In praise of the banks – yes, really!

It’s not often you read a positive comment piece about UK banks but I’m going to be different.

I’m not going to praise their sometimes rotten charges, nor am I going to praise some of their reckless lending decisions over recent years which have helped cause the largest financial crisis of most of our lifetimes.

I’m going to be a little more selfish and focus on their dealings with the media, which makes our lives, as journalists, easier.

If we, as reporters, know exactly what’s going on, it means the most important people in this, the public, have a better chance of knowing the truth.

Now, I’ll be honest and declare that I write this on a day where the energy PR world has done anything but covered itself in glory so banks are likely to look good in comparison.

Getting the truth

Again, I’ll caveat the praise by saying I am not celebrating the ridiculous spin often put on negative stories by banks, but on their reliability to hand over facts and figures when asked and to facilitate constructive dialogue between their press offices and the media which helps us get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

Of course, they’ll try to bury bad news like any PR machine but when caught red-handed, in my experience, they tend to hold up their hands. I’ve found they also tend to own up to errors, when their press office has given out erroneous info, reasonably quickly.

Now compare this reliability to energy firms. And let’s be clear that I’m talking about the power suppliers rather than any other sections of the energy market such as price comparison sites (see the Compare Gas & Electricity and Get Cashback guide).

Today, we reluctantly had to mention, on the end of a story about an energy firm cutting prices, that the article had to be updated after the firm incorrectly told us its price drop did NOT apply to online tariffs, which many MoneySavers will be on. In fact, the cost of many online tariffs is indeed falling.

Luckily, a forumite spotted this error after carefully inspecting the relevant website, so we made the necessary enquiries and changes, but for around two hours we had the wrong information on the site.

Press offices are supposed to be an organisation’s official mouthpiece meaning there is no need to go fishing around to double-check the information they give out. Remember, we were not alerted to the error by the power firm but by a site user even though in the days of instant Google alerts it would have already been read by the press office.

I don’t want to name names as everyone is entitled to a mistake but, sadly, it is indicative of the difference between energy firms and banks. It won’t take a genius to work out which company I’ve referred to, mind you.

Numerous examples

I could reel off numerous other examples. For instance, we were given an embargoed news story by one energy firm last year (meaning it couldn’t be reported for a couple of days to give the entire media time to digest it, research it, and all report at the same time).

Yet the firm broke its own embargo by running a full page advert of the new product in many national newspapers a day early. On another occasion, one senior press officer at a power firm was not told his employer was running its own boiler scrappage scheme even though the issue was headline news that day.

With the online revolution meaning news is now instant, we’re under pressure as reporters to get the information out ten minutes ago, and that’s where the banks’ speed and reliability tends to shine in comparison to their energy counterparts.

One PR source of mine, who primarily works in the banking/insurance industry, was recently called in by one energy firm to help improve its PR practices and bring them in line with financial services standards. Despite offering some sound advice he was politely told that "we do all that already". I have to disagree.

Further reading/Key links

Slash energy costs: Cheap Gas & Electricity
Your rights: Fight Energy Direct Debits
Capped tariff help: Is Your Cap/Fix Ending Soon?
Top banks: Best Bank Accounts


Banking PR vs Energy firm PR