Most bank and credit union marketers are not getting the full value out of their communications campaigns because they are not using a balanced public relations program. Many distribute the occasional news release or have a random media interview and believe they can check off the PR boxes on their list of appropriate things to do.
The only way to receive the full benefits of PR is to have a well-balanced public relations program that delivers steady results throughout the year. This requires using a steady diet of four public relations tactics: news releases, media interviews, byline articles and case studies. This balanced approach to PR enables banks and credit unions to achieve strategic objectives, such as growth, attract more customers and stand out from competitors.
Why news releases still matter
The first release was issued in 1906 after a train crash killed more than 50 people in Atlantic City, New Jersey. An enterprising and ambitious employee at the Pennsylvania Railroad company issued a statement explaining the facts about what had happened, “before journalists could put a different (negative) spin on it.”
News releases are the foundation of any well-balanced PR program because they are created to acknowledge something newsworthy, worth sharing broadly and written in a lean, journalists style (no room for fluff). Written well and distributed regularly, they give financial institutions the ability to generate top-of-mind awareness among key editors and reporters by providing them with timely news their readers want to know about. As a result, journalists are more likely to accept story ideas, bylines and case studies, dramatically increasing the volume and quality of media coverage the organization receives.
Releases that include and reinforce “key words” can also improve a financial institution’s search ranking on Google, which is critically important because now consumers use search engines to help them research options and assist in their buying decisions. Let’s say you distribute a news release announcing a new mobile banking offering and that release is published on a website. As consumers search Google using key terms, such as “mobile banking,” a link to your release will come up in those findings.
Effective news releases are:
- Newsworthy. They offer information that is important to the media outlet’s audience, such as new branch openings; new service offerings, such as mobile banking; and executive hires and promotions.
- Distributed consistently. Consistently distributing news releases enables a financial institution to drive site traffic and increase online visibility for its website. Frequency will vary with the size of the financial institution. Large organizations have more news and may distribute one or more releases a week, whereas smaller community financial institutions may distribute one release a month.
- Support strategic objectives. Any release should advance a business objective. A financial institution that wants to increase visibility in a new market, for example, can distribute a release announcing a new branch opening in that area.
Cultivating subject matter experts and the art of the media interview
Media interviews are the most cost effective way a financial institution can increase brand awareness in key markets. Organizations that receive media coverage, often described as “earned media,” can reach thousands of potential customers.
Interviews enable a bank or credit union to gain a strategic advantage over lesser known rivals with little to no name recognition. Financial institutions that do not have consistent media interviews are at a disadvantage, especially if they are competing against larger banks with national brand recognition. These factors make interviews a must for any well-balanced PR program. Effective media interviews involve:
- Developing newsworthy, timely story topics;
- Providing media training to your spokesperson;
- Creating a compelling pitch that can be offered to the reporter by phone or email;
- Following up to see if the outlet is interested;
- Satisfying any follow up requests from the media, such as an executive headshot; and
- Monitoring for results.
Byline articles provide control over the message and add depth to a subject
A byline, also known as a contributed article, is attributed to a senior-level executive rather than a reporter for a newspaper or magazine. These in-depth articles enable financial institutions to promote executives as experts on issues that are important to their customers. A bank, for example, might write an article offering tips on how to get a second mortgage, leading interested readers to contact the bank for more information.
When writing for a publication, it is important to know their editorial guidelines, which determine whether your articles gets published or not. Guidelines can include things such as word count, writing style and deadlines. Most editorial guidelines can be found on a publication’s website.
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Case studies demonstrate your value and include compelling facts
A case study is an effective tool in your PR program because it builds the financial institution’s credibility by demonstrating how customers use its products or services to solve problems. This approach is effective because consumers trust their peers more than a company. If you were buying a car, would you ask a salesperson about its value or would you prefer to ask someone who already owns the same type of car?
Media relish the chance to speak with customers because they provide the most value for their readers or viewers. Giving the media consumers to speak with will put you on a short list of contacts they can call if they are on deadline and need to secure a source for a story fast.
While case studies are effective, they are sometimes difficult to complete since they require customer participation. Financial institutions should always be looking for customers who are willing to go on record to discuss how they have benefited from the company’s services.
In summary, employing these four PR practices on a consistent basis will enable your financial institutions to get the most out of its PR program, strengthen relationships with its customers and enhance the effectiveness of other marketing functions.
Scott Mills, APR is president of the William Mills Agency, a provider of financial public relations and marketing services. For more information, visit the company’s website at www.williammills.com or contact Scott via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.