Monday, February 02, 2009

American Express Caught Lying To New York Times

So Why Even Try Making Up Excuses? Violating Media Relations 101

Ron Lieber's column in Saturday's New York Times business section dealt with how American Express would cut customers' credit lines if it didn't like their spending habits or where they were using their cards.
That effectively meant Amex had cooked up a blacklist of merchants. Not so, spokeswoman Susan Korchak, one of the company's top flackettes, claimed to Lieber. "The letters were wrong to imply we were looking at certain merchants," she said.
Lieber focused on the plight of one man who had his credit limit chopped. One reason given was that customers who had shopped at stores he had made charges at had stopped paying their bills. What stores? We're not telling, said Amex.
But here's where the story gets really interesting. As Lieber writes:

Now, the company says that there never was such a list. So what about the language in its letters to cardholders, which calls out particular “establishments” where cardholders had shopped, I asked. Well, apparently that was all just a big misunderstanding, despite the number of people who must have been in on drafting the notes in the first place.

Granted, Lieber is paraphrasing when he writes "big misunderstanding." That's probably the term he had to use after Korchak was left out of breath backpedaling from a corporate FUBAR. And being married to a former Amex employee, I can tell you that, if anything, too many people review things before they go out. What was in the letter was what was intended. There are no misunderstandings at American Express.
And there is also no more list.
The company last week decided "spending patterns" would no longer factor into decisions on credit-line reductions.
Fine and dandy. But in the process, Amex gave itself a black eye by denying the existence of something that they and many of their customers knew was there all along.
The first lesson you should learn in P.R. school is never lie to the media -- and, by extension, the public.
Rule number two: see rule number one.

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