I don't understand why everybody is so mad at Tony Hayward.
Sure, the CEO of
presides over the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It's true that he has proven overwhelmed, inept and arrogant while oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico. He seems to have gone out of his way to diss public officials, and has even snubbed Anderson Cooper.
I'll grant you that this man is the most unpopular Englishman to darken our doorways since Cornwallis. Every red-blooded American wants to punch him in the nose after seeing him in one of his ridiculous TV commercials (this
is a doozy) and I'm one of them.
But please, cut this man some slack. Don't you see what the BP CEO is doing? Why he's
that's what he's doing. You can't pick up a metropolitan newspaper or turn on the TV without being bombarded with some of the most insipid, hypocritical, intelligence-insulting products of corporate self-delusion that I have ever seen. BP's spending of $50 million on ads is such a ridiculous waste of money that it was
a few days ago.
It has got to be the most counterproductive advertising campaign in U.S. history. And I say bravo! Let's see more companies do the same thing. The media needs a bailout, and this is it.
Hey, someone had to say it. We in the media are too proud to ask for help when we're suffering. Yet here we are, ready to boil our shoes for broth, and we are witnessing a golden opportunity--an unprecedented wave of corporate self-destruction, ranging from the ongoing Wall Street and banking fiascos to the
unexplained-acceleration scandal and now, of course, the disaster in the Gulf. Only Toyota and BP have been throwing away their shareholders' money trying to convince Americans that they are really, really sincerely trying to be good corporate citizens. That has got to change. More need to join them.
Let's start with Wall Street. Now, I realize that apologizing for doing something wrong is fundamentally at odds with the financial services business model. But an actual apology isn't needed here, and not even the appearance of being apologetic. An attitude of feigned sincerity will do.
As a public service, I've drawn up an image-enhancement campaign that should result in billions in wasted shareholder equity flowing from morally bankrupt companies into hard-pressed media coffers. I've designed this one for the company that works hardest to compete with BP for the enmity of the American people. That is, of course,
Goldman is now reeling from its latest self-inflected PR fiasco, its stonewalling of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Goldman engaged in the old litigator "needle in haystack" trick, bombarding the commission with massive amounts of irrelevant documents. The FCIC, which has otherwise shown the investigative zeal of a dead flounder, got good and mad and actually issued a subpoena. And then we have the little matter of that
lawsuit. Both present a public relations quandary that can be easily if not effectively addressed.
Goldman needs to go on the offensive. It needs to showcase the humble origins of its CEO, Lloyd Blankfein.
Charlie Rose slobbered sentimentally
over Blankfein's postal worker dad and public-housing background when he appeared on the show a while back, but that's not enough. I suggest an entire ad campaign on that point, including a half-hour of airtime on late night TV.
Don't pose Blankfein on Wall and Broad or in the Goldman trading room. Don't have him talk about anything Goldman is doing or, heaven forbid, the financial crisis. Get people's minds off the subject. Film him on the mean streets of Brooklyn, from whence he came. If they weren't mean, find some mean streets and film him there. Show him playing stickball with kids on rubbish-strewn streets. Show him flirting with girls on Coney Island. Show him break-dancing, writing graffiti on an underpass, squeegeeing windshields on Empire Boulevard, stealing hubcaps on Flatbush Avenue.
Now, you'll notice that none of this has got anything to do with what Goldman has done, which is precisely the point. He's got to change the subject. The idea is to make the guy seem so homey and humble and interesting that it won't matter what he did. It won't work, but think of all the ad dollars. That's the objective, right?
Other CEOs can build on their inherent socio-ethnic assets, or make 'em up if they don't have any, while they rescue all those hard-pressed media outlets that did a great job of not covering them until it was too late.
's Vikram Pandit, for instance, can work the "immigrant" theme in his image campaign. I have visions of him waiting in line at Ellis Island, even though it closed before he was born. No worries; factual accuracy means even less in TV ads than it does in SEC disclosures, and that's saying a lot.
John Mack, chairman of
, is of Lebanese descent. Play that card hard. Send him in a flotilla to the Middle East. Show him playing handball with Israelis and Palestinians. Show him floating in the Dead Sea, praying at the Wailing Wall, walking around the Kaaba Stone. Change the venue, spend the dollars, buy the slots on
, the full-page ads in the
New York Times
, the glossy advertising supplements in
, . Fill those media coffers.
I can see it happening. Then soft thuds will be heard throughout the land, as shoes are thrown at TV screens--the sure sign of a corporate image campaign in full swing.
Gary Weiss has covered Wall Street wrongdoing for nearly two decades. His coverage of stock fraud at BusinessWeek won many awards, and included a cover story, "The Mob on Wall Street," that exposed mob infiltration of brokerages. He uncovered the Salomon Brothers bond trading scandal, and wrote extensively on the dangers posed by hedge funds, Internet fraud and out-of-control leverage. He was a contributing editor at Cond?ast Porfolio, writing about the people most intimately involved in the financial crisis, from Timothy Geithner to Bernard Madoff. His book Born to Steal (Warner Books: 2003), described the Mafia's takeover of brokerage houses in the 1990s. Wall Street Versus America (Portfolio: 2006) was a hard-hitting account of investor rip-offs. He blogs at garyweiss.blogspot.com.