Reflections on B of A’s rough year
One public-relations lesson for Bank of America <BAC.N> after a year of crisis and a pummelling in the court of public opinion: Don’t always listen to the lawyers.
That’s the word from James Mahoney, director of communication and public policy at the country’s largest bank.
B of A has taken a beating over everything from its pay scale and lending practices to the fees it charges consumers.
It’s humbling for the institution that a year ago was the country’s “leading bank,” Mahoney told a trade conference sponsored by by Financial Research Corp of Boston.
“Two words emerged: bonus and bailout. It’s been all downhill ever since.”
He said the bank’s lawyers barred it from offering a single narrative on the decisions leading up to its takeover of the investment bank Merrill Lynch at the height of the financial crisis just over a year ago.
The lawyers fretted that executives might stray from the script during any future depositions to investigators, Mahoney said. But that left B of A exposed to a lot of attacks and with no easy way to protect its flank.
The lesson? “Don’t listen to lawyers if you’re trying too manage the public reaction.”
Mahoney had a receptive audience for a rare peek under the hood at the bank’s rough year.
While B of A sorts out its leadership with the pending departure of longtime chief executive Ken Lewis, Mahoney’s said the bank has taken more than its share of PR black eyes because of its size.
“I think we really became the target of a lot of the anger that’s out there because (the bank) is a highly visible, convenient place to vent,” he said.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber)