Goldman’s crisis response is fresh charm offensive

Hiring a new director of corporate affairs helps, but listening to what he or she says you must do and doing it is even better.

Goldman Sachs stepped in it a lot lately, coming off publicly as arrogant, dismissive, rich and cutthroat — on a good day.

Now, given an account last week in The New York Times, it appears that the investment banking juggernaut’s top managers are listening to the advice of their new PR director, Richard Siewert Jr. 

It didn’t help Siewert that his first day of work coincided with a broadside by a quitting Goldman brahmin from the London office who confirmed all the public perceptions of the firm, dubbed in 2010 by Rolling Stone as the “vampire squid,” of the financial industry.

The company, battered by revelations about its alleged behaviors before and during the 2008 financial crisis, went on a charm offensive last week.

CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein went on MSNBC and Bloomberg television for friendly, almost jocular interviews. Getting Vladimir Putin to open up about his family before a camera is easier.

When we last visited Goldman’s situation March 14 things looked grim. The company moved into traditional duck and cover mode. Siewert seemed to have immense challenges — in and out — although someone who worked closely with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in recent years was used to being in the spin cycle.

Still, Goldman isn’t touchy-feely on the Friday before a three-day summer weekend. It has serious image and crisis problems that will take perseverance, not spurts of media feedings, to improve. However, it’s a very good sign for the company that it’s C-level people listened to Siewert [as near as we can tell from the outside] and at least made the effort to communicate.

Blankfein also gave a couple of speeches and plans more. This is all positive. Proactive, pleasant, in-person encounters demystify people seen as villains. It’s far more challenging to criticize someone sitting across a table. And if you comment, if you argue your case and insist your critics are incorrect, you fill a no-comment vacuum that otherwise your critics use to flay you.

Goldman needs about five years of this and plenty of positive and substantial news to reverse its reputation. But as Mao Tse Capitalist said, the longest journey begins with the first step.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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