Touting Employee Ownership Pays Off
Rubenstein, Jim, Independent Banker
If done right, image campaigns can be effective in retaining and attracting business--particularly when the bank needs to protect market share. Bank of Benton has the practical experience to prove that theory correct.
The $145 million-asset bank in western Kentucky has something else special: it is 53.77 percent owned by employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP)--a feature that became the centerpiece for a successful seven-month ad campaign.
"We've always felt employee ownership was an ideal way of attracting and keeping the most talented employees and so far it has worked well," says bank Chairman and CEO Frank J. Nichols.
A key element of the ad campaign, which has used newspapers, radio and billboards, was employee testimonials that cite bank ownership and long-term interest in the community.
Survival and self-protection were the initial motivators in the campaign, Nichols concedes. When the bank saw one of its lead competitors swallowed up by an out-of-state institution, the people at the Bank of Benton decided they should act quickly to bolster the "hometown, locally owned" image.
The commercials, which played off the bank's logo, "Bank of Benton--Where You Know the Owners," focused on the hobbies and pet projects of employees but tied their interests to customer service.
The copy of one ad, showing Vice President Gary Clark on a tractor working on his farm property, reads: "When you talk to Gary about a loan, you're talking to someone who appreciates and shares your values. You're also talking to one of the owners. Any decisions about your loan will be made right here, not by out-of-town strangers."
Nichols said the campaign, created by Sheehy & Associates of Louisville, has been successful because it "gave us a clear local identity--that we are a bank that has its roots here."
He said business is up 10-12 percent since the campaign started last April.
Deborah Lutz, assistant vice president for marketing, said the campaign theme of "real people" doing their jobs to help the public was an effective message. …