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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to H&M, the sole clothing retailer set to advertise during the Superbowl. They’re going against heavyweights in the automotive, fast food and alcohol groups, but their $4 million gamble will likely pay off thanks to advance buzz on their commercial. In it, soccer star David Beckham, who has a line of underwear with H&M, will appear either in his briefs or naked (by TV standards) according to fan votes of #covered or #uncovered. This could be the first Superbowl in history with higher female than male ratings.

dimon The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, for telling CNBC that the expensive government legal cases against his bank were “unfair.” In swanky Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, Dimon said the bank, which paid $13 billion to settle claims over mortgage securities dealings and $7 billion more over hinky derivatives, power trading and overselling of credit card products, faced “two really bad options” between settling or fighting the cases. Going to court “would really hurt this company and that would have been criminal for me to subject our company to those kinds of issues.” Criminal as in, say, fraud? Better not to have picked up this gauntlet.

george zimmerman painting 300x235 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to George Zimmerman, acquitted of murder and now trying his hand at  “art.” Last July, Zimmerman was found not guilty of the 2012 murder of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. With a stack of hefty legal bills and job prospects presumably thin, Zimmerman has miraculously found his inner painter. His first piece, a blue flag with a patriotic verse painted on an 18 x 24-inch canvas, sold for more than $100,000 on eBay. His second work depicts prosecutor Angela Corey holding finger and thumb slightly apart with the caption “I have this much respect for the American judicial system – Angie C.” We fervently hope the art-buying world has even less than that for George.

 

Crime and Punishment – and Payment

 Crime and Punishment   and Payment

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the US Government. (Pictured: Bank fraud whistle blower Brad Birkenfeld)

Who knew that whistle blowing could be so profitable? Bradley Birkenfeld, a former private banker for one of the leading Swiss banks, just landed a cool $104 million as his reward for ratting on his former employer. Big headlines yesterday, but as the news broke, Bradley wasn’t photographed in a glamourous nightspot celebrating his new win. He was in New Hampshire finishing his 40-month jail term in home confinement.

His evidence relating to tax evasion and non-declaration of foreign accounts has netted the US government over $5 billion, but that wasn’t enough to protect him from criminal charges. Prosecutors were unhappy with his previously withholding information about his own clients at the bank, which earned him 40 months in jail.

On the face of it, this seems a perverse result. But under existing legislation the Internal Revenue Service can pay whistleblower awards of up to 30 percent of the collected proceeds. Birkenfeld’s payment is being touted as proof that the US government is committed to rewarding courageous whistle blowers. The PR sting in the message is that ratting on others doesn’t give you immunity; not such a lottery win after all. The US government sent a clear signal that Brad is no angel, yet they’re no welchers.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the US Government. Sending mixed signals is sometimes the only way to accomplish goals. Complicated, yes; confusing, no.

The PR Takeaway: Bitter and sweet can live together, even if it seems sometimes counterintuitive. Birkenfeld’s payment sends a clear signal that the government takes the issue of fraud, and reward for whistle blowing, seriously, and is willing to share the upside of newfound gains. Yet Birkenfeld paid a personal price for wrongdoing. Birkenfeld, more than anyone, knows this, as he ponders his newfound fortune – and his ankle brace.

Should government entities send mixed messages of punishment and reward? Should Birkenfeld have received his whistle-blower payment even though he was sentenced? Give us your PR Verdict!

Dept. of Financial Services to Standard Chartered: “J’accuse!”

 Dept. of Financial Services to Standard Chartered: Jaccuse!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for New York’s Dept. of Financial Services. Great splash, but now what?

What’s the fastest way to generate a headline and claim your PR moment in the sun? How about a surprise PR missile in the middle of a sleepy summer? Announce to the media that colossal wrongdoing has been uncovered, and presto; you now have more publicity than TomKat’s divorce.

Top marks, then, to New York State’s Department of Financial Services (DFS), who late on Monday stunned the markets with an accusation that venerable British bank Standard Chartered was hiding some $250 billion worth of transactions with the Iranian government. Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the DFS, gave the media a summer gift by calling Standard Chartered a “rogue institution.” He said the firm “carefully planned its deception” of US authorities using “fraudulent” procedures and “forging business records” to stage a “staggering cover-up.” Markets were stunned. Shares in Standard Chartered fell more than 16 percent, and the bank’s executives – as well as other bigwig US regulators, were caught unaware by the revelations.

Eight long hours after the headlines had been screaming of criminal activity, Standard Chartered limped out with a statement. The firm rejected the accusations and said “well over 99.9 per cent” of Iranian transactions complied with US regulations. The sums of money were nothing like $250 billion, more like  $14 million, said one source, a result of  “small clerical errors,” nothing more.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for New York’s DFS. Great splash, but now what? Where is the chorus of other regulators outraged at this alleged wrongdoing?

The PR Takeaway: Be careful what you wish for. Great job in getting the headlines, but now comes the tough part! Despite the nicely packaged and damning sound bites, it could be lonely out there for NY’s accuser as UK politicians begin to comment that this issue seems more about undermining foreign banking firms than substantive wrongdoing. This story may no longer turn on straightforward “did they or didn’t they” facts, and instead become a wider issue regarding PR grandstanding and regulatory overreach. If that’s the case, the splashy headlines might have been better delayed until all the other regulators were in the pool.

UPDATE: OUCH! Since publication, Standard Chartered have now agreed to a puzzling $340 million penalty. Rather embarrassing for the bank that was so outraged over being publicly shamed for what it said was only $14 million dollars of faulty transactions.  Now the firm has agreed to pay $340 million in penalties… hmm… does this math add up?

Should the DFS have waited until they had backup, or were they right to go ahead and shout “J’accuse!”? Give us your PR Verdict!