JPMorgan Chase (JPM), which has spent months combating negative headlines, is putting a longtime senior spokeswoman in charge of getting it some more positive attention.
The country's biggest bank on Tuesday promoted Kristin Lemkau to chief marketing officer, adding to her ongoing role as head of communications for its consumer and community banking unit. The timing of the announcement illustrated some of the hurdles facing Lemkau, who took over responsibility for JPMorgan's external image on the same day that the bank agreed to pay $2.6 billion over its involvement in Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
Lemkau is well aware of what she calls "a challenging time in the headlines and with our reputation." To shift attention away from JPMorgan's recent series of regulatory run-ins and toward its bread-and-butter interactions with its customers, Lemkau plans to build out the bank's online and other digital marketing capabilities. She is also taking a hard look at JPMorgan's social-media presence, which recently exposed the bank to a consumer backlash.
"There is a lot of good that's going on in the company. We've got to do a better job of telling that story, and digital channels are going to be an important way to do that," Lemkau, 46, said in an interview Wednesday.
"If you look at our digitally owned channels, we just don't have as rich a strategy as some of our competitors do," she added, citing the company's lack of a main Facebook page and room for improvement with its website. "Our Chase.com site is excellent, but it probably needs more content around what the business does and what the brand stands for, not just about our products."
Mobile phones are another area where Lemkau is hoping to "find better ways frankly of reaching our customers." The recent Target data breach, which affected many Chase credit and debit card customers, highlighted the need for the bank "to find ways of getting to them quickly beyond email, which is time-consuming. Mobile's a good way to do that," she says.
Lemkau also has to figure out the next step for JPMorgan's social-media efforts, especially after a recent Twitter experiment backfired spectacularly. The bank in November tried to conduct an online discussion with one of its executives by soliciting questions via the Twitter hashtag "#AskJPM" but the results turned into a social-media free-for-all, with angry customers and snarky journalists overtaking the hashtag and eventually causing JPMorgan to cancel the discussion.
Lemkau, who says she was not involved in the #AskJPM debacle, calls it "a big mistake" but also a learning experience.
"I'd rather see us frankly make some mistakes than just be too cautious about things so I think we have to get diagnostic about how to make sure we don't make the wrong mistake at the wrong time," she says.
The experience has not completely ruined Twitter for JPMorgan, which currently uses it mostly for customer-service queries and to release its news. Lemkau (who has an infrequently updated personal feed, filled mostly with photos of her children and Boston Red Sox games) is trying to figure out what else to do with it.
"We've got to be there. Our customers are there, it's really important," she says. "We certainly shouldn't be using it to hurt ourselves or to start engaging some of the animosity that's out there. But it's an important tool. Everybody's on it, influencers are out there, probably disproportionate to the rest of the population, and I think we've got to spend some time figuring it out."
Lemkau said that her new job was hashed out "just before Christmas." She will replace Claire Huang, a former Bank of America (BAC) executive who became JPMorgan's first CMO in 2012. Huang is leaving the company for reasons that JPMorgan did not specify, and she did not respond to a LinkedIn message seeking comment. An internal memo thanked Huang for her work and for being "a thoughtful, valued colleague." The memo cited "our current expense and controls environment" as a reason to consolidate its marketing, brand and communications responsibilities in Lemkaus new role.
Lemkau, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, joined JPMorgan in 1998. She ran communications and marketing for its investment bank for five years, before switching to its retail operations in 2010.
Lemkau will continue to report to Gordon Smith, JPMorgan's head of consumer and community banking. Smith praised her diversity of internal experience in a press release, saying that Lemkau "has a deep understanding of our brands and products, and strong relationships with the business CEOs and marketers across the firm."