A recent Weekly Adviser column discussed setting goals for public relations in the community bank so that PR can be an effective tool of bank operations and not just an ego builder or something done simply because everyone else does it.

The column brought forth a solid, useful letter from Carol Batzli Barkley, marketing manager of the Richfield Bank and Trust Co. of Richfield, Minn. which, incidentally, states right on its letterhead, "An Independent Bank.")

Ms. Barkley writes:

"I would wholeheartedly agree with your main premise that goals are necessary for a successful partnership with a PR firm (or with any outside service vendor). There are several other points in your article with which I disagree, however, and a few points which were overlooked.

Choosing a PR Firm

"One issue your article did not address was how to choose an agency and how to compensate it. We interviewed several firms and made a final choice based on the strength of references. Also, the firm we chose appeared to be the only one we talked to that was comfortable with our primary instruction: |stay within the budget.'

"The firm did not have the showiest presentation and did not trot out its top executives to impress us. In fact, the person who pitched our account would ultimately become our account representative, so we didn't feel we were sold on the owner's personality only to be turned over to a junior staff member.

Shunning the Retainer Fee

"While some bankers still pay their PR agencies a monthly retainer fee, we prefer to pay our firm based on completed projects.

"We set a monthly expenditure limit and receive a full accounting of hours, materials, and various services rendered for each project. This method of payment was suggested by our account representative, who understood that we are results-driven and would be uncomfortable paying a nebulous monthly charge.

"Our goals are very clear: We want to build recognition for the bank.

"We want the media, and ultimately the consumers, to recognize our bank and our bankers as trustworthy resources for expert financial information.

"Your article noted that many organizations' goals for PR were exclusively for the purpose of executive ego gratification. While this is not our purpose, we do want our executives to appear in financial and community publications. We are in an industry where our people are as important as our products. Our customers want to bank with people they trust and respect.

"Of equal importance is the ability to use publicity to generate a feeling of goodwill within the community. Recent focus groups conducted for Richfield Bank and Trust reinforced the importance of publicizing the bank's community-mindedness.

"Our customers told us that they do notice and are proud of our institution's involvement in their community. For some customers it is a primary reason they continue to bank with us.

"You wrote that: |PR people state emphatically that PR is not marketing.' We disagree.

"In some cases, of course, PR is not intended for marketing purposes. But we believe that truly effective PR is an integral part of the marketing mix.

Superior to Advertising

"And there are times when PR is more effective than traditional marketing techniques such as advertising. We believe PR is superior to advertising for promoting complex products such as reverse mortgages.

"Recently an article in the local paper featured quotes from our reverse mortgage specialist that triggered 10 times the response of an ad run the same week.

"PR professionals can lend an important ingredient to a solid marketing plan. Yes, they must be placed under the same controls, goals, and budget restraints an any other vendor And yes, they should not be used merely to write press releases about employee promotions. But a well-conceived PR campaign can be a measurable value to a community bank."

Weekly Adviser comment: Wow! What a useful letter.

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