Westpac CEO Peter King (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)
Click image to enlarge.

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But Westpac isn’t the first organisation to opt for a full-page newspaper ad to try and gain back consumers’ trust.

In 2018, the CEO of another major bank, NAB, published a hand-signed letter in newspapers including The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, promising to “make things right” after a server error left thousands of business customers unable to operate.

Earlier this year, elite private boys school Sydney Grammar used a page-three ad in The Sydney Morning Herald to apologise to a student who had been sexually abused by one of the school’s teachers.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised consumers he would “do better for you” in a full-page letter published in newspapers across the world following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw millions of users’ private data leaked to third-party companies without consent.

And in 2011, Rupert Murdoch used his own newspapers to publish a full-page advert declaring “We are sorry” for the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Taking out a print advertisement may have been the main way for companies to communicate with consumers pre-internet, when more people started their day reading the local paper, but are they still an effective way for organisations to mend relations and build trust in the wake of a business-ending scandal?

Gerry McCusker, consultancy principal at The Drill Crisis Simulator — an online crisis simulator which trains companies how to prepare for public relations catastrophes — told Crikey he thought Westpac’s printed apology was “unfortunately remarkably unimaginative and formulaic.

“I think when you start to produce a wallpaper-generic kind of response, you start to realise they are just a checklist item. That tells you it is an industry standard and that there is a lack of imagination.

“It’s rather bizarre that in this age of fast-moving multimedia where everyone is drenched in content that you see this [printed apology] format. It’s better than doing nothing, but not by a massive amount.”

McCusker also warned that, while “asserting your side of the story is valuable and important, if it actually fuels additional stories which further debunk your position, you are just giving the crisis a new breath of life and adding more fuel to the fire”.

This was the case for Crown Casino back in August who, in response to an investigation by Nine’s 60 Minutes, published ads in several major newspapers attempting to set the record straight. Nine’s newspapers not only refused to run the ads, but published an article responding to Crown’s claims.

Has Westpac’s apology won you over? Send your thoughts to [email protected]. Please include your full name for publication.

Westpac went into damage control over the weekend, taking out ads in major newspapers apologising “unreservedly” for its 23 million alleged breaches of money laundering laws.

The advertisement appeared in News Corp and Nine newspapers on Saturday, featuring a letter from Westpac’s new acting CEO Peter King admitting the bank’s transaction monitoring “should have been more robust”.

King added that “an apology is hollow unless it comes with action” and promised Westpac has closed some money transfer products, and would be making changes to transaction monitoring systems and hiring 200 people to its financial crime teams.

Click image to enlarge.

But Westpac isn’t the first organisation to opt for a full-page newspaper ad to try and gain back consumers’ trust.

In 2018, the CEO of another major bank, NAB, published a hand-signed letter in newspapers including The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, promising to “make things right” after a server error left thousands of business customers unable to operate.

Earlier this year, elite private boys school Sydney Grammar used a page-three ad in The Sydney Morning Herald to apologise to a student who had been sexually abused by one of the school’s teachers.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised consumers he would “do better for you” in a full-page letter published in newspapers across the world following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw millions of users’ private data leaked to third-party companies without consent.

And in 2011, Rupert Murdoch used his own newspapers to publish a full-page advert declaring “We are sorry” for the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Taking out a print advertisement may have been the main way for companies to communicate with consumers pre-internet, when more people started their day reading the local paper, but are they still an effective way for organisations to mend relations and build trust in the wake of a business-ending scandal?

Gerry McCusker, consultancy principal at The Drill Crisis Simulator — an online crisis simulator which trains companies how to prepare for public relations catastrophes — told Crikey he thought Westpac’s printed apology was “unfortunately remarkably unimaginative and formulaic.

“I think when you start to produce a wallpaper-generic kind of response, you start to realise they are just a checklist item. That tells you it is an industry standard and that there is a lack of imagination.

“It’s rather bizarre that in this age of fast-moving multimedia where everyone is drenched in content that you see this [printed apology] format. It’s better than doing nothing, but not by a massive amount.”

McCusker also warned that, while “asserting your side of the story is valuable and important, if it actually fuels additional stories which further debunk your position, you are just giving the crisis a new breath of life and adding more fuel to the fire”.

This was the case for Crown Casino back in August who, in response to an investigation by Nine’s 60 Minutes, published ads in several major newspapers attempting to set the record straight. Nine’s newspapers not only refused to run the ads, but published an article responding to Crown’s claims.

Has Westpac’s apology won you over? Send your thoughts to [email protected]. Please include your full name for publication.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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