Public Relations: Blunder sets off major DBS charm offensive

HONG KONG: DBS Bank will up its marketing and communications initiatives, after the bank embarked on a major crisis communications drive following its accidental destruction of 83 safe deposit boxes.

The bank has been praised for a proactive communication strategy, which saw it inform affected customers and hold a press conference before the story leaked. Group communications head Catherine Ong pointed out that onus was on the bank to reassure customers.

"We will have to try and reassure customers," said Ong. "Let's not kid ourselves, it will raise questions in some minds about our internal controls, so we have to take steps to reassure them that this is an isolated incident."

"We've gone through a very intense period of communications. Going forward, there will be a lot more communication with customers. It's not just media we have to worry about, but also marketing communications."

Accordingly, after a 'cooling off' period, Ong expects DBS to embark on an image rebuilding programme, handled by retainer agency Relationship Marketing Group. "I suspect that during the rebuilding period, we will step up our advertising and branding campaigns," admitted Ong.

A senior source at a leading financial relations agency commended the bank for its crisis initiatives, which also included a HK$12.5 million (US$1.6 million) compensation package for affected customers - termed 'appropriate' by the SAR banking regulator - and a full internal investigation.

DBS also issued two statements to the Stock Exchange of Singapore, on which it is listed.

"In these circumstances it's very easy to go into a bunker and (DBS) showed that they were thinking about their long term reputation and demeanour," said the source. "They were concerned about all their customers and by putting their chairman up, it made them look confident and capable."

Within one day of realising its error, the bank informed affected customers, before revealing the news to the media a day later. While some media reports focused on disgruntled customers, a number praised the bank - with one leading business daily even going so far as to state that the Hong Kong Government could learn from DBS' example.

At the start of the crisis, the bank charged Golin/Harris Forrest with providing crisis counsel. "Golin/Harris Forrest came in at the beginning of the crisis and gave us some strategic advice," stated Ong. "Right now, they are mostly doing media monitoring for us."

- See page 20.

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