ABA Banking Journal - April 2009 - (Page 18)
COVER STORY speak out Talking with the press is important, but most effective is enlisting and empowering employees to say, “Here’s what our bank is doing.” N How to avoid the “parameter trap” N One Midwestern bank “gets it” time to T he spectacle of the CEOs of the country’s biggest banks summoned by Congress for a public inquisition can make even the most confident bankers shy away from stepping into the glare of the media spotlight just now. But speaking out—not just in reaction to media questions, where you may have no choice, but proactively—is vitally important for the future of the industry. People all over the country, from all walks of life—almost everyone, literally—are talking about the economy, banks ,and the financial crisis. How could they not be? They are scared and angry. The media are feeding the public’s fear and anger with negative banking stories. And Congress is angry. If there was ever a time to get your story out, now is that time. Not just CEOs need to speak up, but all bank employees. Otherwise only the bad news circulates and feeds on itself. In a well-attended workshop at ABA’s National Conference for Community Bankers in February, communications expert Merrie Spaeth, a former director of media relations in the Reagan White House, and founder and principal of Spaeth Communications (www.spaethcom.com), Dallas, counseled bankers on how to counter the negative headlines and get the word out about how vital banking is and the good news about their own institutions. “People tend to think of communication as a soft skill,” she said, “when in fact it is a strategic skill.” “Let me tell you what my bank is doing” Most banks—indeed most companies—put the bulk of their communications efforts into what Spaeth calls the formal netBy Bill Streeter, editor-in-chief 18 APRIL 2009/ABA BANKING JOURNAL work—one of three types of communications networks. There are countless examples: advertisements, annual reports, newsletters, brochures, websites, and statement stuffers. With the second of the three networks—the media—banks tend to be reactive, responding to queries. In the current environment, bankers could be forgiven for being reluctant to deal with the mainstream media, whom they perceive as hostile and biased. Nevertheless, Spaeth said you have to deal with the press because your customers view it as more credible, even though they will also say they don’t like the press. The media certainly are not telling your story, she said, so you have to reach out to banking and business reporters; send letters to the editor; send an op-ed piece; share customer anecdotes with TV stations. Don’t expect a lot of ink or air time as a result—only one of every ten things you send out gets attention, said Spaeth. But it’s important to do it to help keep your bank top of mind. Most important of the three communications networks is what Spaeth calls informal networks. These are personal encounters—one-on-one, or in a group, such as a speech to the Rotary Club. In other words, all the ways you and your employees talk to people. These informal encounters are very powerful because they are perceived as being more real than formal communications. New channels of communication—primarily web-based—offer many new opportunities for informal communication, Spaeth noted. The key to unlocking the power of the informal network is to have all employees embrace it, because they all have encounters with customers, friends, and family where banking topics come up, especially now. Such conversations have great impact because they’re coming from a real person. Subscribe at www.ababj.com
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