Bank marketers, strap on your seatbelts!

Recent moves by a host of banking companies to spend big bucks on building brand recognition are expected to elevate the status of marketing executives and their staffs.

These professionals have already come a long way from the days when a bank marketer was the guy who simply bought ads in the local newspaper. It's one of the few areas in banking where jobs are being added rather than cut.

Today, banks are not only hiring better-paid marketers and giving them more responsibilities but also investing more money to staff larger departments.

Citicorp, the nations' second-largest banking company, revolutionized bank marketing in the 1970s when it hired a number of executives from leading consumer products companies. And it is still doing so; on Friday it tapped Brian Ruder, president of H.J. Heinz & Co.'s U.S.A. retail division, as head of global marketing.

He assumes his new post next month.

Citi still tops the industry in marketing moxie, but some big regionals are following its lead.

What was once known as the "arts and crafts department" of a bank is now a major strategic center, said Lynn Brown, senior vice president and director of marketing for Wachovia Corp., Winston-Salem, N.C.

Mr. Brown, who previously worked for Banc One Corp. and Philip Morris Cos.' Kraft unit, has a staff of 70 and says it is still growing.

His department is responsible for marketing and strategy, so he looks for people possessing not only creative and marketing skills but also specialties in strategic planning and technical analysis.

The latter has become necessary to help Wachovia make sense of the deluge of data it has on customers.

Because of the added responsibilities, the very definition of a marketing chief has changed at banks.

"It's more of a chief strategy job," said Kevin Connelly, an executive recruiter for Spencer Stuart in Chicago. "Historically, marketing took care of the advertising budget, and it may have had public relations under its belt, but now it's a whole new world of merging the creative side with the technology side."

Cleveland-based KeyCorp hired former American Express Co. executive Stephen A. Cone two and a half years ago to head marketing and strategic planning. Mr. Cone, an executive vice president, was hired in large part because of his experience in mining customer data and marketing to these people based on this information.

To help the company create a national brand identity, Mr. Cone hired Julia Adamsen, a former Pepsico executive, as senior vice president of corporate marketing.

She's one of eight senior vice presidents and more than 100 employees who work for Mr. Cone. His department's payroll is down somewhat from a year ago because of KeyCorp's major current cost-cutting program.

Another Ohio company, Banc One Corp., Columbus, last year hired Kenneth T. Stevens, a former executive at Taco Bell, a Pepsico unit, to head its national retail operation.

Mr. Stevens, whose mission is to make Banc One a household name, is likely the highest-ranking marketing executive in the banking industry. He's one of the top five or six executives at the company. Mr. Cone is one of the top nine executives at KeyCorp.

The marketing posts at Banc One, KeyCorp, and Citicorp are all newly created, and Peter Crist, president of the Chicago executive search firm Crist Partners Ltd., said he believes other banking companies will create similar posts.

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