Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Revisiting Bank Crisis Communication

I had an interesting conversation this week with Laurie Kulikowski, who writes for thestreet.com.

She's working on a follow-up article about Citigroup. In her Sept. 16 posting, she concluded that Citigroup is "sending mixed messages to investors." You'll want to watch for her new post.

Her call reminded me of a piece I wrote for this blog a month ago, inspired by Ahmed Hamed, an MBA student from Ireland who posed a series of questions to me about the current banking crisis.

He ask if I "believe that it is the bank's job to restore confidence to investors and stakeholders or would you be more inclined to believe that concentrating on performance and profit will ultimately lead to investor and stakeholder confidence?"

I have reconsidered this question and haven't changed my mind, but perhaps I can explain my self better.

The best communication strategy in the world is useless if it is not based on fact and reality. So, before banks can restore confidence, they must DO what their customers, investors and employees expect them to do -- operate a sound and profitable business with each of those groups in mind.

Only after a company "does the right thing" can it talk about what it is doing, and the combination of doing and talking will begin the process of rebuilding consumer confidence.

Here at the Institute for Crisis Management, we've been called by prospective clients, already in a crisis, and wanting us to help get them out of it. When I ask what they were doing to fix the problem, they sometimes will explain that they don't know what they're going to do, but can't we help improve their public image and reputation while they figure out what to do? The answer is always the same -- no, we can't fix your problem with words. We can help fix the public perception of a company, IF the company is doing something to earn that trust and confidence back.

Laurie's earlier article about Citigroup sending mixed messages is a problem a lot of organizations create for themselves. Operational decisions cannot be made in a public relations vacuum and public relations strategies will fail unless they are coordinated and consistent.

I'm looking forward to Laurie's Citigroup follow-up on thestreet.com .