Tuesday, 31 January 2012

3 ways bankers can fight back in PR war

The current narrative running in the popular media, with (too many) politicians and wider society is that The City and financial institutions don’t play by the rules or add anything to this country. It is commonly argued that bankers and financial firms are a drain on the taxpayer rather than a significant contributor to the exchequer and the wider economic prosperity of the UK.

There is a danger that, amongst the uninformed, the perceived wisdom will become, or worse has already become, that this country would be better off if all the banks and other financial institutions moved abroad. Fundamentally this is an issue of reputation with no one willing or able to protect the already battered reputation of banks and financial institutions. The row over Stephen Hester, the chief executive of RBS, demonstrates that if the banks, and others that make up The City, do not attempt to negate ongoing criticism in the current political, economic and social environment, no one else will.

The net result of this could be that The City’s reputation will continue to be undermined which will be to the detriment of us all, particularly if policy decisions are made which harm its competitive position in the world. Here are x ways bankers can fight back:

1. Take the fight to the regions
Those who believe in capitalism will have seen welcome Leaders in The Times and Daily Telegraph today lamenting the pursuit of Mr Hester but this battle needs to be won away from the national media as well. To watch the reports by national correspondents, such as Robert Peston, on TV you would conclude that financial services only operate in Canary Wharf or the square mile. This isn't true; 641,000 are employed in financial and professional services in London and a further 1.4 million across the rest of the UK. Regional newspapers are trusted opinion formers so it is time the argument is made to them and through them that financial services have a fundamental role right across the country. Briefings to the FT, City Am and others is preaching to the converted so it is time to look further afield.   

2. Rebut the criticism
It is time they acknowledged what a pickle they are in and start reacting with a bit of urgency. Individual banks, financial services more broadly and capitalism as a way of life is continually under attack, unless these attacks go undefended they will continue to undermine the reputation of the UK's financial services industry. Someone needs to take the lead in rebuttal, using populist language, examples which resonate with ordinary families and through a spokesperson or group of spokesmen willing and able to appear on any media at any time. Don't dress these spokespeople in braces or allow backdrops of glass and steel cathedrals of capitalism, use people who a family in Crewe or Cardiff will listen to. There is currently a vacuum which needs to be filled, if it isn't then those who are critical will fill it instead.     

3. Start educating 
Information, education and engagement is a great tool to win arguments. There is an ongoing conversation about most topics on social media, blogs as well as the traditional media so get involved. Find ways to engage with people beyond the rhetoric and sound bites, engage with people and give them the information they need to make up their own minds rather than allowing just one side of the argument to dominate. Financial services paid £63 billion in tax last year which (roughly) pays for the UK defence and transport budgets each year or, by my rough calculation, this is worth over £2250 per household in the UK. It is time to make these arguments.       

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