Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Finally … Some Good PR in the Banking Sector

Talk about bad public relations! Only 21% of affluent consumers are confident in U.S. banks, according to a recent Gallup survey — the lowest level of consumer confidence in banks in three decades.

The growing financial crisis is taking its toll on everyone. According to a recent Wall Street Journal piece by Robin Sidel, 7.3 million American homeowners will default on their mortgages between 2008 and 2010, about triple the usual rate. Some 4.3 million of those will lose their homes.

The essence of good crisis management is doing the right thing and doing it quickly. Chase did precisely that when it announced its aggressive plan to modify the terms of $70 billion in mortgages for as many as 400,000 borrowers who are — or may soon be — behind on their payments, by moving them into loans with lower interest rates, smaller principal amounts or other more-affordable terms.

Said Charlie Scharf, CEO of Retail Financial Services at Chase: “It doesn't make sense for us to wait [to address the problem]. … We've heard loud and clear and are listening to what some of the thought leaders around the country are saying.”

John Taylor, chief executive of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, called Chase’s announcement “a gutsy move.” We couldn’t agree more. Not only is Chase doing the right thing, it’s demonstrating and increasing the pressure on other lenders to help take some part of the burden off distressed borrowers. It’s a terrific example of proactive public relations and crisis management.

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High-Tech Temptation: Leaving the Laptop Behind

For most public relations professionals, technology is not just a helpful tool; it’s a driver of our business. So, as a PR person, I was initially surprised when I read the headline of a recent Wall Street Journal blog by Nick Wingfield: “Time to Leave the Laptop Behind”.

Wingfield explains: “For years, mobile workers have been ditching their desktop computers for laptops that they can take wherever they go. Now road warriors are starting to realize that they can get even more portability — and lots of computing punch — from smart phones.”

Wingfield cites a recent survey by market research firm In-Stat which revealed that more than half (52%) of technology users said they could envision using a high-tech smart phone in the future as their sole computing device … provided that manufacturers could improve keyboards, screens and applications so that they work like those that come with a PC.

We’re not there yet —Chiclet keyboards and teeny-weeny screens can be mighty frustrating for PR consultants like me who are copious note-takers — but we can see the High-Tech Promised Land that lies just ahead.

Whether smart phones get bigger or laptops get smaller makes no nevermind to me. I just want the technology in place that will let me have my office with me wherever I go!

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Making the Most of Search Engine Marketing

New York-based Advertising Age recently released the 2008 edition of its Search Engine Marketing Fact Pack, an overview of the top search engines, keyword use and “everything else marketers need to know to connect with consumers.”

It’s filled with interesting data. For example, a recent survey of advertisers revealed that they were robbing Peter to pay Paul. When asking which budgets they were diverting to fund search marketing programs, “magazine advertising” was the number one answer, accounting for 32 percent of replies, followed by “website development” (22%) and “direct mail” (17%).

Also worth checking out in the Fact Pack are the industry-specific rankings of the top websites and search terms. Among the sectors addressed: business information, banking, stocks and shares, telecommunications and healthcare. … all valuable business intelligence for branding and marketing firms and public relations consultants.

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The Role of Blogging in Financial Communications

For PR and IR professionals interested in the role of blogging and the social media in financial services, private equity, and investment banking communications, check out the article by Davis D. Janowski in InvestmentNews that addresses the conflicting views of blogging held by financial advisors, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FIRA) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Financial advisors see their blogs as “a harmless, inexpensive technology” that facilitates communication with their clients. FIRA views blogs as ads that require supervisory review. And the SEC contends that blogs should be treated as a company statement.

The bottom line? To avoid compliance problems, be aware of what you are saying in your blog. Keep your communications general and avoid mentioning specific transactions, products or equities by name. For more information, check out these links:

• Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards’ recently updated Standards of Professional Conduct
• “FINRA Provides Guidance Regarding the Review and Supervision of Electronic Communications”

• The SEC’s “Commission Guidance on the Use of Company Web Sites

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