Everyone loves free press, especially financial institutions who need it more now than ever. Banks, having lost both trust and credibility, desperately need neutral news channels to help regain consumer confidence. Yet surprisingly, PR is one of the least utilized tools in the financial marketer’s arsenal. Most just go through the motions, pumping out the occasional press release about last quarter’s results or a new executive hire.
These days, newsmakers work in a 24/7 world, and it takes a lot more than a dry press release to maximize media coverage. You need a fully functioning online newsroom. With an online newsroom (also referred to as virtual pressrooms or media centers), you can deliver the information editors, journalists and writers need even when your PR team isn’t available.
In the course of any given day, The Financial Brand looks at dozens of online newsrooms from banks and credit unions. What works and what doesn’t?
1. Vital Statistics
It’s surprising how few financial institutions incorporate their basic facts, background information, history and milestones into their online press centers. You should consider including asset size, number of customers, number of branches, number of employees and geographic areas served (e.g., which cities, counties, states). At some point in nearly every article every article written about you, a journalist will want at least one of those pieces of information. Publishing this data in your newsroom means one less email or phone call your PR team will have to return.
You might also consider publishing stats that touch on today’s economic hot buttons: number of loans funded, loan volume, small business loans, etc.
This UK online bank has one of the most innovative and robust online media centers in the financial industry. In its “Key Facts & Figures” section, First Direct includes datapoints like 1.16 million customers, 3,200 employees and 2.6 million monthly text messages.
2. Multimedia/Image Library
Editors love images. Give them anything they can use to visually enhance their stories, and you increase your chances of getting more coverage. You should organize an image library into groups, with possible sections for:
- Logos – Provide several versions of your financial institution’s logo in high, medium and low resolution formats. You may also want to include logos for any special products or programs you’ve branded.
- Photos – Branches, people, events
- Video – Any interviews, TV segments, soundbites and b-roll (if you have it)
- Marketing – Showcase ads you’ve run in print and on television
- Presentations – Webinars, podcasts and speeches
- Everything Else – Miscellaneous stuff like charts and graphs
Financial institutions savvy in social media increasingly upload their videos to YouTube, as this platform is compatible with the majority of news sites. It’s easy for editors to paste a YouTube URL into their articles when they want to incorporate video.
When you send out press releases, make sure you give journalists hotlinks where they can find relevant artwork, visuals or support files.
Photos are broken down by branches, logos and advertisements, sponsorships and events, and the board of directors.
Comprised entirely of video, this media gallery is organized into sections with television ads, community support videos, brand/philosophy and a collection of tips and commentary.
3. Bios for Key Staff
List names, titles and photos of key management, perhaps with email addresses. Consider creating more detailed bios for the top brass. It also helps to provide links to any speeches they may have given, awards won or articles in which they have been featured.
MASTERCARD – KEY PEOPLE
Bios and photos are available for all eight members of Mastercard’s executive committee.
Each bio summarizes the person’s career and accomplishments, and showcases a position paper they’ve recently written for the Mastercard “Heart of Commerce” blog.
4. Showcase Your Online Initiatives
The press is always looking for examples of financial institutions using social media, and they are often some of the most engaged followers. Make is easy for journalists to find you on social networks by providing links to your corporate Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube accounts, along with any microsites and other online marketing initiatives.
MASTERCARD – SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS
You can find Mastercard on YouTube and Twitter. Mastercard lists the five PR people that staff its Twitter team.
5. RSS Feeds
Modern journalists are web-savvy and want their information in real time. Providing an RSS feed gives them the ability to receive your press releases as they are published. (If you don’t personally use RSS feeds yet, ask someone who does to show you how. It’s really easy, and will make your life better.)
If you bang out a large volume of press releases like those big boys in banking, you may want to consider offering more than one RSS feed, each with its own unique stream of information.
BofA has 25 different RSS feeds, one for everything from consumer banking and awards to divisions like Merrill Lynch and Countrywide.
6. Sign Me Up!
Some journalists prefer to receive press releases in their inbox, so give people the option to sign up for email updates. Having an opt-in subscription form is an excellent way for your PR group to expand its database of press contacts.
BNP PARIBAS – RECEIVE OUR NEWS
A simple form lets people signup to receive press releases via email.
7. Pour a Spotlight on Your Good Citizenship
Use your online media center to draw attention to your charitable activities, community giving, sponsorships, awards and other good deeds. It seems the media is always out to fry banks in the news, so sharing the more benevolent aspects of your organization may temper a journalist’s slant.
Community banks and credit unions should definitely use their online newsrooms to celebrate the ways in which they are involved locally.
To counterbalance its big bank image, Barclays carefully created a massive section about its ethical business practices. Included are sections on responsible finance, citizenship and community investment.
8. Contact Information
Make sure you have at least one designated press person available to handle media inquiries, and let reporters know what to do to arrange an interview or whom to contact for a quote. Provide the name, personal email and direct phone number for your primary media people. It’s okay to have a generic PR email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), just don’t use that address for your PR staff.
If your media relations people are on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, you may want to include that contact information as well, since most journalists these days are heavily wired and socially networked. You can facilitate press coverage by communicating with journalists in their preferred channel.
When a journalist emails or calls, you should be able to respond within 24 hours or less.
There are names, direct phone numbers and personal email addresses for 18 different PR people at TD. A journalist with a deadline has confidence they will reach a real person within 24 hours.
9. Structured & Organized Press Releases
Many financial institutions have press releases on their websites, but there is much room for improvement. On the main newsroom page, you should list your most recent 3-7 press releases, followed by a link to the complete archive. For each release, provide a headline, summary and publish date. You may choose to feature a couple press releases with big headlines and photos, almost like they might appear on a real news site.
Allow people to sort press releases by date, or browse by topic/keyword. Make sure you include a Search function, and separate results from within the press room from those that are on the rest of the site.
Unless you have a very good reason, never delete a press release from your archive.
Don’t post only PDFs of your press releases. PDFs can be very annoying, especially for those who aren’t quite sure what they are looking for. All press releases should be published as straight text, each on its own page with its own, unique URL. You can provide a PDF download as well, just make sure editors can read your full releases online.
Press releases are presented in reverse-chronological order. Local press releases are available for each region the bank serves. The archive is organized by year.
10. In The News
Journalists want to see how other reporters have covered your financial institution in the past. Your online newsroom should include a list of 3-5 recent media stories about your organization in reverse-chronological order, along with a link to a more exhaustive library.
This press coverage page can include mainstream news stories, trade press, whitepapers and articles written by your employees. Just don’t go crazy and list everyone who republishes your unedited press releases. For each news item, try to limit yourself to one or two stories from the biggest, most reputable media outlets that covered the story.
11. Update Often
There are two reasons you need to update your online newsroom frequently. First, it’s a good habit to get into, as the more PR information you generate, the more press you’ll pick up. Second, journalists want to feel like they are covering a vibrant, thriving organization. Their job is to report on what’s new, exciting and interesting, so don’t make yourself look like an old, stuffy, boring bank where nothing ever happens.
12. Easy Architecture
If you build an online press room, make it easy for journalists and reporters to find. Don’t bury a newsroom link at the bottom of a site map. Put a link to your “Online Press Room” as a section underneath your “About Us” tab, and/or add it to your footer as a text link.
Some publicly traded banks think it makes sense to tuck an online press room into the “Investor Relations” section. While it may make sense to the bank (on their org chart, the same employees who handle investor relations may also deal with the press) but this is very confusing to everyone else, especially journalists who don’t consider themselves “investors” in any way.
A small number of large financial institutions create standalone websites for their online media centers. Their PR teams may like it because they get autonomy and control over their own virtual domain; they don’t have to hit IT up every time the site needs updating, as PR sites do. But a microsite ends up fracturing the experience between two sites, making it more difficult for people in your online press room to explore your products, services and other sections of your website. Furthermore, you’ll yield more SEO value by having such a wealth of financial news and information hosted within your primary site.
Analysis & Conclusion
Public relations used to involve big, bulky press kits loaded with materials that were both expensive to design and costly to produce. Not anymore. The digital landscape makes the distribution and management of public relations items much easier, putting nearly the same level of PR power big banks have into the hands of much smaller financial institutions.
You should save those fancy printed press releases for the big events, and shuffle the bulk of your public relations energy online. The next time your website is slated for a major overhaul, make sure to plan for the addition of an online newsroom.
You can start modestly today, right now, with the essentials. For instance, you might not have any photos or video for a little while, but you can at least create the basic foundation — facts, bios, contacts — knowing what you ultimately want your virtual media center to look like.
Other examples of online newsrooms to evaluate from non-financial companies: