How Banks Can Best Use Public Relations to Grow Faster
How many stories can a community bank be included in without sending a press release over the wire?
In the case of First Bank, a New Jersey state-chartered bank, more than 300 in just under four years. That includes mentions in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. During that same period, the bank has grown exponentially in nearly every conceivable category, including diluted earnings per share, net income, number of branches, acquisitions and total deposits. They’re proof that any bank can stand out and thrive among the giants in the competitive news landscape, even if they currently find themselves overshadowed by the more prominent players.
Smaller institutions have unique stories to tell—ones that resonate deeply with local communities and potential customers. The key is in harnessing the power of public relations (PR) to tell that story in a way that elevates your bank’s visibility and, later, your revenue, growth and deposits.
Here are a few suggestions on how banks can capitalize on positive media attention.
1. Understand the Power of PR for Banks
PR is not merely about managing or avoiding a crisis or scandal. For regional and community banks, PR is about sharing their value proposition, showcasing their deep community involvement, highlighting their unique services and solidifying their place in the local economy.
Engaging in PR initiatives helps regional banks create a better brand image, develop greater trust among community members and differentiate themselves from the big-box banks that may seem impersonal or out-of-touch.
2. Establishing a Rapport with Reporters
PR is more than writing and sending out a few press releases. It’s also about performing an art fading in mastery: a phone call. When winning over the media, a few 10-minute calls can make all the difference. Why? Relationship-building.
Editors and reporters are always looking for intriguing stories, especially those that start in local communities and have the legs to be stretched regionally and nationally. For you, that means thinking more about industry trends, not just company announcements, when approaching the media. Give the press actual journalistic value. Self-promotion will take care of itself.
By developing a genuine news relationship, you can become a valuable go-to source for economic trends and insights. Here’s how to make the most of those short interactions:
- Be Prepared: Before you get on a call, clearly understand what you’d like to convey. A concise, engaging narrative can make your expertise stand out.
- Offer Value: Rather than pushing your agenda, consider what insights or trends the reporter might be interested in. Offering valuable insights can position your bank as a thought leader. Remember to provide insight that the reporter’s audience will find newsworthy, not just your customers.
- Follow Up: Don’t let your conversation end with the call. Summarize key points with an email, offer additional resources and stay in touch. A sustained relationship can lead to more frequent and favorable coverage in the future.
3. Turning Front-Page Mentions into Tangible Financial Gains
When comments from leaders at your bank get picked up by the media, the potential for increased visibility and credibility is immense. Here’s how to leverage those mentions:
- Promote Your Coverage: Share the story across all your digital channels. That includes your website, social media and email newsletters, which will boost your visibility and help reinforce trust among your existing and potential customers.
- Engage with Your Audience: Encourage your community to engage with the story. Ask for feedback, answer questions and use the opportunity to highlight how your bank’s expertise benefits them directly.
- Monitor and Measure: Use tracking tools to see how much traffic the coverage brings to your website or any subsequent increase in account openings or inquiries. This data can be valuable in refining future PR strategies.
- Incorporate in Marketing Materials: Use positive press mentions in your marketing materials. Examples include brochures, posters and digital ads. These materials will serve as a testament to your bank’s credibility and community trust.
4. Choosing the Right PR Agency
For many banks, managing PR in-house is not feasible or efficient. Other times, in-house efforts can get the ball rolling but not at the speed required for growth. Working with the right PR agency can turn the tide. Here’s what to consider:
- Experience in the Banking Sector: The financial world is complex. An agency with experience delivering PR results in banking can navigate this intricacy and craft narratives that resonate.
- Local Connections: A PR agency with connections in your community or region can more effectively cover your bank’s story with the right publications.
- Proactive Approach: Look for an agency that reacts to situations and proactively identifies PR opportunities for your bank.
Case Study: How First Bank Became the Voice of Community Banking
When the federal government launched the Paycheck Protection Program to incentivize businesses to keep their employees on payroll amid the COVID-19 crisis, reports quickly surfaced that big-box banks were not working closely with customers to review and process each loan accurately.
Not so at CMA client First Bank, which, despite having a workforce a fraction of the size of a so-called national brand, worked one-on-one with every customer to keep businesses in their service area open. And First Bank wasn’t alone. Smaller banks nationwide were in a similar position, working overtime to meet loan demand and soothe escalating worries.
That was the local story with a national pull.
As such, CMA set up a virtual news service for First Bank, securing a series of interviews about how smaller banks were dealing with an unprecedented emergency with a sliver of the staffing of the Big Four banks. By year’s end, commentary from First Bank’s top executive led to more than half a billion online impressions and placements in the following top-tier publications:
- The New York Times
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Washington Post
- CBS News
- U.S. News & World Report
- Business Insider
The media relations efforts continued in 2021 and 2022 as regional banks helped Main Street America rebuild after the pandemic and resulting high inflation. Another dimension was added in 2023: a major acquisition of another bank, which expanded First Bank’s roots deeper into eastern Pennsylvania. More than 300 stories have included commentary from First Bank executives since 2020.
Remember, it’s not just about being in the news. It’s about making headlines for the right reasons, like First Bank. With the right PR and marketing strategies, you will, too.