For the first time, community bankers have their very own month. June is National Community Banking Month, and the honorees are gearing up to make it known.

Scores of community bankers plan to fly to Washington next week to press the flesh with their representatives and talk about issues. Meanwhile, back in small towns and big cities, community bankers are launching an image advertising blitz.

"It's crucial to distinguish the important role community banks play and to toot our own horn," said Frank Pinto, president and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, who is spearheading the nationwide marketing effort. "Our ... reason for existence is community reinvestment. We've got to distinguish our role."

The community bankers are taking a leaf from the credit union industry's strategy book. For years, credit unions have promoted their "movement" and have formed a powerful lobby. Community bankers are realizing that a unified voice could help in fighting off harmful legislation.

The month was declared by the Independent Bankers Association of America, a trade group representing about 6,000 community banks. "We've got to be much more vocal en masse if we're going to be taken seriously," said Christopher Williston, president and chief executive of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, who headed efforts to organize the Washington trip. "Our competition has done it effectively for years."

Next week, about 200 bankers from 14 states are expected to travel to the nation's capital. Although many state associations hold individual annual meetings with legislators and regulators in Washington, a larger group coming together should drive home the point that community bankers are unified and serious about tackling issues that pose a threat to the industry.

Visiting later in the congressional year allows bankers to target issues from the session, which this year include bills on interstate branching, bankruptcy, the Superfund law, and the community development fund initiative, Mr. Williston said.

Spreading the Word

The vast marketing effort evolves from a nationwide task force of community banking association staffers who developed various marketing products for state associations and banks to tailor to their own needs.

About 30 states' community banking associations and banks have chosen from materials such as proclamations, news releases, opinion pieces, and advertisements. In-house marketing components include placard, stickers, statement inserts, brochures, and events and promotions.

Donna Sell, marketing officer for $84 million-asset Community State Bank in Union Grove, Wis., helped the Independent Community Bankers Association of Wisconsin formulate the marketing kit that it sent to members. "We made it, as we put it, 'just add water,'" she said. "It was meant to get as many banks involved as we possibly could."

Her own bank, led by former IBAA president David Ballweg, will employ many of the promotional ideas.

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