How Comical Ali Changed A Bank


The disinformation of an Iraqi minister led to openness and critical journalism

It was back in 2003. American troops were engaged in Iraq meeting only sporadic opposition from Iraqi forces.

All the while, the information minister of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Comical Ali – or Baghdad Bob as he was nicknamed in the United States – held  daily press briefings of a very colorful variety, declaring the invincibility of the Iraqi forces and denying the presence of American tanks in Baghdad. In fact, they were within a few hundred yards of the presidential palace and could be heard in the background during the press briefings.

Back in those days I was heading communications and marketing at the Danske Bank Group, one of the largest financial institutions in Scandinavia. Inspired by the events in Iraq, my boss at the time, CEO Peter Straarup, challenged me in a friendly, teasing manner.

”You are like Comical Ali. Let’s have open and critical journalism in the bank. No holds barred”, he said.

Until then, we had gradually developed a more critical approach to our stories about the bank. In the past they had been strictly controlled, and we had not yet taken the step to report as if we were outside journalists.

I accepted the challenge and my editorial team became more critical – reporting on failed IT projects, dissatisfied employees and lackluster sales results.

At the early stage we became very unpopular among the top brass of the bank. They were not used to see failures reported internally without sugarcoating, but it worked.

It opened a free flow of communications and greatly increased the credibility of the management. Nothing breeds cynicism in a company like misinformation.

The legitimate concern of many executives that the stories would flow into outside media turned out to be overrated. External media want disclosures that meet opposition – not self-confessed failures.

Still, going all out with critical journalism was a step too far and we adjusted the concept slightly to make it more constructive, but it opened for a free flow of communications.

Later, when I headed the effort of A.P. Moller – Maersk to open the company to external stakeholders, I found that films are even more effective than articles to make communications flow – and especially films that find their audience.

This Is Touch uses films aired on television to get the stories out to millions of viewers. Not just once, but repeatedly.

Photo: Nicolas Alejandro/CC

Steen Reeslev is the managing partner of This Is Touch – a company providing television airtime for corporations in the growth markets of Latin-America, Asia, and Africa. Previously he was senior vice president responsible for Group Relations at A.P. Moller-Maersk. This Is Touch is based on experience from A.P. Moller-Maersk. The company produced a large number of films on all aspects of the business. The high quality of the films gave access to airtime on television in more than 30 markets.