Communication critical as industry continues evolution

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Published: November 20,2006

As the headlines have shown in recent years, the banking industry has experienced significant change. Merger and acquisition strategies have expanded banks’ geographic footprints within individual states and across state boundaries. Technological innovations and broader business lines have also altered the competitive landscape.

Experts say that effective communication is a vital component in establishing and reinforcing strong relationships among key internal and external audiences, particularly as specific industries or companies experience transition. However, organizing and implementing a comprehensive communications program that provides accurate, timely and relevant information in a consistent manner is no simple task. Contemporary corporate communications and public relations practice in the financial services industry requires not only a proficiency in communication channels and their associated technologies, but also an understanding of industry fundamentals and dynamics. Like one manager notes, you need to have the versatility of a generalist, but the working knowledge of many specific disciplines.

“PR practitioners in any industry must hone proficiencies in many different areas, including but not limited to strong oral and written communication skills, exceptional organizational skills, an ability to anticipate potential PR opportunities and challenges, the aptitude to relate to very diverse internal and external clients and, without question, the capacity to manage multiple priorities calmly and effectively,” says Richard Paul Maxwell, vice president and corporate communications manager for Hancock Bank.

A working knowledge of compliance and regulatory issues is also a part of the territory, as well as a strong comprehension of the company’s mission, purpose and values. Insights into various groups’ expectations for and use of technology is also a key element, according to managers who serve in public relations and corporate communications roles.

While structure and staffing of communications functions varies from organization to organization, Mississippi financial services PR managers state that there tends to be a centralized coordinating point for communication within their respective organizations.

“We take a segmented approach to overall corporate, investor and public relations yet function as a team in preparing the distribution of information to our various publics,” says Gray Wiggers, senior vice president, public affairs, at Trustmark Bank.

Regardless of what a communications function or department is called, many of Mississippi’s larger financial institutions tend to have a specific media contact at the corporate headquarters who is charged with preparing media releases and coordinating incoming interview requests with executive managers, line-of-business managers or regional community bank executives. These communications managers also tend to have responsibility for the development of crisis communication plans.

“Media contact at Community Bank is coordinated through our holding company staff,” says John Arledge, executive vice president for marketing and business development for Community Bancshares. “This helps in fostering a consistent corporate message and also allows us to provide experts from throughout our system to answer media questions that may relate to their particular area of expertise.”

Matching the most knowledgeable interview source on a particular topic in a timely fashion to meet journalists’ deadlines is an overriding goal, according to managers.

BancorpSouth vice president-corporate communications Chuck McIntosh says coordination of interviews through one central point is helpful in avoiding potential redundancies. However, his company does not have one designated spokesperson for all interviews. Sources vary based on the type of story.

“Our goal is to determine the most appropriate person-someone who can provide the best insights — based on the nature of the request,” states Randy Burchfield, BancorpSouth senior vice president and director of corporate marketing.

While managers coordinate incoming media requests, they also state that they are involved in coordinating specific projects such as press conferences or webcasts when necessary. Managers also indicated that they review media coverage via clipping or video viewing sources or from feedback from various managers.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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