Take the P.I.S.S. like a real British banker

For many years the big banks have provided business advice to their clients but, in a Marketing Week exclusive, I can reveal that almost all the high street banks and a number of the more prominent investment banks have now joined forces to offer a high-level business transformation programme aimed at strengthening British companies by teaching them the tactics that have delivered so much success to our financial services sector in recent years.

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The programme, called ‘Positioning Industry for Strategic Success’, consists of a six-week training and mentorship course. Those who take the P.I.S.S. will learn from some of the UK’s most senior bankers how to run a business. I was among a small cadre of opinion leaders granted a sneak peak earlier this week and I must say it made an impression.

The course kicks off with leadership coaching and the message is “do as I say, not as I do”. As one mentor put it succinctly in a breakout session: “Lesser managers might question the logic of awarding themselves a massive bonus while laying off hundreds of lower tier employees, but a great leader – one who is taking the P.I.S.S. course – understands that there are always two standards: yours and the one you use for others.”
Much head-nodding here.

A second session then examined work-life balance. The key insight was that leaders should select hobbies that emphasise their huge salaries and segregation from everyday life. We were offered electives. The options included fox hunting, competitive super- boating and (the one I opted for) crack cocaine consumption in car parks with rent boys.

Next up was marketing and an amazing roundtable with big-name marketers from top banks who used their proprietary research to show how they had achieved a strategic situation they called “absolute apathy”.

As one CMO explained: “We have created a category in which the consumer has lost all hope, thus rendering their opinions entirely irrelevant.” We were then taught that once apathy has been achieved it is essential to rename your consumers to reflect their new, compliant status. We ended with examples of how bank employees have used concepts such as ‘monkeys’ and ‘donkeys’ to communicate this important transition.

Then on to branding, where several case studies from banks were shown on how they spent millions positioning themselves externally with key words like ‘trust’, ‘integrity’ and ‘doing the right thing’ while behaving with absolute disregard (and ideally contempt) for these concepts.

We broke into teams and practised this by saying one thing to the class while doing the opposite within our group. Our team, for example, were challenged to deliver an emotional anti-smoking speech while repeatedly heading out of the room for cigarette breaks. The session concluded with guest speakers from several top London ad agencies who spoke to us at length about the importance of “taking the money” while “talking bollocks” because “nobody cares”.

Next up, media studies . We practised having our profile photo taken looking suitably serious despite the fact we were dressed in lingerie from the waist down. “Look credible no matter how incredible your situation might be,” was the key point here.

We then simulated the classic banking communications cycle by each delivering an offensive message to a group of schoolchildren and then hiding from them and their irate parents for the next three hours in nearby bushes.

“Invisibility and avoidance are the most effective ways to handle fallout from your unacceptable behaviours,” was our impactful conclusion.

Finally, each of us had to deliver a speech about “retaining talent”, “market forces” and “competitive reimbursement” while being tickled off-camera with feather dusters. The task was almost impossible but one of the mentors, a CEO from a big bank, delivered the whole speech without a flicker despite intensive tickling. Only when the camera was turned off did he dissolve into hysterics. As his laughter echoed I was left in no doubt that taking the P.I.S.S. with these guys had shown me a level of management I had barely believed possible.

Mark Ritson took the P.I.S.S. this week courtesy of the British financial services sector

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