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Financial Communications

Billionaire’s $100M Central Park Donation: PR Win?

Yesterday New York’s Central Park experienced one of its most notable events since the installation of Christo’s temporary art project The Gates in winter 2005: billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson and the Paulson Family Foundation donated $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy. According to Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, “It is believed to be the biggest single gift ever made to park land.”

The New York Times reported on the rationale behind Paulson’s philanthropy: at Tuesday’s press conference announcing the donation, Paulson said, “Central Park is among the most deserving of all of New York’s cultural institutions. And I wanted the gift to make a difference”. The funds will be evenly divided between the park’s endowment and capital improvements.

Paulson joined the Central Park Conservancy board in June, and he has supported the group for 20 years. According to Forbes, this gift far exceeds Paulson’s earlier philanthropic commitments, placing him “in a league with several of his most charitable peers atop New York City’s alternative asset management universe.”

Conservancy officials expressed delight at the bequest–president and CEO Doug Blonsky hailed the gift as “transformational,” saying it will enable the park to break its cycle of restoration and decline.

Paulson’s financial career has also experienced several ups and downs. He founded his hedge fund management company, Paulson & Co, in 1994 and became a billionaire in 2007, making most of his money by shorting subprime loans and effectively rooting for the collapse of the real estate market.

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Goldman Sachs PR Chief Dishes on Damage Control

Many media outlets have labeled Greg Smith’s investment banking expose Why I Left Goldman Sachs disappointing; some in the financial industry have gone so far as to call him a classic “con man”. That doesn’t mean Goldman’s top PR guy Jake Siewert can rest easy.

A veteran of the Clinton administration and former adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Siewert signed with Sachs earlier this year to help the firm’s principals “put the mistakes of the financial crisis behind them” and improve their company’s public image.

Mere days after Siewert’s hiring announcement, The New York Times published Greg Smith’s defamatory op-ed decrying the Goldman Sachs culture of greed as “toxic and destructive”—so you might say he hit the ground running.

Most of Siewert’s damage control efforts over the past six months have amounted to “off the record” conversations defending the firm’s reputation, but yesterday he sat down with New York Magazine’s Kevin Roose to discuss the politics and challenges of reputation management.

We won’t reprint the entire interview, but here’s an interesting tidbit on why Goldman chose to shoot the messenger:

“Why not just issue a generic statement saying, ‘Goldman Sachs is committed to serving its clients’ needs’ and leave it at that?

That hasn’t worked out so well in the past. And frankly, we didn’t know what was in the book.”

Siewert is predictably guarded, but it’s still worth a read.

PR pros: How big is the challenge facing Siewert? Was Goldman right to attack Smith?

Goldman Sachs Will Address The Court of Public Opinion Now

Today marks a Very Serious Literary Event: the release of Wall Street turncoat/general sad sack Greg Smith’s highly anticipated non-fiction debut, Why I Left Goldman Sachs.

Smith’s book expands upon an op-ed he wrote for The New York Times back in March in which he decried his former employer’s once-noble culture as “toxic and destructive” while claiming to be shocked at “how callously people talk about ripping their clients off”. The article’s best-known revelation was the fact that managers referred to their clients as “muppets”—and not in an endearing Fozzie Bear kind of way.

First the obvious: Most Americans don’t think too highly of Goldman Sachs right now, no matter what Mr. Smith says. When Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone referred to the company as a “great vampire squid”, he wasn’t just engaging in colorful hyperbole: According to the widely cited YouGov Brand Index, GS remains engaged in a bad-PR battle with JPMorgan Chase to determine which financial organization Americans hate most.

Politicians may have plenty of love for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, but the average “man on the street” feels differently. So how will the biggest name in investment banking deal with its most visible enemy? Until now, the organization has largely ignored Mr. Smith, but a curious internal memo reveals that this is no longer the case.

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PR Fail: Somebody Released Google’s Earnings Statement ‘Prematurely’

You may have heard with some surprise that Google’s stock (NASDAQ: GOOG) price dropped a whopping 9% today—and that this drop came in response to what looked like a 20% decrease in quarterly income. Anybody heard news of Google struggling to make money when “paid clicks surged by 1/3 from a year ago, and 6% from the previous quarter”? What happened?

Here’s a hint: the company’s quarterly earnings report began with the phrase “PENDING LARRY QUOTE”. That’s Google CEO Larry Page; he was supposed to give a quote before the report went out–after the day’s final trading bell. Unfortunately, the unofficial statement appeared on the SEC website just after noon, inspiring what The Wall Street Journal’s Steve Russolillo describes as “mayhem”. We’ll call it a “premature release.”

Google quickly issued a follow-up statement blaming RR Donnelley, the company that prints its reports, for filing the earnings without authorization because, as mentioned above, the company wasn’t supposed to release the data until after the day’s trading ended. Whoops!

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How Will the Public React to American Express’s Crimes?

The card that pays you back…after screwing you over.

Nothing hurts a brand’s public relations image more than charges of dishonesty, greed and manipulative behavior. This is exactly the PR mess American Express finds itself mired in today after agreeing to pay $85 million to customers it exploited–in addition to $27.5 million in civil fines.

Yep, that’s a $112.5 million penalty for treating its own customers like dupes. Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, explains in this Washington Post article that American Express violated laws designed to protect consumers “at all stages of the game — from the moment a consumer shopped for a card to the moment the consumer got a phone call about long overdue debt.”

As PR professionals, all we can do upon hearing this type of news is to throw up our hands and bang our heads on our desks. This is beyond inexcusable; it’s inexplicable. American Express, an iconic and trusted brand, must know better than this. The American people are fed up with corruption, particularly in financial institutions, and this type of news can eradicate decades of good will earned by consistency, diligence and hard work. American Express has come too far to act so recklessly toward the very people who allow it to be profitable.

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Is Libor-gate Another PR Headache for Chase?

JP Morgan Chase‘s team was supposed to represent the good guys—the Jamie Dimon-led superbank was one of the few financial institutions to emerge from 2008’s economic collapse relatively unscathed in the court of public opinion. But the news hasn’t been good for Dimon lately, and it might get much worse very soon.

This week, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Chase was among seven big banks subpoenaed by the Attorney Generals of New York and Connecticut to testify regarding the ongoing Libor rate-fixing scandal. One thing has become very clear over the past few weeks: The worst offenders in this case are not all based in London. This subpoena strongly implies that the AG’s suspect that top traders at America’s biggest banks were actively involved in the conspiracy.

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Brunswick, Sard Verbinnen Among Those Atop Mergermarket League Table

In terms of value, Brunswick Group topped the latest mergermarket League Table for PR advisors working on global M&A projects with deals worth $122.6 billion for the first half of the year. That’s an increase of more than 26 percent over last year. In terms of volume, the top spot goes to FTI Consulting with 97 deals.

However, the overall M&A market was a sluggish one, with global M&A down more than 18 percent to $968.5 billion for the first half of the year. It was the lowest half year total in the U.S. since 2003.

In the U.S., Sard Verbinnen & Co. took the top spot for value; it worked on deals worth nearly $79 billion. For volume, Kekst & Company was the most active with 62 deals. In Europe, RLM Finsbury worked on deals valued at $95.6 billion, taking the top spot. That firm worked on the biggest deal of the first half — Glencore International and Xstrata — worth about $53.5 billion.

For more on the latest mergermarket League Table, click here.

Add Morgan Stanley to the List of Companies Taking a Facebook IPO Hit

With the third day on the books, Facebook’s stock is down even further than yesterday, to $31.12, well below the $38 IPO price. Friday’s glitches caused massive confusion and has even led to a lawsuit against the Nasdaq, which has seen its reputation tarnished. Now Morgan Stanley is also getting the side-eye because the financial firm, the lead underwriter on the initial public offering, unexpectedly cut Facebook’s revenue forecast.

The way the change was made — so close to the IPO and during the “road show” — is strange, say those in the know.  If that information wasn’t disclosed properly to Morgan Stanley, there could be violations. Now the Securities Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) are nosing around, seeking a review.

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Nasdaq Takes a Hit After Facebook IPO

While Facebook’s stock continues to slip on its third trading day (more on that in a bit), Nasdaq’s reputation is taking a header after mistakes during Friday’s IPO. First there was a delay, then there were problems with the orders. Basically, it looks like the Nasdaq system became overwhelmed by the trading activity in those first hours.

“It took staff approximately 20 minutes to resolve the matter and open the stock, during which time millions of shares worth of trades fell into limbo. Brokers and traders didn’t learn the results of trades made in Facebook shares until nearly two and a half hours later, and some individual investors remained uncertain of their position in the social network’s stock Monday,” Dow Jones reports. Yikes and double yikes.

As a result the company’s chairman, H. Furlong Baldwin (who was destined to become the Monopoly man with a name like that) has had to come out in support of the CEO Bob Greifeld during this morning’s investor call, who openly spoke over the weekend about his desire to stay in his job despite the mishap.

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The Ups and Downs of the Facebook IPO

Watch live streaming video from nasdaq at livestream.com

After lots, and lots, and lots of talk the Facebook IPO happened today!! Do you feel any different? Yes, no, maybe? We understand… you’re still counting your money. We’ll come back to you.

Just like so many things that get tremendous media build-up, as soon as the story reaches its apex, there’s the huge fall off. Facebook officially went public at 11a.m. and by this afternoon, there’s the “IPO fizzle” video, a roundup of jokes, and the disappointment over the fact that the company is only valued at the $38 per share, or $115 billion, that had been previously discussed. (Apparently, the company got a little help?)

Even Bono couldn’t catch a break: one minute he was a billionaire, the next minute, he wasn’t. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem too bothered by any of it.

Even when the media is hyped up on something, the key for companies, brands, and other people is to remain sane.

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