If you have not seen or heard an ad for a local bank or credit union (other than your own) in the last couple of days stop reading now…

Okay, since you’re still here, we’ve clearly established that most financial institutions dedicate significant levels of resources toward marketing their brand and/or products through paid and owned channels. Most often we hear ads on the radio, see billboards or encounter online display ads across our favorite websites – each of which is an integral part of a comprehensive campaign.

But what about earned media? It’s called ‘earned’ for a reason – it has news value. It has life. It delivers meaningful content to those reading about it. And no amount of money can secure it. It’s through earned media that we can apply a human element to any financial institution, bolster credibility, and reinforce market leadership.

How Earned Media Can Help You Differentiate

A quality, proactive earned media program (or PR, as it’s often called) is a chance for the institution to tell its stories beyond just the standard product and service offerings, which are often viewed as commodities. These stories can:

  • shed light on the human element that drives the institution, from incredible employee accomplishments to the impact of a volunteer program;
  • tout industry accolades and performance milestones, which provide validated metrics of good performance and good management; ; and
  • position senior leadership as financial experts for the benefit of customer and prospects alike.

In a recent article posted to Forbes, Cision’s Chris Lynch makes a number of great points about the importance of earned media and how it can directly impact the customer experience.

If properly executed, earned media presents an opportunity for an institution to truly differentiate itself by creating a sense of belonging in the community; instilling a level of trust and confidence in its customers; and developing a reputation that can be powerful enough to overcome other shortcomings (or unanticipated problems) to keep current customers and attract prospective customers.

Earned Media Approaches You Can Use

Your earned media program can consist of a box of varied tools:

  • News release program to announce new hires, promotions, employee awards, donations, sponsorships, etc.
  • “Hard” news announcements that focus on major happenings at your bank or credit union
  • Feature story pitches on newsworthy items that warrant in-depth coverage
  • Media briefings in which reporters are invited in to chat with leadership about industry trends, and major initiatives and accomplishments at your institution; this is a great way to establish credibility with local and trade news outlets, especially should you encounter a crisis down the line
  • Crisis communications planning, in which a plan is developed in order to be prepared to address any kind of crisis, such as a natural disaster, employee infraction, customer complaint, embezzlement, robbery or cyber breach
  • Bylined articles and opinion editorials in which representatives from your financial institution can assume a leadership position on banking and community issues
  • Influencer campaign in which your institution works closely with select online influencers, like bloggers, to reach unique target audiences (e.g. college students, millennials, retirees, small business owners, etc.)

Finally, while it’s worthy of a separate, dedicated post, it’s important to point out that we now have the tools at hand to quantify the value of an earned media campaign. No longer do we have to prove its value through ‘ad rates’ and assumptions; we can create direct correlations between an earned media campaign and its ability to deliver results. You can take that to the bank.