t's time to let the secret out. Bankers know it, many
customers know it, and the beneficiaries of their community relations activities know it. So do regulators who assess bank Community Reinvestment Act records.
But that's not enough. Unless bankers shed their reticence, the fact that banks are good corporate citizens will continue to be unknown to many people.
With more community leaders raising questions about the industry's responsiveness to community needs-and the issue soon to be an even more popular topic now that CRA ratings will be available to the public-it behooves bankers to do a lot of talking about their community activities. They must also do more press relations work, so their deeds are covered in print and on the air. Meet the press. Admittedly, the dissemination of information to journalists, government officials, community leaders, shareholders, and others is harder for small banks than large institutions. Small bankers don't have sizeable-or, in some cases, any-public relations departments.
However, the challenge isn't insurmountable, nor does it require new skills. Banks do good jobs in telling current and potential customers about their services. And it is not uncommon for bankers to become adept at winning reputations as important players in their communities. Telling the CRA story requires more of the same.
Start with the media. Local newspapers, magazines, radio, and television are responsible for disseminating news of interest and banks have news of interest. The media has the capability to reach thousands of people and bankers, in turn, want these people to get the news. As a consequence, the potential for mutual benefit from increased banker-joumalist dialogue is enormous.
There are several steps banks can take to get news to the media:
(1) Send press releases. Offering a counseling service to area residents? Establishing a special credit program for the economically disadvantaged? Have a press release written and send it to the media.
The text needn't be voluminous; one or two double-spaced typewritten pages suffice. And the content and style don't have to win a Pulitzer Prize-simply present the facts, let the media know whom they can contact for additional information.
(2) Call local editors and publishers. Bankers, editors, and publishers often travel in the same circles and have at least a nodding acquaintance. Take advantage of this by calling and suggesting news stories. Most media executives welcome suggestions, and act on those they feel have merit.
(3) Submit op-ed articles or offer to be interviewed on local radio or television. Many newspapers have "op-ed" pages for which they will accept articles by area residents who have something newsworthy to say. Write short articles (between 500 and 1,000 words) on a topical issue with a focus on what your bank is doing.
If you don't have the time or writing expertise in-house, work with local freelance writers or ask your trade association for help.
Additionally, let local radio and television editors and talk show staffers know of your willingness to discuss issues.
(4) Obtain photographs. The print media likes to embellish stories with photos or use pictures and captions as standalone items. Have photographs taken of the bank performing CRA-related activities, say, closing a loan as part of a special lending program. Write captions for these photographs and send them to members of the press.
(5) Try institutional advertising. More and more banks are using their CRA stories as subject matter for advertisements and with good reason. Advertising allows control over what is said, as well as where, when, and how the message appears. New York state banks, for example, have purchased print space and air time during the past year to declare their commitment to their communities, describe special lending programs for the poor, and target special messages to the elderly or handicapped. …