The big questions at the conference were: how does one rebuild trust and reputation in what’s left of the financial services industry. Have all the lessons been learnt? Did the media exacerbate the crisis? Should the warning signs have been talked about much earlier? How can you possibly censor news in a 21st century global crisis?
There was one quite tense moment when Ruth Sutherland (Business Editor of the Observer) accused the industry of not showing enough contrition. Ripples of unease swept the room as 100 corporate communicators shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Then one brave soul stood and made the case that the banking chiefs have shown enough contrition citing what he called ‘21st century bear baiting’ at recent parliamentary committees as evidence.
So what did I learn? Well, firstly, corporate PR’s spend far too much money on suits and:
1. The Northern Rock story really would have been censored 20 years ago on grounds of the national interest, but because of the internet this is now inconceivable to consider.
2. The financial services industry is struggling to explain itself in the post crisis world. Ideas anyone?
3. The real debate should be: what is the social usefulness of the financial services industry and how do you communicate that usefulness to a sceptical audience?
4. The compensation debate says more about our society than it does about the debate.
5. Regulators should be incentivised with bonuses to police the bankers.
6. Conference marketing is much better that the real thing.
The opportunities and challenges for communicators in this market are incredible.
A game changing narrative needs to be struck - one that strips the marketing gloss off and goes back to basics. No one it seems has found that narrative yet. The first brand to find it and successfully execute it will start to regain the public’s trust. Saying sorry and meaning it might be a good start…