It is always reassuring when large organisations are unable to kick a story into the long grass, particularly when they use the oldest public relations tricks in the book.
The banking industry has failed dismally to end coverage of the revelation that some £200,000 had been stolen from jockeys in the UK. The money was withdrawn over the counter from cashiers, possibly using fraudulent documents. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37555025
In fact the banking industry’s response has had the opposite effect. Broadcasters and print journalists are now asking: If jockeys are being advised to abandon their High Street bank accounts, are any other bank customers safe.
It is almost certain to lead to some uncomfortable revelations about the scale of the problem.
Much of the credit for keeping the story in the public eye – it is now on the second day of widespread coverage, including a full page story in The Times – is due to Paul Struthers.
A veteran of racing and public relations who is now chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, he has played a blinder for his members, speaking brilliantly and deploying intelligent and eloquent jockeys who have been victims.
But, the banks have only themselves to blame.
Rather than seeing this as a banking challenge, they approached the story as a public relations problem, using tactics beloved of all large organisations on the defensive.
The first aim is ensure that no individual from a company appears on the media to answer direct questions.
As more than one bank was involved in the alleged frauds, the banks could hide behind one of their joint organisations – Financial Fraud Action (FFA).
This is a tried and tested trick because industry wide bodies can’t talk about the actions of individual members – so any comments tend to be generalisations that are hard to challenge.
The next trick is to avoid appearing in person. A statement cannot be questioned or directly challenged.
So when Radio5 Live produced an item on the subject, the FFA did not appear directly – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07xf326#play
The FFA’s statement was a classic of corporate deception.
“Banks take fraud extremely seriously and stopped most of all the attempted fraud last year. Fraudsters may try to use stolen or false documents to commit their crimes. Banks do have systems in place to prevent this.
The spate of crimes targeting jockeys suggests fraudsters may have gained access to data relating to these victims.
It is important that any organisation holding personal data take steps to ensure it is safeguarded.”
It is amazing how many corporate statements start with “we are taking xyz very seriously.” The fact that they are using this hack sentence from the beginner’s PR handbook actually shows they are not taking the subject seriously at all.
The next step – found in virtually every corporate statement – is to state that the problem is under control. So this statement says that “banks have systems in place.”
Then there is the subtle use of tenses. The statement says that “fraudsters may try to use stolen….” and that “the spate of crimes targeting jockeys suggests fraudsters may have gained access…..”
Using the word “may” makes it possible to leave ideas with the audience – in this case suggesting others may be responsible for the theft of information – while remaining unaccountable if the claim turns out to be inaccurate.
A third element of these statements is that they are drafted to ensure no institution or senior executive is identified or takes responsibility.
Finally these statements invariably end with a portentous general comment which adds up to nothing substantive. The comment that “it is important that any organisation holding personal data take steps to ensure it is safeguarded” is a meaningless truism.
If you have read my blogs, the use of these techniques will be no surprise. https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/valueless-statements/
All too often the technique works. But fortunately, in this case, the rather cleverer tactics of Mr Struthers are ensuring that the banks are losing control of the debate.