Foreclosing on Bank Creates PR Nightmare for Bank of America

In my previous post, I discussed one non-profit organization’s spot-on response to a negative news article. This time, I present Exhibit B, which is a model for taking on a mega bank.

In one of those big “whoops” moments, Bank of America tried to foreclose on a house in Florida that had no mortgage; the owners had paid BOA cash for it, but a few months later the bank filed a foreclosure claim against them.

Mistakes happen, but BOA apparently refused to respond to the owners or their attorney, despite their numerous attempts to straighten out this colossal misunderstanding. Big, inflexible banks can be irritating and cause a lot of headaches, but the owners turned the tables by winning a court judgment against BOA for their attorney fees.

When BOA didn’t pay up, the owners foreclosed on the local bank, bringing their attorney and two sheriff’s deputies to take whatever assets they could get their hands on to pay the debt. An hour later the owners magically had a check from BOA.

This was a PR failure from top to bottom for BOA, and it has paid a heavy price through what can only be described as humiliating national media coverage of the fiasco.

In the interests of full disclosure, my wife and I have been banking with BOA for at least 15 years, and we’ve never had a problem. In fact, our local branch has always been very helpful and responsive whenever we’ve had a question or issue arise.

But this BOA branch in Florida obviously was a different story, and its lack of concern about doing what’s right ended up tainting the BOA name system-wide. It may also have caught the attention of the Florida’s attorney general’s economic crime division.

This is a great example of an issue which, if managed properly, would have quickly gone away. Instead, it became a full-blown crisis, and it will take BOA a long time to live it down. Because of their novelty, “man bites dog” stories always seem to find the light of day.

Ad agencies may not be able to directly influence their clients’ customer service, but they can remind them about the consequences of negative PR and that paying attention to their customers is one way to avoid a costly mess.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

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