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Communication lagging behind growth in Mississippi banks

Banking Today

As Mississippi banks continue to grow in both size and stature, they must deal more effectively with external audiences. This is especially true for those institutions that have their stocks listed on major exchanges and have significantly expanded their shareholder bases as a result of aggressive merger activity.

It shouldn`t be surprising to CEOs or chief financial officers that members of the press and the investment community would follow companies` financials and strategies more closely once they become listed on the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ. But I often find that many Mississippi banks` corporate communications efforts haven`t evolved to fit the size and scope of their current-day operations. Important responsibilities such as investor relations and media relations are often fractured among executives with little or no training in communications disclosure. While these individuals may be good number crunchers or technicians, they may not always be the most savvy of communicators. Inadvertently, they can damage relationships out of defensiveness or testiness in dealing with the press or analysts. In today`s media-centric business environment, such a mistake can be costly. Now more than ever, the development of strong relationships with regional reporters, the trade and financial press, shareholders and analysts is critical to those companies that strive for fair and accurate coverage of company strategies.

Unfortunately, some companies still want to operate as if they are privately-held entities. They want the exposure of being on a prominent exchange, but they don`t want to be bothered with analyst, media or shareholder inquires beyond minimal disclosures. While there are situations where company officials cannot disclose information because of legal parameters, those situations tend to be more the exception rather than the rule. Any bank that puts itself out in the investment community spotlight ought to be prepared to handle the increased accountability and scrutiny that comes with that visibility.

While some Mississippi banks may write off investor or media relations as unnecessary fluff, it`s important to note that some of the most successful banks in the nation – Wachovia, Banc One, NationsBank and others – place a high priority on corporate communications. They recognize that ill-informed media or disgruntled shareholders can wreak havoc upon a company`s reputation. Instead of clamming up when financials aren`t as strong as they`d like, these companies understand that strong constituent relations comes from a two-way flow of information and accessibility to key business-line executives. Importantly, they understand that public relations isn`t just a tool for damage control. A proactive public relations effort that anticipates potential concerns can intelligently prepare bank management for what at times can be challenging situations.

While some Mississippi banks may contend that they don`t have a need for corporate communications staffing, there are some things bank executives can do to strengthen relationships with the press and the investment community. Here`s a few basics to consider:

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