Mid-Citco Inc. is spiffing up its image with a nearly head-to-toe marketing makeover.

Among its new strategies, the $1.4 billion-asset Chicago-based company has hired an outside ad agency, is rolling out a new and improved direct mail program, and is even contracting with "mystery shoppers" to assess bank employees.

Concentrating on marketing "should be one of the top agenda items of any community bank that wants to remain in business," said Kenneth A. Skopec, Mid-Citco's president and chief executive. "We as bankers are going to have to be stronger in sales culture."

When Mr. Skopec joined Mid City National Bank of Chicago in 1952 as a teller trainee, most of its customers were small- to medium-size businesses. But through time and acquisitions, retail business has become dominant, he said.

"That has caused us to refocus and identify where our real market is," he said. "We have made a great effort to get to know our market better."

Mid-Citco soon will conduct its first market research study of current and potential customers and will begin using detailed customer profiles to target more specific niches.

"Today we're blanketing with statement stuffers," said Jack Macholl, marketing director since May. Using profiles will let the company target, for example, customers between 35 and 60 years old who don't have equity loans.

And for about two years, the bank has hired mystery shoppers who visit bank locations and anonymously rate bank employees' courtesy and knowledge. Mr. Macholl has changed the company's advertising strategy as well.

Mid-Citco, Which earned $3.5 million for the third quarter, up 10.68% from a year earlier, has an annual advertising budget just under $1 million. Mr. Macholl knows he can't outspend the big guys, but he can work smarter.

"I can't see Banc One or Other superregional, players directing as much effort to individual branch communities as we can," Mr. Macholl said.

In Mid-Citco's case those communities are diverse: the company owns Mid-City National, Bank of Elmburst, and First National Bank of Morton Grove in Illinois, as well as Union Bank and TrustCo., Oklahoma City.

The company, however, still can use much of the same advertising in both markets with a fairly easy change of logo and bank name, he said.

While Mid-Citco, which posted third-quarter return on assets of 1.02% and return on equity of 12.38%, continues to advertise mainly on radio and in community newspapers, the company now uses outside public relations, advertising, and design firms.

"My predecessor literally ran an in-house ad agency," said Mr. Macholl. whose experience includes managing the marketing departments at LaSalle Northwest National Bank and First Colonial Bankshares in Chicago.

Subsequently, the creative aspects of the ads have changed, he said. For instance, the latest home equity campaign features actors' voices, whereas previous ads were read by radio station personalities.

"I didn't feel those Were as memorable or impactful," Mr. Macholl said.

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