PR tactics in Wells Fargo vs. Richmond


The battle over the city of Richmond's plan to use eminent domain to seize and restructure underwater mortgages has generated lots of controversy. It has proven to be especially mediagenic on the West Coast.

There is plenty of room for grandstanding, to be sure. We got a glimpse of this recently when it was reported that the mayor of Richmond, a hard-hit city in California, San Francisco had been locked out of a Wells Fargo building as she attempt to confront bank executives about their opposition to the eminent domain plan.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin "was undaunted after bank officials denied her request to speak to CEO John Stumpf and locked the front door. She said the city will not be dissuaded from its plan to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages," according to one local report.

"I am absolutely not backing down," McLaughlin was quoted.

This is great political theater. We'll no doubt see a lot of it as the battle drones on. Wells Fargo, which has sued the city over the plans in its role as a trustee for the likes of Pimco and BlackRock, has sought to add its own spin to the controversy, as it absolutely should.

"Yesterday, a Wells Fargo representative reached out to Mayor McLaughlin to let her know we are available to meet with her to discuss community concerns, but not the eminent domain issue, which is now a subject for the courts," a Wells Fargo spokesman told the San Francisco Business Times. "Wells Fargo cares about Richmond."

The spokesman also said that Wells has employees that live and work in Richmond and that the bank "hosted a two-day home preservation workshop in Richmond last year, meeting with more than 500 troubled borrowers. The bank also participated in a Richmond housing fair in June. In another effort, more than 100 Wells employees worked last year to rehabilitate two homes, a community center and create a community garden."

This is going to get interesting from many points of view, including the tactical PR view.

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