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.

IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Don’t

 IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Dont

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA.

Furniture retailer IKEA was caught off guard this week when a Swedish newspaper published pages from the Saudi Arabian edition of IKEA’s catalog.  What a surprise! Women in the Saudi edition had been Photoshopped out by local Saudi management.  Cue embarrassment for IKEA, a retailer that prides itself on liberal values.

The global catalogue is distributed to approximately 200 million households, but for the Saudis it contained unacceptable images that needed removing. What caused offense? A woman in her pajamas beside a bathroom sink. In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country, women must conceal their bodies and hair. IKEA said in a statement that its does “not accept any kind of discrimination… We regret the current situation.” Management was keen to explain that the changes “do not align with IKEA Group’s values.”

IKEA Saudi Arabia is run by a franchisee outside the IKEA Group. Nevertheless, the company said it is “reviewing routines to safeguard correct content presentation from a values point of view.” Sensible and sensitive handling of this issue but, there could be trouble ahead.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA and a brand remaining true to its liberal streak, but beware of starting something that could become a cultural flashpoint.

The PR Takeaway: Marketing and discussions on broader cultural values rarely mix. What is puzzling about this news story is why IKEA hasn’t had this trouble before. Was a woman featured in the 2011 catalogue? What happened in the Saudi version then? It might have been easier to characterize this latest fuss as a breakdown in established procedures between a franchisee and a head office. IKEA has now stuck its neck out and committed publicly to a conversation about values. In a country as seemingly inflexible as Saudi Arabia, some things are best left unsaid. Better to have described this as a one-off business dispute between two partners and done the rest of the negotiations behind closed doors.

To read more, click here.

What’s your opinion of how IKEA handled this situation? 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

 

Wal-Mart, Anything You Would Like to Say?

walmart Wal Mart, Anything You Would Like to Say?

The PR Verdict: “A” for Wal-Mart and an elegant way to decline comment.

Big trouble ahead for retailer Wal-Mart.  The firm is reeling from Sunday’s NYTimes which claimed that as far back as 2005, Wal-Mart’s big wigs learned of allegations of widespread bribery of government officials in Mexico by its own peeps but did nothing about it.

At heart is an allegation that the internal review conducted by Wal-Mart at the time was a whitewash.  Allegedly conducted by some of the very same people who stood accused of paying up to $25 million in bribes, the NYTimes suggests the firm not only failed to investigate the matter properly but also failed to notify the relevant authorities.  In so doing the firm and its management are now potentially exposed to seriously punitive penalties.

What to say to the NYTimes?  Priority one in a case like this is to buy time and establish distance between what is alleged and where the company is now.  Wal-Mart’s besieged PR commented, “If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for.  We are deeply concerned by the allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”

The PR Verdict: “A” for Wal-Mart’s response,  an elegant way to decline comment.  As an immediate PR response it established the allegations are unclear, circumstances vague and not what the firm is about.

PR Takeaway:  When in doubt buy time and create distance from the allegation.  While a legal investigation and fallout could take years, the damage to the stock price, relations with regulators and overall reputation will start hurting immediately.  There is very little time.  Suspend or remove the implicated management from the day-to-day workings of the firm.  The faster Wal-Mart can say that was then, this is now, the better for its stockholders.  This is going to be a crisis communications strategy that will have to run and run.

To read the original article click here and to read more click here.

What’s your verdict on Wal-Marts’s response?

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