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Financial institutions pushing stability

Banks changing marketing efforts

Many Mississippi banks are facing a real challenge. They are diligently trying to get the word out that while some of the mega-banks are in trouble, they are faring relatively well. They are still safe, solid and community oriented, and they have money to lend.

In the March 2009 edition of the American Bankers Association’s ABA Bank Marketing magazine, Virginia Graves wrote in an article titled “Campaigns That Soothe,” “People walking into bank lobbies today are worried less about features and fees… and more about the security of their deposits.”

Indeed, many of the state’s banks have tweaked their advertising campaigns, focusing on their stability and availability of loans. Rick Looser, president and COO of The Cirlot Agency in Flowood, said he is definitely seeing a shift in bank advertising content.

“The main message seems to be we’re solid, we’re safe,” Looser said. “I see more and more banks touting how many years they have been in business. They’re trying to get that customer peace of mind.”

A survey of print, television and radio ads, billboards and websites shows local banks are promoting their security and money available for loans. On its website, Kosciusko-based First M&F pushes its motto “Exceeding Expectations Everyday,” and touts available loans for new and used cars.

BankPlus of Ridgeland continues its multimedia marketing campaign featuring Eli and Archie Manning, both popular in Mississippi for their conservative, “old school” values. Its mantra, “It’s more than a name. It’s a promise,” appears in essentially every promotional piece the bank produces, and it is heavily promoting the fact that this year marks its 100th anniversary.

The First, A National Banking Association in Hattiesburg claims it is “Just the Bank for You,” and the crawl on its website reads “Buying a home? Don’t wait another minute…”

On Biloxi-based Peoples Bank’s website, the message “Protecting assets through natural and financial storms since 1896” is displayed prominently in large type. “When bank failures make headlines, it makes sense to make sure your assets are safe and your bank is secure,” the website goes on to say.

Hancock Bank of Gulfport has had plenty to crow about of late. Its most recent positive ink was being named to “The 100 Most Trustworthy Companies” in America by Forbes.

“We’ve always talked about our strength, stability and integrity, but we’ve recently raised the ante, so to speak, to make sure that is being heard,” said Bob Seals, Hancock Bank corporate marketing director. He pointed to Hancock’s “no bail-out message” last November when the bank declined participation in the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program as a prime example of the bank’s recent marketing efforts to show its security and stability.

Smaller marketing budgets are adding to the challenge of getting out the positive news for some banks. The American Bankers Association’s 2008 ABA Bank Marketing Survey Report found that “economic conditions appeared to affect marketing spending of smaller banks to a greater extent than that of larger banks. Banks with less than $100 million in assets, for example, showed a significant decline in spending marketing dollars both in absolute value and as a percentage of assets compared with 2005.”

Looser said he saw a decline in bank marketing at the end of last year and into early 2009. He said some banks put marketing campaigns on hold, or simply did the minimum to fulfill standing contracts. However, as the first quarter of this year ended, banks’ marketing efforts increased, realizing that they needed to tell their customers that they were fine, and taking advantage of a less crowded advertising playing field.

Seals said Hancock is spending this year roughly what it spent in 2008 on marketing. He said, however, the bank is “pacing” its spending, making sure it has marketing dollars left if and when recovery occurs later this year. And, the bank has shifted the types of media it uses — Hancock is currently utilizing more radio ads because the turnaround time from production to airing is shorter, allowing the bank to get its message out quicker.

Last month, BancorpSouth Inc. in Tupelo recorded net income of $29.5 million when some of its peers were posting big losses. And, just last week BancorpSouth unveiled its first Customer Experience Center. Housed at its Colony Bank branch in Ridgeland, the center looks to allow bank personnel and customers to interact, keeping the bank connected with its clients.

“Our first quarter results again demonstrated that BancorpSouth, through its strong capital structure, asset quality and revenue diversification, is well positioned to deal with the current economic environment,” said BancorpSouth chairman and CEO Aubrey Patterson. “We have ongoing opportunities to expand our market share, particularly in new markets entered through the opening of four full-service branch bank offices so far in 2009 and 17 new offices during 2008. We will continue to focus on controlling our growth, maintaining our credit quality and managing our expenses.”

Perhaps Mississippi banks are too concerned about negative perceptions. An MBJ Online Poll earlier this year asked readers if they had lost confidence in their bank. Nearly 80 percent answered “no.”

Mississippi Banking Commissioner John Allison thinks Mississippi banks just need to keep touting their generally conservative strategies and stability.

“As a whole, the perception in Mississippi is that banks are doing what they are supposed to do,” Allison told the MBJ. “We have some pretty good sized banks for a state the size of Mississippi. But they all operate in a community-oriented fashion with a focus on customer service, knowing the customers, and helping the community. I think that bodes well for Mississippi banks.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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