Teaching through Channels

By Patton, Carol | Independent Banker, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Teaching through Channels


Patton, Carol, Independent Banker


2011 ICBA NATIONAL COMMUNITY BANK SERVICE AWARD RECIPIENTS

WHETHER REACHING KIDS THROUGH SCHOOLS OR ADULTS OVER THE AIRWAVES, COMMUNITY BANKS GET CREATIVE AT FINANCIAL LITERACY

GARY TRAPKUS, Hilltop National Bank, Casper, Wyo.

Casper, Wyo., is a small city of 51,000 people with Wyoming's largest hospital. It's where former Vice President Richard Cheney and his wife, Lynne, grew up. It receives about 71.5 inches of snow a year.

It's also the home of familyowned Hilltop National Bank, which has 165 employees at six branches. For the past 25 years, the community bank has helped local residents understand banking jargon, concepts, products and services through radio and TV spots.

For most of those years, Gary Trapkus, vice president of marketing, worked behind the scenes. He wrote more than 600 threeminute scripts for the bank's first radio show, "Financial Straight Talk."

From 1986 to 1999, the scripts were recorded by N.P. Van Maren, then the bank's president. They aired every weekday morning on KTWO, a small AM radio station. At first, the bank spent $1,000 of its advertising budget on radio ads each month. In exchange, the radio station aired the interviews, which always ended with "Presented by Hilltop."

Trapkus' education was mainly in finance, not writing. Besides his bachelor's degree in psychology from Illinois' Augustana College, he took several graduate-level finance courses at the University of Iowa, then in 1983 completed a three-year graduate banking program at the University of Washington, Seattle. Trapkus, who writes everything from brochures to banking advice articles for a local magazine, likens words to verbal erector sets: The fun and challenge, he says, is putting them together in different ways that create an engaging picture for readers.

Although the radio program was designed as a community education tool, it also promoted the bank, positioning it as a trusted source of information. "We've received positive responses from our clients and across the community," adds John Jorgensen, Hilltop's president. "Gary's written pieces are excellent examples of his ability to communicate with our customers and prospects."

Economy inspires shows

During the mid-1980s, the oil business experienced a severe financial downturn. So did Casper, which is nicknamed "the oil city." Local headlines focused on foreclosures and business failures.

In 1988, Hilltop set out to lift the community's spirits. The bank spent hundreds of ad dollars each month sponsoring radio spots featuring successful local businesses, even those that weren't Hilltop customers. KTWO cold-called employers, searching for stable or growing companies to tell their stories. It recorded three interviews per month, each two minutes long, and aired them multiple times a month. So far, more than 1,000 shows have been aired under the Financial Straight Talk banner.

Around the same time, the bank also began airing 60-second business testimonials by Hilltop customers on TV stations, mainly KCWY, the local NBC affiliate. The bank pays KCWY up to $4,000 a month to videotape and broadcast the spots. It then uses the audio track for radio ads and converts testimonials into newspaper and movie theater ads.

More than 200 testimonials have been broadcast, including several during Super Bowl XLV, which cost Hilltop an additional $8,000. The testimonials not only promote Hilltop but turn employers into local celebrities, expanding their customer base.

One such ad "showed my brand-new office and equipment," says dentist Kent Doing, whose testimonial ran for nearly two years. "It drew a lot of people in. It definitely increased business."

Mixing media

Ten years passed before the bank sponsored another radio show. From 2000 to 2003, it spent several hundred ad dollars a week producing two-minute morning-drive spots, "Mike and Mark in the Morning," hosted by two Hilltop consumer lenders. …

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