updated 10/3/2007 4:31:37 PM ET 2007-10-03T20:31:37

Troubled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. has hired a prominent public relations firm to boost its sagging image and rally employees’ confidence amid layoffs and financial problems.

The nation’s biggest mortgage lender has retained Burson-Marsteller to craft a campaign designed to “ensure the positive Countrywide story reaches our key audiences,” Countrywide spokesman Rick Simon said in a statement Wednesday.

Dubbed, “Protect our House,” the effort was outlined in a memo sent to Countrywide employees last Friday.

The Calabasas-based company hopes to promote a positive outlook on the company among consumers, policymakers and the media, Simon said.

A spokesman for New York-based Burson-Marsteller declined to comment.

Countrywide has struggled this year as mortgage defaults and foreclosures have spiked, particularly among borrowers with subprime loans.

The company recently said it will eliminate as many as 12,000 jobs. Its stock, meanwhile, is off more than 50 percent from its $45.03 high on Feb. 2.

In a letter distributed to employees last month, Countrywide Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo acknowledged the difficult state of the industry but complained the company had been the target of “critical and inaccurate” coverage by some media outlets.

Mozilo himself has been criticized for cashing in company stock options over the past year by switching his trading plans as the mortgage industry went into a tailspin.

The company has said Mozilo’s stock sales were all within company policy.

Countrywide is also facing a lawsuit claiming it failed to warn employees about the depth of its financial troubles, resulting in heavy losses in 401k retirement accounts that included Countrywide stock.

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