Proposed reform of UK banking could be a mixed blessing for the in-house and consultancy PR teams serving this cornerstone of the economy.
First thoughts following today’s release of the Vickers Report – the final report of the Independent Commission on Banking, led by Sir John Vickers – are that the proposals include much to re-kindle confidence. This suggests that if the reforms go ahead banks will, at last, have a strongly positive story to tell a sceptical and highly critical public. However, PR advisors will still face some ongoing negative factors.
The plan to ring-fence retail banking from high-risk wholesale/investment activities is good news, particularly for private and small business customers who use High Street branches for daily banking and access to loans. Increased competition in the form of a new bank to take over many of local branches that oversized Lloyds’ is required to relinquish is also a positive story for consumers.
‘Good news’ PR will be further underpinned by the suggestion that the Vickers reforms will boost the UK’s overall competitiveness, and that increased stability in banking will curtail risk to public finances.
While banks’ PR teams will relish the opportunities to send out ‘positive’ messages through media releases and other communication tactics, they will also need to deal with the fact that major change comes at a price. Whether the long term costs of Vickers are borne by shareholders, customers or both, they represent a bitter pill for customers still reeling from tight lending and low returns on investments – and bitter memories of bankers’ bonuses. Sensitive PR will be needed here!
Despite the move to online banking, High Street banks employ thousands of employees who provide customer-facing service every day. Keeping these key staff members ‘on side’ during the next few years will require significant investment in internal communication.
The inherent professionalism of UK banks will undoubtedly see them embracing change in an appropriate manner. PR professionals thrive on challenges – and the opportunities flowing from Vickers will provide much creative stimulus.
When businesses need a special service, managers hire in professionals to deliver the best solution – because running a machine requires different skills from fixing it. Some managers, however, may prefer a DIY fix – it’s often cheaper in the short term, but may not be the ideal long term answer.
PR – especially copywriting – is a case in point. To use an old expression, good cobblers stick to their lasts and call on specialists to write their news releases, brochures, web pages, blogs, and so on. Others try it themselves … which gives rise to the plethora of bad releases that land on editors’ desks.
“I know how to write,” is the DIY writer’s defence.
I know how to fly an airliner … but that does not make me a pilot. I could drive a train … but I’m no train driver. On the other hand, I do know how to write – balancing the needs of a client company with those of editors and their readers.
I’ve been on the receiving end, too, so I speak with some authority: One of the biggest problems with DIY PR copy is that writers don’t know when to stop. They seldom grab the reader’s attention … and if they bother to insert direct speech, the quotes they use are low in value.
DIY writers tend to make errors and fail to spot them before sending their copy out, which can undermine the credibility of the written article. Many DIY PR productions are spoiled by bad grammar, poor spelling and sheer ignorance. Professionals (self included) are not immune from faults … but we are more conscious of them, so we tend to check everything as carefully as possible.
Good PR does not have to be expensive. But at whatever cost you agree with your PR consultant, it’s surely better to know that you are improving the chances of impressing readers.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 16 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.