Stephen Doherty’s baptism of fire at Barclays
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Stephen Doherty’s baptism of fire at Barclays

Arun Sudhaman

It is difficult to think of any incoming comms director who has faced quite the baptism of fire that Stephen Doherty has reckoned with during his first week at Barclays. Since his arrival from Diageo on Monday, Doherty has found himself thrust into the centre of one of the UK’s biggest reputation crises. News that the bank manipulated the Libor borrowing rate follows shareholder turbulence earlier this year regarding exorbitant executive pay packages. Doherty's first day on the job saw Barclays chairman Marcus Agius resign. By the second, the Libor scandal had claimed the prized scalp of high-profile CEO Bob Diamond. Doherty, one assumes, knew what he was signing up for. His role as MD of corporate communications is a newly-created one, and was widely seen as an attempt by Barclays to get a grip of a narrative that has threatened to spin out of control. That worst-case scenario appears to have been confirmed. Yet, amid the debris, it provides the streetwise Doherty with something of an opportunity. If there is one thing this crisis has underscored, it is that public relations at the bigger banks does not appear to have evolved beyond a template best described as rudimentary. Consumer PR appears to consist of little else but plugging the latest esoteric product. The corporate side of the equation, meanwhile, is usually fulfilled through the cycle of quarterly reports, some CEO walking tours and, if we are particularly fortunate, a few trees being planted. This is no way to run a modern public relations operation, given the heightened expectations of transparency that exist in today’s society. If Doherty can successfully guide Barclays towards the embrace of a more enlightened view of corporate reputation, and help the beleaguered bank jettison a PR mindset that has proved so damaging, his tenure will be regarded as a success. It is a tall order, and the task will be complicated by the arrival of a new CEO, who may want to bring in his own chief communications officer. Still, in reputational terms, it seems unlikely that Barclays can sink any further; Doherty will be hoping that the upside outweighs the undoubted challenges he finds himself faced with.
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