Some hugely successful companies are never going to be loved or even liked. Top of that list: Oil companies and banks. The smart move would be to take their billions in profits and be happy with that. For some reason, though, that’s not enough.
Thus we get
Goldman Sachs is considering a corporate branding campaign in a bid to improve its battered reputation, and has even discussed placing Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein on the “The Oprah Show.”
The oil industry tried something similar a few years ago. Here’s what I wrote then and it stands up: The oil industry should just give a gag order to itself. Yes, they are making a helluva a lot of money — the biggest challenge they face is choosing between "obscene" and "pornographic" when describing their profits. They feel compelled to defend their earnings because … well, I don’t know why. Because some PR person said they have to? The only explanation that anyone would believe — "Because we can" — is apparently not an acceptable sound bite.
The oil companies’ profits don’t depend on the public’s goodwill. They make the overwhelming majority of their money on wholesale, not retail. For them it’s all about price and reliability. As BP has proven all you really have to do is keep your head down and your environmental disasters in Africa or other places the major media don’t cover.
True, Goldman et al. do depend slightly on public goodwill. The fact that they’re being investigated by everyone except the commissioner of baseball has made some public groups suspend their relations with Goldman. But a PR campaign about what alleged good Goldman does is exactly the wrong move. All it will do is keep the issues alive in the public eye. The public isn’t going to believe a damn thing Goldman says anyway. I mean I don’t even believe their justification for the campaign:
Fiona Laffan, Goldman Sach’s head of media relations in Europe, Middle East and Africa, told a communications industry event here that mistrust and hatred of bankers, not just those at Goldman Sachs, remained near an all-time high and that the bank, as an industry leader, needed to do a better job of explaining what it did and how.
Please. We all know what you do and how and we were all in favor of it until you nearly cost us the economy. You’re just scared about how we’ll respond if someone can prove you were betting on the failure of companies you were giving financial advice to. Look, just sit still and shut up and we’ll forget all about it. The US public has the attention span of a mayfly on crystal meth. Just wait and let BP’s decision to roast turtles work in your favor.