November 16, 2009

UK employment dispute with cross-border reputation/media advocacy implications

When several former members of Dresdner Kleinwort’s London-based management committee found themselves in dispute with the investment bank’s new owner, Commerzbank, earlier this year over unpaid severance and guaranteed bonus packages, media interest was not just confined to the UK where the legal claims were filed. Given the bank’s German HQ, the sizeable German government shareholding and that the Claimants ran global businesses within Dresdner Kleinwort with a significant German client base, the lawsuits attracted greater media attention in Germany than in the UK.

The claimants mandated Bell Yard and Results: S. Holzinger! to advise and represent them in relations with the media in their respective jurisdictions. The objective differed slightly in each country. In the UK the brief was containment, keeping the claims as low profile as possible and the bankers out of the glare of media scrutiny, at a time of indiscriminate public anger against highly-remunerated bankers, whilst they forged their new career paths. In Germany, the claims were not only against a highly visible organization but also all the more controversial in light of socio-cultural attitudes to the sums involved and the recent federal funding of Commerzbank and many other banks in the billions of €uros stemming from recent large losses.

These combined factors resulted in an exponential increase in media interest in the claims. Therefore the Bell Yard / Results: S. Holzinger! advisors’ aim was to contextualise, provide reasoned explanation, and ultimately to de-sensationalise the debate in so far as it referred to these particular claimants. The two consultancies worked closely together, devising a common message framework for both sets of media, subject to local nuances. Furthermore, the key to successful collaboration was an appreciation of how the case would resonate in each country and distinct local media relationships, and close-cooperation throughout, so there could be no media exploitation of gaps between the messaging in UK and Germany.

Bell Yard helped achieve the relative anonymity of the case required in the UK notwithstanding the G20 debate on bankers bonuses coinciding with the court hearing. In Germany, Results: S. Holzinger! successfully anticipated the media mood and their demands, pre-empting the most testing of questioning by providing detailed and timely commentary according to pre-defined parameters thereby ensuring a balanced reporting of the claimants’ case in the German media, which was ultimately positively resolved for the clients.