John HartzJohn Hartz

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank was equal parts shocking, difficult and sobering for anyone impacted by the health of the American financial system. Which is to say, everyone.

Some public relations pros will offer analyses of what may have gone wrong and what can be learned from a communications standpoint. I’ll leave that to them. For me, the SVB meltdown had a personal connection and serves as a prompt to reflect on the importance of humility and gratitude in this topsy-turvy business that is the PR world.

The maelstrom of 2023 was, unfortunately, not my first financial crisis. Back in 2008, I was barely ten years into my career with Sloane & Company and representing publicly-traded, multi-state Boston Private Bank & Trust as it navigated a monumental financial meltdown that felt like it might devour the entire global economy. At least that’s how it seemed to my inexperienced and anxious eyes.

Flash forward to 2021, long after we’d wrapped up our work on that business. That year, SVB acquired Boston Private, and it became SVB’s wealth management arm.

Boston Private has always had a special place in my heart because it was the first client I’d ever identified and won largely on my own—identifying the opportunity, selling it in and leading the work. The company and its people had placed their trust in me and our firm to help Boston Private tell its story and protect the organization. Little did I suspect that only a few years after getting started on a remit to raise Boston Private’s profile as it expanded around the country, we’d all be finding our way through an unprecedented economic disaster, charged with communicating effectively and keeping the business going.

For me—and many others connected to Boston Private—the surprise and sadness of the SVB failure was amplified by the fact that it had taken Boston Private—a 36-year-old company that had survived the 2008-09 crisis and seemed like it would be around forever—down along with it. And as I’ve reflected on this outcome as a PR and business professional, I’ve been reminded of a few key things.

In the PR field, you sometimes have the opportunity to be at least a small part of big corporate and historical flashpoints. For me, representing Boston Private during the financial crisis was one of those times, and it was humbling to recollect it.

I recall working with the leaders at Boston Private as the company navigated the terrifying economic environment. None of it was easy, and I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate the challenges looming over the decision-makers there. How to responsibly work through a crisis at a time when so many were panicking, and no one could foresee the outcome? The question hung heavily in the air every day.

The experience was also a reminder about the fragility of the here and now, and why it’s so important to appreciate today. To wit: Boston Private was housed in a beautiful old building in the middle of Boston’s financial district. It was the former home of the Federal Reserve branch in Boston, built in 1922 in a structure that will probably still be standing in 3022.

We used to have meetings in the old bank vault, an underground chamber protected by a massive—now permanently open—metal door, all of which had been refurbished to serve as a museum of the building’s past. Nothing could have felt more solid or stable. But in 2023, we were reminded that no amount of steel or brick can immunize a company from the whims of the market.

It was also a reminder that the market can be indiscriminate. Boston Private worked through the Great Financial Crisis and came out the other side. In addition to serving high-net-worth clients and businesses, Boston Private also became one of the largest lenders in Boston working to issue mortgage loans in low-income areas as part of the Community Reinvestment Act.

When Boston Private was acquired by SVB in 2021, this important work continued, but the meltdown created great short-term uncertainty. Fortunately, it now appears these efforts will keep going, but communities in need—which had nothing to do with SVB’s challenges, inflation or the macro interest rate environment—clearly dodged a bullet.

While I can take no credit for steering Boston Private through difficult times, I’m humbled for having had the chance to help out as it happened. And the aftermath of the SVB-Boston Private saga, as sad as it is, is a reminder to be grateful for a career in PR, where we get a chance to help clients when they need it the most.


John Hartz is President at Sloane & Company, an industry-leading strategic communications firm. Throughout his career, John has focused on a range of the firm’s corporate clients, developing and executing integrated public relations campaigns designed to raise company profiles, protect and enhance reputations, facilitate marketplace positioning, and drive thought leadership. John holds an MBA from Northeastern University and a BA in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross.​​​​​​​