US vs. HSBC: Two PR Punches for the Price of One

 US vs. HSBC: Two PR Punches for the Price of One

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the US government.

Everybody likes two bites at the PR cherry, and US prosecutors may have had their way when it comes to the latest fines levied against British banking giant HSBC. The headlines that HSBC was set to pay a record $1.9 billion penalty for ignoring possible money laundering came out on Tuesday. The announcement wasn’t official, but mysteriously there it was, hours before the official drop date.

News this big can’t be kept under wraps for long. HSBC was expected to agree to pay $1.9 billion to settle a probe in connection with money laundering from narcotics traffickers in Mexico. Also alleged was that HSBC intentionally allowed prohibited transactions with Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma while facilitating transactions with Cuba. Headline-making stuff.

Tuesday’s papers carried front-page stories with astonishing levels of detail, helpfully provided by the very trusty “people briefed on the matter.” Once the news was out, Wednesday ‘s media coverage gave even more detail. “HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight — and worse — that led the bank to permit narcotics traffickers and others to launder hundreds of millions of dollars,” read the official government statement on day two. Not unlike statements from the previous day, only this time it wasn’t attributed to someone “briefed on the matter.”

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) to the US government for what seems like a well-orchestrated PR campaign to maximize publicity.

The PR Takeaway: For really big news, use the “Curtain Raiser.” The old PR trick of releasing information the day before the official launch can not only give useful indications of market reactions but, as in this case, allows the headlines to announce the big numbers on day one and stretch the news to a second day by providing more detail. Maximum publicity for the prosecution; as anyone knows, more is better than less.

Rattling the Vatican’s Cage and Telling All.

vatican21 Rattling the Vaticans Cage and Telling All.

The PR Verdict: "B" for the Vatican Leaker.

Headline news and colorful photos coming out of the Vatican this weekend concerned the admission of 22 new cardinals. However what generated far more attention in the lead up to the ceremony was the constant drip feed of damaging confidential information coming from unknown Vatican sources.

Recent leaks of internal information to the media have covered a multitude of issues including allegations of financial mismanagement, money laundering, political cronyism and sensitive security data. The unauthorised and unflattering news has hastened pressure for reform as succession plans take shape for the 84-year-old Pontiff.   Vying factions seem intent on destabilizing the status quo and are preparing to take the reins when their moment comes.

The Vatican spokesman responded to the wave of leaks by commenting, “We must resist and not allow ourselves to be swallowed by the whirlpool of confusion, which is what those with bad intentions want.”

The PR Verdict: “B” for the Vatican leaker whoever you are. The strategy to weaken management by having it respond to numerous unforeseen crises seems to be working and has the current leadership defensive and distracted.

Leaking is always an effective way for internal stakeholders to get what they want without having to argue the case publicly. The oldest trick in the book is to confuse and distract current management so that it is vulnerable to being displaced or sidelined. When the top spokesman refers to “whirlpools of confusion” its clear that attempts to destabilize are working their magic. The Pontiff and his spokesman might want to take up The Prince by Machiavelli for some bedtime reading.

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