The 5 Toughest PR Assignments of 2013

This week, we’ve been looking back over some of the more challenging moments in public relations, yet they seem simple in comparison to the PR assignments for 2013. We invite our readers to pitch strategies for the following assignments; any takers?

 The 5 Toughest PR Assignments of 2013DEFENDING THE NRA: With the Newtown killings, American public opinion appears to have reached the proverbial tipping point. Public discourse now is less about freedom and the constitutional right to bear arms and more about child safety and the appalling level of gun deaths in the world’s largest and most modern society. With over 10,000 gun-related deaths a year, this PR brief is going to need some very creative thinking. The well-worn PR positioning that an armed society is a polite society won’t cut it – nor will the old saw that “guns don’t kill people.”



 The 5 Toughest PR Assignments of 2013REBEKAH BROOKS’S IMAGE REHAB: With Rebekah Brooks standing trial along with a number of other Murdoch employees in 2013, on multiple charges including attempting to pervert the course of justice, getting her image right will be job for Super PR. Continuing to claim that she was blissfully unaware of phone hacking won’t work, as her employer has already compensated numerous victims; her previous protests of innocence will come unstuck if the jury fails to be won over. If that happens, many other questions will be raised about what has been said previously by Murdoch management. Some elegant backtracking may be required; just saying.



 The 5 Toughest PR Assignments of 2013MAKE WALL STREET LOVEABLE: Liborgate, money laundering, financial fraud, trading losses… Making the public like, or even tolerate, the world’s leading investment banks is a constant uphill battle. Just as Wall Street thought it was over the worst, it has been newly dragged into fresh cesspools of scandal and vice. A PR offensive will be needed to fight its corner, resisting calls for reduced bonuses and reining in a risk-taking culture. Given the latest scandals, this is one campaign likely to fall on deaf ears. Good luck.



 The 5 Toughest PR Assignments of 2013AUSTERITY IS GOOD FOR YOU: No one likes being poor, whether government or private citizens. Europe has been told repeatedly that swallowing the equivalent of castor oil is for the greater good, but national patience with “slash and burn” economics is thin to nil. The stagnant economy and economic hardships look set to continue; four years after the financial crisis, European countries are still languishing. If the prescribed medicine continues, it will need some better PR sugar.



 The 5 Toughest PR Assignments of 2013ANNA WINTOUR FOR SECRETARY OF STATE:  The current editor of US Vogue is rumored to be a potential US ambassador to France, or her home country, the UK. A powerful Democratic fund-raiser, the appointment of Wintour, not a politician, would not be without precedent – just look at Pamela Harriman. Wintour’s supporters say she’d find the job “dull”; pal Oscar de la Renta suggested the ONLY official office that would suit Wintour would be Secretary of State. If that’s the case, Anna will need some clever PR to get through the rigorous approval hearings. Our humble PR tip?  Start by removing the sunglasses when indoors.


We at the PRV wish our readers a happy holiday season.

We will be back on 7 January 2013. Happy New Year!




Why He Left Goldman Sachs, and Why They’re Not Worried

 Why He Left Goldman Sachs, and Why Theyre Not Worried

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) to Goldman Sachs.

Breakups are never easy, and today sees the publication of a very long breakup letter. Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story is a memoir written by former Goldman employee Greg Smith. It follows up on Smith’s poison pen editorial of the same name, published in The New York Times in early March 2012. The consensus? Goldman Sachs’ board members can sleep easy.

Greg Smith used to be in equity derivatives sales. In upper management, he earned a more than respectable living of around $500k. Disillusioned by the alleged cynicism and hypocrisy of a culture that did not put clients first (supposedly referring to them as “Muppets”), Smith became more and more disenchanted, so goes his narrative, until one day the moral bankruptcy of the firm caused him to quit.

With Smith receiving a reported $1.5 million book advance for a memoir about his time at the firm, Goldman Sachs was presumably worried. But his former employer is now indicating that Smith’s memoirs are not as damaging as originally expected. Some of his reminiscences may not be pretty, but there’s nothing illegal or that surprising about them. As for Smith’s credibility, it seems GS has had its own well-executed PR plan to raise a cloud over their ex-employee’s widely reported griping.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Goldman Sachs’s softly-softly response in advance of publication.

The PR Takeaway:  Say what you need to say once, and then let others do the talking. In advance of Smith’s book launch, Goldman Sachs made available its 18-page internal report on Smith’s allegations to newswire Bloomberg.  The report reveals that prior to resigning, Smith allegedly wanted a 100 percent pay raise, was denied a promotion, and may not have been long for the firm. The report’s contents were widely repeated – not by GS, but by the media. The nagging doubt is now that Smith may have just been a disgruntled employee. No on the record comment from Goldman Sachs, but a volte face from the very media that covered the story in the first place. Now that’s effective PR.

To read more click here.

What’s your opinion of Greg Smith’s book, and Goldman Sachs’s response? 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?

[polldaddy poll=6204134]

Why Else Would You Work On Wall Street?

nyse 300x225 Why Else Would You Work On Wall Street?

The PR Verdict: “D” for Wall Street and its lack of creativity in generating compelling reasons to work there.

It’s been almost a week since disgruntled Goldman’s employee Greg Smith penned his NYTimes op-ed on his former employer. The fallout continues.  Multiple articles have appeared questioning the future of Wall Street.  Have graduates lost interest in applying?  Are current employees reconsidering career choices as they look at their shrunken bonus checks?

On the other hand, James Gorman CEO of Morgan Stanley told Fortune that when he spoke recently at Wharton Business School there were two overflow rooms of students eager to apply.  He added that only two managing directors, out of a total of 1800, had resigned since shrunken bonuses were paid.

Who to believe?

Whatever the truth, this discussion is ALWAYS about compensation and nothing else.  It’s as if Wall Street’s management is unable to find any other reason to work there.  Stuck in a PR maze, management is unable to articulate compelling alternative incentives apart from financial remuneration.

The PR Verdict: “D” for Wall Street and its lack of creativity in generating compelling reasons to work there.  No wonder the industry’s image is stuck in a negative spiral.

By solely focusing on compensation there is little hope of changing the ongoing conversation.  There are many careers that sing their praises on benefits and values which have nothing to do with compensation. Wall Street’s  HR departments and management committees might want to look to them for some much needed inspiration.

To read the article in Fortune click here. To read about how Wall Street is losing its appeal click here.

What’s your PR verdict on how Wall Street sells itself as a career choice?

[polldaddy poll=5993165]

Is It Tough For You To Get By On $350K Per Year?

andrewschiff Is It Tough For You To Get By On $350K Per Year?

The PR Verdict: “D” for the PR who slipped up.

Pity poor Andrew Schiff who is Communications and Marketing director at Wall Street brokerage firm, Euro Pacific Capital. He recently leapt to unwanted fame following a Bloomberg article about how smaller bonuses are leaving Wall Street workers strapped for cash. The article has made him the new poster boy for Wall Street being out of touch.

The article disclosed Schiff’s salary of $350K and a bonus over $50K. This doesn’t put him anywhere near the top league of Wall Street heavy hitters but it does place him in the top 1% of earners. Living in 1200 square feet in a rented apartment in Brooklyn, with two children at pricey private schools, he observed there isn’t a lot of spare change left in the Schiff household at month’s end. Schiff’s point was his lifestyle is at variance with the routine description of Wall Street excess.

The PR Verdict: “D” for the PR who slipped up.  Ouch! Unfortunate to have made this gaffe, given Schiff’s job as PR and Marketing head.  Next time, before any interview, formal or informal, agree the ground rules.

No doubt Andrew Schiff was pleased to help out a journalist at Bloomberg. Why not? But next time, before answering, make sure the ground rules of the interview are pre-agreed.  In this case the interview should have been ‘on background’,  i.e. the journalist can use the quotes but not attribute them to Schiff directly. Far better for Schiff’s comments to have been attributed to “a Marketing Director at a Wall Street firm”.  Though cumbersome and bureaucratic to agree Ground Rules before every interview, it inevitably saves later heartache.  Sometimes it really is worth going back to first principles.

To read the original article click here. For the fall out click here.

How would you grade Schiff’s comments and his subsequent interviews to follow up media. Go ahead and grade him:

[polldaddy poll=5996901]




Is Gordon Gekko The Right Man For The Job?

gordongekko3 Is Gordon Gekko The Right Man For The Job?

The PR Verdict: “A” for a launch that wouldn’t normally generate this much attention.

The FBI isn’t normally associated with successful product launches but it seems to have outdone itself with the use of the classic PR strategy: the celebrity spokesman.

Yesterday’s media was saturated with the news that actor Michael Douglas has been enlisted to deter securities fraud and step up snitching on insider trading. The campaign, including public service announcements, has the former Wall Street Gordon Gekko, warning that “the movie was fiction but the problem is real.”

The FBI got the placement they needed. Front page of the WSJ, extensive coverage in the financial media and saturation in the social media space. The launch was topped off with an announcement that the FBI is actively building cases against 120 individuals.  It seems the snitch hotline is working.

The PR Verdict: “A” for a launch that wouldn’t normally generate this much attention.  From content, to placement, to the call-to-action (snitch on insider traders), the message was clear and unequivocal.

There is something compellingly ironic about Michael Douglas being the key spokesperson against Wall Street foul play.  In press interviews around the launch, Douglas mentioned that since the film originally came out, bankers and traders continue to walk up to him in Manhattan and congratulate him as Gordon Gekko, like a modern day hero. Douglas said he is still surprised by their reaction. Don’t they realise Gekko was the villain in the movie? The campaign couldn’t be coming at a better time.

To read more about the FBI program click here and to see Michael Douglas in public service click here.

Why is Wall Street still our favourite villain?

wallst Why is Wall Street still our favourite villain?

The PR Verdict: "D" for Wall Street.

Wall Street continues to feel unloved. The latest poll by Harris Interactive had only 17 % of respondents with a favorable image of Wall Street, down from 23% last year. According to the survey, Wall Street sits at the loser table in the high school cafeteria along with Big Tobacco. How do you make Wall Street one of the cool kids again?

Banks have recently been touting their small-business lending programs and charitable work, but the dial continues to move in the wrong direction. Why?

It is generally accepted that Occupy Wall Street and the ongoing mortgage mess reflect a seismic breakdown in trust.  In addition, the key PR challenge for Wall Street is to prove its long-term added value benefit to society.

The PR Verdict: “D” for Wall Street.  While small business lending is expected of banks, the tough PR challenge is justifying how the financial wizardry found on Wall Street serves the wider public good.

The Harris report was ironically released at the same time as deadlines for submissions to the proposed Volcker Rule.  The rule, which seeks to limit proprietary trading by banks, had firms in overdrive the last few days, publicly objecting to the change.  In the subsequent media coverage, Wall Street failed to articulate  the wider public-good benefits of proprietary trading, allowing the the opposing and oft-repeated accusation that it creates systemic risk, to gain ground.

Unless Wall Street makes big picture PR a genuine priority, they might be chumming with Big Tobacco a little longer.

How would you rate Wall Street’s efforts at a comeback?

[polldaddy poll=5942176]