Campus Controversy Shows Banks Need to Prioritize PR

james_dimonAs a alumnus of Syracuse University, I was momentarily proud yesterday when I saw on CNBC’s Mike Huckman’s Twitter feed that he would be reporting live on the SU campus today. That pride lapsed, though, when the I discovered it wasn’t a story that would bring positive attention to the school among CNBC’s audience of businesspeople. The subject of Huckman’s reporting (and columns like this one all over the Web) was a student-driven controversy about the University’s speaker for May commencement activities.

The speaker is scheduled to be Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase (pictured), which has donated significant funds to the University in recent years. Students, though, are voicing protest because they see Dimon as a symbol for the collapsed economy, government bailouts and the bleak job market the seniors are graduating into.

Those emotions, which are easy to counter, are a symptom of a problem facing “big business” in general in today’s times but the banking industry in particular. Banks suffer from one of the most serious image problems of any industry in America. The public regards them as reckless and greedy. Because banks that accepted TARP funds had to curb communications efforts as an attached string, they have largely not invested in telling their turnaround plan stories and communicating their messages to the public. That lack of attention to PR and communications, regardless of the cause, haunts these companies today.

This controversy will subside in the coming weeks. Dimon will likely make his speech. The students will graduate and get on with their lives. But the banks’ PR troubles won’t go away until they figure out a way to tell their stories and deliver their messages.

By the way, Huckman is leaving CNBC soon to enter the world of Big Firm PR. Maybe his first client should be a bank?