Community bank chief executive officers are less likely to be taking star billing in this year's annual reports.

A sampling of newly-released small-bank reports shows the bosses more willing to share the limelight with chicken processors, panoramic vistas, and even giant tomatoes.

The trend among larger banks-along with the rest of corporate America- toward offbeat and sometimes cutting-edge imagery in annual reports is filtering down to even the tiniest community banks.

The hope is to impress more than just analysts-and create a promotional showcase for the bank that can be used year-round.

"They're trying to be a little less intimidating and more user-friendly to the shareholders and investors," said Jimmy Locklear, executive vice president of Phelan Annual Reports Inc. in Atlanta. "Annual reports can be very intimidating, stodgy, boring documents."

In recently released bank reports for 1996 can be found scenes of the Alaskan wilderness and employees volunteering in a local school. Such images have become as common as bar charts and conference rooms full of men in suits.

Mr. Locklear, who helped create the latest annual report for Century South Banks Inc., Gainesville, Ga., said the bank wanted more of a casual look this year. He said like other banks, the $720 million-asset Century South is becoming more marketing-savvy as competition in the industry heats up.

"Last year, it was pretty much everyone who was photographed was in suits," Mr. Locklear said. "This year, it's a lot more informal. We have clients processing chicken, showing people on vacation, or someone getting a diploma in a cap and gown."

Franklin Bancorp., in Washington, D.C., went so far as not to picture anybody in its annual report. Instead it features unusual drawings of concepts near and dear to the bank.

For example, growth is represented by a folk-art illustration of a farmer tending to a massive tomato with currency denominations plastered on it.

"It was whimsical," said Joseph B. Head, an executive vice president whose duties include overseeing production of the annual report. "I had in mind that I wanted to use words on one page and maybe an illustration on another page."

The $2.5 billion-asset National Bancorp of Alaska in Anchorage tries to make its annual report double (or triple) as a marketing tool and an economic report on the state. Besides pictures of customers cavorting in the snow, there are sections that discuss Alaska's fishing industry and environment.

"Our state is very large and very diverse," said Kathleen Soderberg, executive vice president and treasurer. "We try to feature in some way all parts of the state. A lot of people use this as a source for getting a handle on what's happening in the different segments of the economy."

George Mason Bankshares, Fairfax, Va., passed on the "customer" covers of years past and instead used a colorful map of Washington and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs. CEO Bernard H. Clineburg said it would show how the bank has expanded from four to 23 offices since 1990.

"Many people in the community don't realize where we're located," Mr. Clineburg said.

"Consumer friendly" is apparently the buzzword for annual reports this year. Advertising executives say it's a trend coming from the larger banks.

For example, Amsouth Bancorp., an $18.5 billion holding company in Birmingham, Ala., asked Phelan Annual Reports Inc. to help it position itself as a "consumer friendly bank" with a glossy report that looks and reads like an upscale magazine with feature articles, illustrations, and brightly colored graphs, Mr. Locklear said.

Even though such artistic flourishes are on the rise, many community banks still stick to the basics, letting the numbers reign supreme.

"We became aware of the people who really use the annual report-most of them are really interested in the numbers," said Arthur H. Meehan, president and CEO of Medford Bank, Medford, Mass. "Most of the analysts are not particularly interested in what Arthur Meehan has to say."

Bankers on average spend about $3.39 per copy, which is less than the $3.88 average for an annual report nationally, according to the National Investor Relations Institute in Vienna, Va.

By contrast, telecommunications companies spend $5.20 per copy, utilities $2.95.

In some instances, the report is designed to make the bank be taken seriously on Wall Street-meaning there is little need for cute graphics and happy kids.

Cardinal Bancshares, Lexington, Ky., offered up a classic black-and- white document, somewhat reminiscent of a college term paper.

"We take the approach that most people want to look at the financial information on the company, not the collage of pictures," said Jack Brown. "Of course, I'm biased. I'm the chief financial officer."

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