Stephen Cone likes to create drama.
As he describes an upcoming advertising campaign for Cleveland-based KeyCorp, where he has worked for three years as executive vice president and chief marketing officer, he makes no attempt at subtlety.
"It's going to be done in a way no bank has ever done before," he declares.
Indeed the 47-year-old Mr. Cone, the son of a speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford, has tried some unorthodox marketing approaches in his tenure at KeyCorp. He came up with the idea of teller machines that double as juke boxes or video games. He hired Anthony Edwards, star of the hit television series "ER," to be the company's spokesman. And he put discount broker Charles Schwab on the cover of KeyCorp's 1996 annual report. (Mr. Edwards was the cover boy for the 1995 annual report.)
What's next for KeyCorp and Mr. Cone? A fine-tuning of the company's national advertising campaign, he said in a recent interview.
The company is considering dropping its tag line "Key for a New America" in favor of a more direct slogan. "We want to more specifically say we provide financial solutions," Mr. Cone said. A new slogan or tag line will probably be introduced next year.
One thing that won't change is the use of Mr. Edwards as spokesman. In fact, Mr. Cone is devising more ways to use him.
Such spokesmen, Mr. Cone said, help create brand awareness. Mr. Edwards appears in KeyCorp's television, radio, and print ads, and his voice is heard on KeyCorp's telephone message system. Life-size cardboard cutouts of Mr. Edwards also occupy space at branches. The actor even addressed a conference of Wall Street analysts last year and gave out signed pictures of himself.
Mr. Cone hopes to re-sign Mr. Edwards when his contract expires next year.
The actor was chosen after KeyCorp conducted surveys to judge his credibility and his influence on customers. Though bigger-name actors such as Sean Connery or Harrison Ford earned higher points, they "would have taken my entire marketing budget"-$100 million a year for the past two years-Mr. Cone said.
Banks have tended to use humor in their advertising in the past couple of years, and KeyCorp is no exception, but Mr. Cone said humor has to be balanced with a message.
"Humor always works better than lack of humor if there's a message there," he said. But "if you're not careful, you can create a lot of fun commercials without selling anything."
A major focus of KeyCorp's new advertising campaign will be electronic commerce. That includes, but is not limited to Internet banking; the company will also tout its telephone banking and teller machines in new ads.
Analyst Michael Mayo of Credit Suisse First Boston said KeyCorp is clearly a savvy marketer, but "it's tough to measure" how that adds to its bottom line.
A recent analyst's report from Merrill Lynch said data base marketing seems to be boosting sales. KeyCorp booked $162 million of loans over the phone in the second quarter, up from $96.5 million a year earlier, the report said.
When Mr. Cone, a veteran of American Express Co., joined KeyCorp he was critical of bankers.
Indeed, he still finds them "dull" and says the industry is "inbred." But bankers are becoming more receptive to marketing, he said.
As for his own future, he is enjoying what he's doing, he said, but "I don't think marketing people should get 10-year pins."