Banking on public relations in a digital world

By Betsy McCloskey | Guest Column

Banking used to be simple. Consumers maintained accounts and loans at banks conveniently located near their home. There weren’t digital marketing campaigns with live videos and silly filters to help attract new customers and build brand loyalty, or teams dedicated to increasing brand equity and developing content calendars.

Back then, retention was based on the personal interactions bank employees had with their customers (though the free coffee and popcorn in the lobby probably helped).

According to an analysis of leading U.S. banks’ marketing spending in 2018, national banks spent between $17 million and $3 billion on advertising and public relations for the year. Five of these banks spent over $1 billion each in this time period.

In 2020, most customers no longer require human interaction to complete their everyday banking transactions, so banks are re-polishing their brands and focusing on increasing their visibility and imaging for maximum impact in the ever-changing marketplace. Banks are investing more in public relations and marketing to scale their networks and repositioning themselves to compete with the emergence of direct banks and financial technology (fintech) firms.

Though banks need to ramp up their marketing efforts, there are many regulations to consider. Unlike brands such as Pepsi and Glossier, digital content creators for banking institutions can’t just say anything – and forget modeling a cheeky social strategy like Wendy’s or Charmin. Having a purposeful public relations strategy helps banks:

Anticipate, analyze and interpret consumer opinions and attitude
Research and evaluate communication between the bank and the public
Manage the development and strengthening of resources involving budgeting, recruiting, training and image
Counsel and update employees at all levels and bank shareholders through policy decisions, public ramifications and community responsibilities

A public relations plan involves market research, networking, press releases, copywriting, social presence and crisis intervention, so it’s clear that public relations plays a crucial part in a bank’s success, particularly as technologies advance. Public relations create increased recognition and reputation in the marketplace, making the investment worth every cent.

Whether expanding offerings or managing a crisis, having a solid public relations plan is critical for brick-and-mortar banks that need to compete with and win over their personal and commercial accounts against branchless banks and mobile payment services.

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc. with offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Plaid Swan is a female-owned and operated marketing communications firm.