Major American banks continue to demonstrate they haven’t learned the lessons of their recent  PR debacles. Wells Fargo recently took out full-page ads in several major U.S. newspapers announcing they had reluctantly cancelled employee recognition events, but they also defended the practice and blamed the news media for misleading coverage on the issue. Check out a story on the ads here.

The ads created predictable churn on the Web and among pundits. I found this commentary by CNN’s Campbell Brown to pretty close to my view on the topic – Brown gives Wells Fargo the chutzpah award for a strong and spirited counter-attack, but argues the tactic ultimately fails and suggests the bank would be better served spending funds on their employees rather than expensive ads attacking the media. Wells CEO John Stumpf should certainly be commended for wanting to recognize his employees and giving them a public high-five in the ads, but his comments also reflect the hubris and insularity that has generated so much vitriol among critics of the banks. Notwithstanding the merits of employee recognition, this is not the time nor the channel to argue for costly trips.  Would it not have been simpler to simply introduce alternate recognition tactics? I know of several companies who have eliminated recognition trips and meetings and replaced them with other rewards, with apparent understanding from their employees. A Wells spokesperson claims that in addition to setting the record straight on the trips, the ads were intended to publicly acknowledge the accomplishments of employees. Even if you believe that, it might have been more effective to use the cost of placing the ads directly on employee rewards.

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