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You Can’t Spin Your Way Out of Bad Behavior – Boeing & Wells Fargo

By Bruce Hennes, CEO, Hennes Communications

On September 11, 2001, the world changed.  The terrorist attack on the U.S. altered American politics and propelled us into a foreign war, changing government surveillance, our travel habits and even the architecture of our buildings.

On a micro-level, it also changed Hennes Communications.  For the previous 12 years, we were a full-service public relations firm.  After 9/11, we made the decision to focus exclusively on crisis management and crisis communications.  At that time, few organizations outside the Fortune 500 knew exactly what constituted “crisis communications” or that it was was really quite different from the traditional practice of public relations.

Today, 18 years later, we are one of the few firms in North America focused exclusively on crisis management and crisis comm work, handling about 130 clients a year.  As such, we see it all, from product failures and explosions to boat crashes, sexual misconduct, Department of Justice investigations and accusations of fiscal misconduct.

While every client engagement has its nuances, I think my colleagues will agree that the single most common advice we dispense is this:  You can’t spin your way out of bad behavior — and the truth almost-always comes out.

Enter, from stage right, Boeing and Wells-Fargo.  Wells-Fargo has long been on our radar screen as a company that has, for years, consistently engaged in unethical behavior.  So we were appalled when just mid-last year the bank started a major ad campaign touting the fact they’d reinvented themselves and were going to do things the right way going forward.  From their May 17, 2018 press release:

SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) is launching anew, integrated marketing campaign called “Re-Established” to emphasize the company’s commitment to re-establish trust with stakeholders and to demonstrate how Wells Fargo is transforming as it emerges from a challenging period in its history. The campaign launched nationwide on Sunday, May 6.
The new campaign leans into the company’s history and heritage as it acknowledges past issues, communicates the extent of changes made across the organization, and shows how the company is re-committing to its customers and their satisfaction.
“In the past 20 months, we have transformed Wells Fargo by simplifying our business model, investing for the future, and strengthening our culture,” said Tim Sloan, Wells Fargo’s chief executive officer and president. “While we have made solid progress, we recognize there is still work to be done. This campaign marks a turning point by expressing how we are fundamentally a different company today, and that it feels like a new day at Wells Fargo.”
The first component of Re-Established is a one-minute commercial called “Trust” that airs nationwide and signals Wells Fargo’s intent in a bold way. The advertisements will run across print, digital, broadcast, and mobile channels. As with previous Wells Fargo advertisements, the campaign acknowledges the diversity of the company’s communities through tailored ads for specific audiences, such as in-language messages in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) and Spanish and advertising in African American media.
“Re-Established means recommitting to our customers and team members, reaffirming support of our communities and re-inventing how we serve our customers through every interaction in new and improved ways,” said Jamie Moldafsky, chief marketing officer. “It is about holding ourselves to a higher standard and our unwavering commitment to become a better bank.”
Examples of the advertisements can be found on Wells Fargo’s YouTube channel and through the links below:
The Re-Established campaign was developed with BBDO-San Francisco, Wells Fargo’s agency of record since March 2014.

When this ad campaign launched, the CEO had already resigned and the company had already paid millions in fines.  However, we noted then that there was still rot at the top.  The new CEO had been a longtime member of the company’s board – and most of the board members who presided over the company during their years (decades?) of lies and deception were still on the board.

So, was this a new company that truly invented itself?  Did this new (and very expensive ad campaign) truly herald a new company?  Or was this lipstick on the proverbial pig?

According to the New York Times this week, the pig reigns supreme:

Wells Fargo has spent years publicly apologizing for deceiving customers with fake bank accounts, unwarranted fees and unwanted products. Its top executives say that because they have eliminated the aggressive sales targets that spurred bad behavior, the bank’s culture has changed.

Many employees say that is news to them.

There is no evidence that employees are secretly opening accounts in customers’ names or tricking them into buying unnecessary auto insurance, as some did in the past. The bank has altered how it pays workers and added safeguards to catch bad behavior.

But Wells Fargo workers say they remain under heavy pressure to squeeze extra money out of customers. Some have witnessed colleagues bending or breaking internal rules to meet ambitious performance goals, according to interviews with 17 current and former employees and internal documents reviewed by The New York Times.

You can read the rest of the New York Times article here.

On to Boeing.  Two planes down over 5 months.  346 people dead.  Between the two crashes, reports are now surfacing that pilots had indeed reported problems with the plane.

And the company had to be forced into grounding its planes across the world?

Once again, it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do that counts, because you can’t spin your way out of bad behavior.


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