Lord Help Goldman Sachs

November 10, 2009 at 12:34 pm 4 comments

Lloyd_Blankfein

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein

NOTE TO READERS (4/20/2010):

Make sure to see my other posts on Goldman Sachs:

“Goldman Gets It (?)”

“Goldman Sachs: PR and the Bottom Line”

“Bailing Out the Trust Bank”

Also read my comments in PRNews about Goldman Sachs’ need for a PR overhaul (subscription required).

There’s a reason that companies should engage in regular public relations. Like anything else, it requires practice. Saying that you don’t need PR and then dutifully going into your bunker leaves you vulnerable for the inevitable day when the bunker is breached and you are hauled into the sunlight. Witness Goldman Sachs. 

As I write this, the Internet is filling with commentary on Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s comment to The Times of London that he is “doing God’s work.” Hopefully, Twitter has fired up its “outrage server” (it has one, right?) to handle the overload of aghast and snarky comments which include old quotes from Enron that it was “on the side of the angels” and links to The Huffington Post’s rebuttal from Satan. Some commentators are acknowledging that Blankfein delivered the line with an “impish grin,” as the article indicates. For many, however, “just kidding” didn’t make it into the sound bite. 

Right now, someone is fuming inside Goldman Sachs headquarters: “That’s what we get for talking to the #@*#% media!” No, that’s what Goldman Sachs gets for insufficient attention to the media and the public. That’s what it gets for emerging as the Wall Street colossus following the demise or absorption of its biggest competition in Depression 2.0. The firm has new visibility and responsibility, and it is unprepared. Goldman Sachs may have hedged its bets in the housing sector prior to the 2008 collapse, but it did virtually nothing about its PR exposure. 

The God comment comes on the heels of news about Goldman Sachs’ pending bonus payouts. The subsequent announcement of US unemployment topping 10% will not help the traditional arguments that such bonuses are necessary to retain the best and the brightest on Wall Street. We are eager for a new bogeyman or “vampire squid” per an oft-repeated Rolling Stone description of Blankfein and company. Goldman Sachs needs to stop auditioning for the monster’s role. 

Regretful hindsight about taking TARP money (which it has paid back with interest) is not enough. Just ask John Kerry about “votes for and against” war appropriations. Two former CEOs turned treasury secretaries is not enough. Goldman Sachs has never been more vulnerable, precisely at the moment of its greatest industry dominance. In a previous post, I cite The Wall Street Journal’s report of Goldman Sachs’ “charm offensive.”  My recommendations for next steps: 

  • Explain briefly that the God comment was a jab at the industry while apologizing profusely
  • Convert those bonuses into charitable donations, now
  • Shake off this bloody nose and stay in the public arena. Don’t let the anti-PR faction in the organization get the upper hand

POSTSCRIPT 1: The New York Times reports Goldman Sachs’ $500 million contribution to a fund to help small businesses. Goldman’s largest shareholder and the world’s second richest man, Warren Buffett, is an advisor to the program. This is perhaps Goldman Sachs’ best move since Mr. Buffett is one of the few business leaders who commands genuine respect, thanks to his strong track record and humble lifestyle. 

POSTSCRIPT 2: The Wall Street Journal reports Goldman Sachs’ 30-member advisory committee will receive stock in lieu of cash as bonuses. The stock cannot be sold for five years and can be taken back “in cases where the employee failed to properly account for risk.”

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Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Leadership, Public Relations, Social Media. Tags: , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. stillhere4u  |  November 13, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Lloyd Blankfein claims he is doing God’s work. Beyond the obvious problems, such as his firm’s continued risky trading and the questionable use of the bank’s alum working as high government officials, there is the presumption involved in how he views his work on a divine scale. For more on this, pls see http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/gods-gold/

    Reply
  • 2. Goldman Gets It (?) «  |  April 20, 2010 at 10:05 am

    […] attempts to tell its story have been limited and often self-wounding. I have blogged about CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s infamous quip that the company was “doing God’s work” and communications chief Lucas Van […]

    Reply
  • 3. When Corporations Act Too Human «  |  June 6, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    […] officials and the media, whose signature line “I would like my life back” has eclipsed “doing God’s work” from Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. It is mandatory for any corporation whose products/services […]

    Reply
  • 4. The Worden Report  |  July 20, 2010 at 7:45 am

    SEC fine = 2 wks of profit at Goldman. Slap on the wrist?

    See: http://euandus3.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/990/

    Reply

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