Arun Sudhaman 04 Oct 2011 // 10:53AM GMT
Bankers are human beings too. Or so we are told. In truth, it is hard not to feel just a sliver of sympathy for our friends in the financial sector, besieged as they are by protesters, and blamed for the corrosive disintegration of the world’s economic and social stability. Yet it rarely takes long for this burst of clemency to dissipate. Last week, a senior PR agency executive pointed out that she had personally media trained around 100 senior bankers since the start of the recession. Good business, I noted. But she still seemed a little troubled. One of the attractions of media training, something I have dabbled in from time to time, is that the interviewee expects you to ask the toughest questions conceivable. (The jobbing journalist, of course, receives no such encouragement). Inevitably, the one inquiry our media trainer makes of each of her banking clients is something along the lines of, ‘How do you justify those eye-popping bonuses, when economies are tanking and people are losing everything?’ This is behind closed doors, remember. For internal consumption only. And, presumably, a fair proportion of interviewees are ‘uncoached’ on how they should respond. So, how many of these clients have perhaps hesitated for a moment, and admitted that the situation doesn’t look great? That’s right…not one. Instead, straight off the bat, all opted for a robust defence of the rights of bankers to earn gargantuan sums of money. Now I’m not saying bankers shouldn’t earn bonuses. But to demonstrate such a stunning lack of awareness of how these payments might appear outside the financial bubble is disturbing. Compare the situation, if you really need any more convincing, to the example of an entrepreneur who takes on huge amounts of risk to simply run a business. As far as I am aware, bankers do not put their own money up for grabs. Trust in banks, unsurprisingly, has declined precipitously. Despite it all, we see precious little evidence that Wall Street is aware of the basic disconnect between their actions, their words, and their impact on the societies in which they operate. And what, truly, could be a more fundamental public relations issue than that? All the media training in the world cannot paper over cracks like these.