When you or your company receives bad press, your first inclination may be to fight back. Usually, that’s a mistake. If the charges are true, the best course is to publicly acknowledge the problem and fix it. Although confirming bad news—even if it’s not your fault—can hurt your reputation in the short run, the pain will pass quickly, and you can move on. In the long run, your reputation will probably be strengthened by your quick action. Of course, if there is any risk of legal liability, you should consult your attorneys before making any statements. Financial services firms have not always been willing to admit their mistakes or to publicly offer corrective action. The bad press surrounding
Solving a Problem a Bank Didn’t Create
Sometimes companies do the right thing, even if they don’t think they’re wrong. In 2002, Wells Fargo was the only bank to refuse to sign a $57 million Holocaust reparations settlement with Belgium’s Jewish community. Wells Fargo maintained, plausibly, that it was under no obligation to pay a $267,000 obligation it had inherited at three removes when it acquired First Interstate Bancorp in 1996. But when the Los Angeles Times picked up the story, Wells Fargo found itself with more than $267,000 worth of bad press. The bank quickly reversed the decision and issued a press release apologizing to the Jewish community for “any misunderstanding that our original decision may have caused.” research analysts who touted companies that did investment banking business with their firms was not helped by denials, destroyed e-mail correspondence, and failure to punish the guilty. A firm that took a strong stand and said, “we’ve made a mistake, and we are correcting the problem, and here’s how we’re doing it,” would be in a far better position.
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