I’m Starting to Worry about Goldman Sachs

The outlines of Goldman’s new public relations strategy are becoming clearer.  It involves more television appearances by CEO Lloyd Blankfein, investments in trendy green-tech companies and a new twitter account, unveiled at yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting.

It is part of an effort to create a “more open and friendly” firm, according to news reports.

Lloyd Blankfein in a Zuckerberg-style hoodie surely is next on the agenda.

This looks a little like the time your uncle tried to look cool by wearing skinny jeans.  He was still the same fat guy, just a lot more uncomfortable.  And that’s the risk for Goldman or any other company that tries on a new style without really changing.  The new image will be superficial and short-lived.

Unless Goldman addresses tough issues like executive compensation, business conflicts and financial disclosure, perceptions about the firm won’t really change.  Achieving a lasting shift in public perception takes a lot of work, and it starts with making real changes in the institution itself.  If it were as simple as television interviews and tweets, no firm on Wall Street would have an image problem.

There’s another risk at play here, too.  I suspect that clients don’t really want Goldman to change too much.  For clients, anything that distracts the firm’s management from its core focus is bad.  Making markets, clinching merger deals and raising capital are things Goldman does very, very well, and clients keep returning for more. Goldman’s franchise remains strong, despite the endless negative media coverage the firm has suffered these past few years.  So perhaps Goldman shouldn’t stray too far from the image that has made it so successful.

 

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