It marks a return to Manchester for Lawler, who spent 5 years as the bank’s senior press officer back in 1999.
“I worked for the Bank earlier in my PR career and it is a brand that is close to my heart. It has helped to shape my media relations skills and my personal values and ethics, which I have carried throughout my career,” he told Prolific North.
“The bank has been through a very difficult period in its history, however its vision to become an efficient and financially stable UK retail and SME bank that is distinguished by its values and ethics made it an attractive and challenging opportunity for me.”
From the outside at least, it appears to be a different kind of media relations role to the one that you had at MoneySuperMarket?
“There are actually more similarities between roles than you would expect. I joined MSM (MoneySuperMarket) at a time when the business had been through a significant challenge as a result of the financial crisis. As the business looked to restructure on the back of this, my role was to rebuild the press office function and re-establish MSM as a key industry commentator through an effective pro-active media relations programme, which we did very successfully. The role wasn’t without its challenges though, with Price Comparison Website practices under regulatory, government and media scrutiny.
“I have joined The Co-operative Bank at a very similar period in time. It has been through a very high profile period in its history, but is now making good progress simplifying and restructuring its business in order to become more efficient and financially stable Bank for the future. A crucial part of this is as far as I’m concerned is to re-engage the business with the media in a more positive manner, as we return to market with new products and the ethical campaigning activity the Bank was traditionally known for.”
The Co-operative Bank has just come out of a 2-year probe by the Bank of England and Financial Conduct Authority. But it did manage to avoid fines, because the regulators believed it would harm the bank’s recovery.
As such, Lawler has arrived at a particularly challenging time, not just within the sector, but at the brand itself.
“Restoring the credibility of the Bank is not just a media relations challenge, it is something that the entire organisation is working towards. Our values and ethics are still the main differentiator for the Bank, and without these we could become just like any other bank and our customers have told us that’s not what they want,” he explained.
“We have embedded values and ethics into our Articles of Association, and created a Board Committee with a new independent chair to ensure values and ethics remain at the heart of our business. We launched our revised ethical policy earlier this year, after hearing the views of over 74,000 customers, colleagues and stakeholders. This was an important step in rebuilding the Bank but it is just the beginning of the process. Media relations of course has an important role in bringing this story to life by demonstrating we are living up to the values and ethics our customers expect.”
Lawler spent more than 6 years at MoneySuperMarket, initially as PR manager for its financial services division, before becoming deputy head of public relations.