Coutts Bank must be ruing the day it accepted Nigel Farage as a client. But they must be experiencing even more serious regrets over their decision to close his account. We provide media training to banks and financial services companies as well as politicians and we also media train celebrities – another category that Nigel Farage might fall into.
As the story of Mr Farage’s battle with the posh bank drags on – it really seems to “have legs,” as we say in the media business – we’ve been interested to see how it has handled this difficult situation. We are increasingly providing crisis media training for banks and financial services companies alongside our general media interview training. This might be to help their comms teams and corporate communications experts handle data breaches, accusations of bullying and sexism or racism, as well as complaints about the way individual customers have been treated.
Lessons to Learn
What lessons are there for the PR companies and in-house communications teams who work for banks or who have financial services firms as clients? Well, the first might be that you should be very wary about writing comments about a customer, especially one who is so well-known, combative and skilled at publicity. There’s always a risk these days that you will find yourself in receipt of a subject access request.
Second, you should be prepared to act quickly in such a situation. On Thursday, Dame Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest, owners of Coutts, wrote to Mr Farage to apologise for the mishandling of his account closure. Dame Alison reportedly said in the letter that she believed “very strongly” in the freedom of expression and insisted that it was not Coutts’ policy to close an account because of someone’s “legally held political and personal views.” The apology sounds sincere and unreserved – two important elements to bear in mind when you’re saying sorry.
She is also right to promise a full review of the bank’s procedures and its decision-making processes. In our crisis communications training workshops, we recommend that one message that any organisation can put across during a crisis is to talk about carrying out an investigation or a review. This has a number of advantages. First, it shows that you are taking action, which is very important in a difficult situation. The second thing is that when journalists ask speculative questions, you can always point out that you can’t say anything more until the investigation has been completed.
Dame Alison’s letter also contains an apology. This is essential in any kind of crisis communication. Even if you are not to blame – or it’s not yet clear whether you are at fault – you can; it’s still essential to express some sympathy for those concerned and affected by the incident.
However well drafted it might be, the fact is that the letter has come relatively late in the day. The story has been running for quite a while now. One of the things we recommend in our crisis Media Training courses is that organisations such as banks and financial services firms respond immediately to any situation. One way to do this is to have a number of template responses to any situation. You can draft a basic statement relating to a data breach, an accusation of bullying or even an accident or an explosion at your office. You can then populate this template with more details. Should the situation occur. This will save time and help you get your statement out more quickly. Identifying an approval and notification system within the organisation so that everybody knows who will do what and who has a say over all communications released during a crisis or difficult situation will also speed up the process.
Media Training Courses
When we provide crisis communications training for financial services firms and banks, we work with them to create a range of realistic, relevant scenarios. Funnily enough, a complaint by a well-known figure or a controversy involving a celebrity is one of the imaginary situations that we’ve often created. We’ll certainly be doing a lot more of this in our media training crisis, communication courses for banks and financial services firms, given the media coverage of the Nigel Farage case.