Tuesday, 24 March 2009

AIG, bonuses, PR hires and the media response

I don’t want to get into a debate about the whys and wherefore’s of AIG hiring Burson Marsteller to ‘clean up its image’. I haven’t seen Burson’s brief, so I don’t know what they were hired to do.

But a few things interest me about the way this has panned out in the media.

Today AIG announces that nine out of 10 of its top execs will repay their bonuses . I’m guessing they didn’t need to hire a PR firm to work that one out. And media interest was such that no journalist needed PR's help to get this story.

Hiring a PR company isn’t enough to improve your image when you’ve ballsed up this badly. You have to put the wrong right. Act responsibly (call it part of your
Corporate Social Responsibility programme if ‘doing the right thing’ sticks in your throat). Apologise. Publicly. And above all, don’t pay your top execs billions of public money in bonuses for the single biggest failure in financial history. Then spend public money on PR. Oh, and then have to give back the bonuses anyway.

I find it really interesting that the very act of hiring Buson Marsteller has got AIG such bad coverage via the Rachel Maddow show (including the follow up story that was supposed to make it better). AIG is made to look even worse (is that possible?) by being associated with previous B-M clients. It’s not exactly a great start to the relationship.

Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to do the right thing first, and then hire the PR company?

1 comment:

Jon said...

Kate
I agree with you. The rush to get PR support in the wake of such scandal smacks of resorting to image massaging in lieu of making fundamental changes to policy and practices. First ensure the company's reformed behaviour will stand up to scrutiny, then shout about it.