Bank trust departments will soon have a new marketing option for wooing customers away from better-known financial firms with sharper images.

A collaboration between a bank consulting group and an advertising agency has produced a syndicated print advertising campaign that banks can use on their own, or together with other banks, to promote their trust departments.

The campaign, which is being rolled out this week, is the product of Wealth Management Network, a four-year-old joint venture between two Richmond, Va., organizations: SourceOne Consulting Group and Market Strategies Inc., an advertising and marketing firm.

As part of the campaign, banks will be able to choose from seven advertising themes - ranging from an education theme, where readers are informed about what a trust department does, to a "clarification" theme, where the ad tries to do away with the perception of trust departments as old-fashioned.

At a cost of no more than $8,500 for a series of three ads, Wealth Management's executives said their campaign is more affordable than a custom-made campaign, which industry sources say can run into the six figures.

In addition, banks can even pool resources to jointly advertise, thus cutting costs.

"Bank trust departments are competing with the Merrill Lynches of the world, not with each other," said Harold G. Bell Jr., executive director of SourceOne.

The ad campaign follows a study that SourceOne and Market Strategies put together two years ago, when they sampled trust departments at 109 banks. The study showed that some banks lost customers to large and wealthy investment firms, brokers, and mutual fund companies, and even estate lawyers.

One problem, according to the study, was that nonbank financial institutions have more money to spend on print media.

"Over the years, bank trust departments have always had the best service, the best performance, and the best price," Mr. Bell said.

"What was different was that nonbank competition spent a lot of time on advertising and selling," he added.

The group's research shows that in 1990 alone, the top five investment firms in the country had a combined advertising budget of more than $100 million. More than half of the banks surveyed, on the other hand, had advertising budgets of $100,000 or less.

Syndicated advertising is nothing new to banks. Community banks across the country, for example, are increasingly turning to syndicated television commercials.

But with the exception of large banks, like U.S. Trust Co., trust departments have not traditionally advertised their services.

"In the past, trust departments wanted to keep a very conservative image," said Roger D. Neathawk, the chairman of Market Strategies. "And advertising wasn't considered conservative."

At least one banker sees the benefits of the new ad campaign for trust departments. F. Gregory Ahern, a senior vice president at State Street Bank and Trust, whose Boston-based bank recently launched a major print campaign to reposition itself as a money manager, said the campaign is a "novel approach," to be used especially by smaller banks.

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