HAT IN HAND, FRENCH BANK BEGS PARDON

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PARIS-Two years of media coverage of the financial mismanagement at French bank Credit Lyonnais have frightened clients that the bank is nearly broke-and given rivals the chance to lure them away.

To prevent the flight, Credit Lyonnais, Europe's largest bank, broke an inventive, aggressive multimedia campaign to confess its sins and give customers reasons to stick around.

For years, state-owned Credit Lyonnais relied on ads by Publicis touting its "Power to Say `Yes."' Saying "Yes" to virtually all comers, however, loaded the bank's balance sheet with billions in dodgy loans and bad investments.

These follies explained CL's mounting losses-a staggering $2.4 billion last year. Defaults and expected write-offs became so great by March that France had to inject nearly $1 billion in new cash and underwrite the transfer of $27 billion of CL's nonperforming or weak assets into a new company.

To prevent client exodus, CL in August hired CLM/ BBDO to start an image campaign, which broke this year with a hat-in-hand theme: "Your Bank Owes You an Accounting."

On radio and TV, 10-second teasers acknowledge the bank's image problem but encourage the audience to learn more through 105-second TV spots shown that evening. The longer spots, airing at 7:55 p.m. nightly, detail CL's new policies and attitudes toward investments.

"What we're saying is that CL has gone through a rough period, is facing up to it, and is using the occasion to establish a new relationship with the client based on clarity, accountability, and honesty," explains Patrice Parmentier, CLM's client director. "These are .*.*. explanations of CL policy and advantages, and an honest message that `We want to earn money, you want to earn money, so let's work together as equal partners."'

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