JPMorgan Chase & Co. is stepping up its bid to separate its image from that of the rest of the beleaguered banking sector.
Employing more than a marketing campaign, the $2.2 trillion-asset New York company — and its chairman and chief executive, James Dimon — have been highly visible in various media, at conferences, and in advertisements, hammering home one message in several ways: JPMorgan Chase is lending.
An ad campaign it launched in November with the tag line "The Way Forward" focuses on how it is originating residential mortgages, providing government financing, making community and business loans, and supporting renewable energy. Meanwhile, Mr. Dimon has been actively out in front of investors, clients, and employees. He even put in an appearance in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, which counterparts shunned as they attended to issues at home.
Carter Franke, a senior vice president of marketing and a key executive behind the campaign, said the overall effort began in late September, when JPMorgan Chase began crafting its mortgage-modification program.
"Since then we have been constantly thinking about the things we can do to get our message out," she said in an interview Thursday. "Our real objective has been to inform."
For the financial sector, September was a particularly tumultuous month punctuated by the Lehman Brothers collapse.
As part of its strategy, JPMorgan Chase is using the Internet more than ever and has created a "micro site" within its Web site highlighting its message. An introduction on that site explains the ongoing initiative this way: "As we move forward, we believe that shareholders will benefit as we do the right thing by our customers and the communities we serve."
Not surprisingly, the effort has prompted others, including Bank of America Corp., to follow suit.
The Charlotte company, which was hit hard with criticism after it posted fourth-quarter loss and its Jan. 1 purchase of Merrill Lynch & Co. led it to seek more capital from the Treasury Department, unveiled its own "Promise to America" campaign Monday. A spokesman for B of A said plans are in place to expand the initiative next week.
Marketing consultants say that JPMorgan Chase's efforts are more multifaceted and more aggressive, and that much of that can be attributed to Mr. Dimon's decision to leverage his charisma and credibility in the market.
For instance, he has asked his company's various units to promote key talking points weekly, according to sources familiar with the effort. Those points include the efforts to modify more than 400,000 residential mortgages and the fact that it originated $150 billion of loans in the fourth quarter.
Mr. Dimon's decision to travel to Davos was partly driven by a desire to show how JPMorgan Chase is tackling the financial crisis, those people said. In the last six weeks he also has discussed the importance of California in meetings with former Washington Mutual Inc. employees and with news media in the state.
JPMorgan Chase also moved up its fourth-quarter earnings report by a week, to Jan. 15, and it managed to eke out a profit largely tied to an accounting gain from the Wamu purchase. Mr. Dimon used the ensuing analyst call and surprise appearance on a conference call with reporters to give specific examples of how his company is putting funds from the Treasury's Capital Purchase Program to use. He cited increased card lending, a municipal deal in Illinois spurned by competitors, and continued interbank lending.
"We think we are in very good shape," Mr. Dimon said during the analyst call. "We are trying to follow the intent and spirit" of the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program, "which is to help the economy … recover and make sure we are financing people."
Also, a video posted on its Web site shows Charles Scharf, the company's retail head, detailing the efforts to modify more than 400,000 mortgages. Ms. Franke said it is evaluating other ways to make those executives and others senior managers more visible in the coming weeks.
Observers said the high-profile approach in recent weeks has differentiated JPMorgan Chase from large competitors such as B of A and Citigroup Inc., where the vast majority of rhetoric coming from the CEO has come in the form of internal memos that have made their way to certain news outlets.
"If much of the information is coming from 'unsanctioned' means, then the company should rethink its strategy," said Will Spivey, a managing partner at Trone Inc., a marketing and communications firm in High Point, N.C. "So much of the communication depends on the corporate culture. It also comes down to the personalities involved. Jamie Dimon has always tried to maintain a higher profile than Ken Lewis."
Observers say one critical aspect of Mr. Dimon's Davos trip was a concerted effort to show a CEO looking relaxed but confident. He dressed in casual attire, rather than an expensive suit, during a CNBC interview.
Doug Spong, the president of the Minneapolis public relations firm Carmichael Lynch Spong, said in an interview that executive visibility is critical to the success of an image campaign.
"A lot of other executives seemed to have largely gone into hiding," he said. Public appearances are also less pricey than major advertising — and less controversial with Tarp-sensitive activists; according to Mr. Spong, full-page ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today can range from $180,000 to $230,000.
Even JPMorgan Chase's media choices have been orchestrated with surgical precision. Its "Way Forward" ads have run not only in the mainstream news media, but also in the Washington mainstays Roll Call, Politico, and The Hill. A source close to the company said those outlets were chosen specifically to target legislators and policymakers.
Judging the overall efficacy of JPMorgan Chase's efforts is difficult, however, and it is hard to measure against the costs, which the company would not disclose. Ms. Franke said it is reluctant to pour money into a qualitative study right now, though the overall feedback has been positive.
Mr. Spivey said efforts by JPMorgan Chase, B of A, and others can gain traction, though getting them to pay off may take some time and near-flawless execution. "Strategic marketing communication can shape behavior," he said. "It can be successful, but it takes a lot longer to build a brand than to tarnish a brand. It is an investment."
Frank Barkocy, the director of research at Mendon Capital Advisors Corp., said that Mr. Dimon has been able to leverage the good will JPMorgan Chase garnered after emerging from last year in better shape than most other large banking companies. If the company stubs its toe in subsequent quarters, whether from its sizable exposure to consumers or from more marks in its investment bank, the strategy could be undermined, he said. "This year, any success they have will remain a question of whether" Mr. Dimon "can maintain his credibility and that of the institution."