously drew a line between commercial and retail banks. Visitors to Weill’s offices when he was at Citigroup could feast their eyes on a proudly-displayed plaque that read, “The Shatterer of Glass Steagall.”  Back then, Weill and his peers credited themselves with creating a brand new banking world.

Why turn back the clock now? As an explanation, Weill’s was masterful in its positioning. Nothing wrong with what he did at the time; it’s just that well, NOW, the situation has changed, Weill explained. This was not an admission of personal responsibility–just that what was once right at the time is “not right anymore.” That was then, this is now.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Almost a Winner) for Sandy Weill, who has now joined the chorus of concern about “too big too fail”. Weill has done a neat (albeit cynical) job of personally shifting from “man in charge” to curious bystander.

The PR Takeaway: Context gives plenty of air cover. By concentrating on the macro, not the micro, Weill has moved into the debate without any personal admissions of failure. This was about what works in the market and nothing to do with his own personal role in the crisis.  Not really a change of heart, more of an update about what the markets are saying.  That makes it so much easier to swap sides and means he can now sit with the cool kids at the school cafeteria.

What’s your opinion of Sandy Weill’s about-face on banking? Give us your PR Verdict!

How Will Citigroup’s Sandy Weill be Remembered?

sandyweill2 How Will Citigroups Sandy Weill be Remembered?

PR Verdict: “F” for Sandy Weill and his attempt to be secure a kinder slot in the history books.

How will history remember Sandy Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup and architect of the largest financial services firm that nearly went under?  Judging by a recent article published in Fortune, if he has his way, he would like to be remembered as a visionary philanthropist.  History may not be so kind.

In an embarrassingly soft-ball article, the former CEO waxes lyrical about his philanthropic endeavours for the first part of the interview.  These include the creation of the National Academy Foundation as well as generous contributions to the arts and healthcare, obligingly listed by the magazine.

As for the tough questions about the near collapse of the financial system, his own bank’s astonishing destruction of value and the excesses of executive compensation, Weill says nothing of any interest.  Given his experience and formerly revered status, now was the time, at the age of 79 to rescue an irredeemably doomed reputation.  Regarding executive compensation Weill sounds more like a PR intern working on a draft Q&A, opining,  “people should be paid appropriately”.  He adds that fixing banks that are  “too big to fail is a problem” but offers no solution or insight.  He concedes that “people made mistakes that created issues” but blithely adds “it’s time to move on.”

PR Verdict:  “F” for Sandy Weill and his attempt to secure a kinder slot in the history books.  Speaking in generalities and turning attention to philanthropic endeavours will not redefine a hopelessly damaged reputation.

PR Takeaway: If you want to change a point of view say something surprising.  Salvaging a reputation requires more than throwing money at charitable causes.  At Weill’s venerable age he has nothing to lose. Why not make some radical fundamental observations while also acknowledging some personal role in the crisis? It might have given him the reputational rewrite he seems to crave.   Next time have a look at Warren Buffett for some pointers on how to make people sit up and listen.

To read the article click here. To read more click here.

What’s your PR Verdict?

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