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A recent research report from The Nielsen Company shows that “out of sight” can mean “out of business” for financial services institutions.

What’s the most effective way to stay “in sight” and “top of mind?” The research indicates that public relations strategies are more likely than advertising to be effective in building consumer confidence in financial institutions.

When asked what factors would increase confidence in the safety and soundness of their financial institution, respondents cited:

  • Reading positive news/features stories in the press, 44 percent
  • Seeing regular advertising for that institution, 25 percent
  • Receiving regular mail or e-mail offers, 25 percent
  • Regularly seeing Internet offers/advertising, 21 percent

The research results amplify the point that the most effective messages are those that are transmitted through trusted third parties or by word-of-mouth.

The Nielsen research on brand confidence was a national online survey of 5,500 U.S. respondents, who were asked questions about their confidence in:

  • The bank where they have their personal checking and savings accounts
  • The company that handles their investments and retirement accounts
  • Their life insurance company

The current economy underscores the importance of marketing via third-party influencers and channels, one of the true domains of public relations. Since unpaid media placements are more credible to buyers, public relations should play a key role in building brand value, especially among high involvement brands like financial institutions.

Are you using public relations to stay “in sight” “top of mind?” There’s never been a better time to consider public relations.

One of the most elusive measures of public relations is the impact of quality counsel and crisis avoidance. One effective method is to examine the outcomes other companies experienced in similar crises.

In one case, A Fortune 100 company faced environmental litigation from the state’s attorney general over a clean-up site. Before taking a position to fight or submit, the company’s lead public relations executive recommended working with the CFO to study peer companies to see how they handled similar challenges and what happened as a result.

The study examined the market capitalization of 10 companies in similar circumstances. It found that the five companies that resolved the environmental issue swiftly saw short-term stock price declines before generating an average stock price gain of 8 percent in the ensuing 12 months. Those companies that chose to either not respond or fight saw an average stock price decline of 10 percent, and some never recovered.

The CEO here decided the risk was too great and chose to negotiate a settlement with the state’s attorney general. The company’s stock price declined for a week following news of the settlement, but rebounded to finish the year with a 12 percent net gain.

This is the kind of value effective public relations can deliver and in terms senior leaders and the board of directors understand.

Effective communication starts with knowing what you want to say. But it gets more complicated after that. Technology, egos, departmental agendas, and other issues can disrupt your message, and smart communicators know they can’t just hope for the best.

Here are some basic tips for communicating with your workforce successfully:

  1. Start with face-to-face communication. Nothing builds credibility faster and better than a simple conversation, whether it’s one on one or in a group. Employees will want a chance to ask questions and follow up.
  2. But don’t neglect other vehicles. Print, video, and electronic communications can reinforce key messages and get your words and ideas out to a wider audience. Just use your medium carefully so it doesn’t overpower or distract from the message.
  3. Don’t cover too much information. Send only one or two key messages at a time. Trying to answer every possible question or address every single contingency will tax employees’ attention spans and create confusion.
  4. Know what employees want. Your message will resonate if employees see what’s in it for them. Get to know what their priorities are and tailor your words to fit their needs and goals.
  5. Measure your success. When you have an important message to deliver, decide how you’ll determine whether it’s gotten through. Then evaluate your effectiveness so you can improve your communication in the future.
  6. Reward good communication. Effective communication benefits the organization on all levels. Be on the lookout for employees who express themselves clearly and accurately. Praise them, and encourage everyone to think about their words so they can be understood without trouble.

What are the consumer trends that will have the biggest impact on health care brands? This year’s most promising trends include:

  1. Mobile: 2012 was the year that smartphone owners outnumbered non-smartphone owners. People are increasingly reliant on the mobile web for health information. Is your online strategy ready?
  2. Trust: With a somewhat shaky economy and futures plagued by uncertainty, audiences are becoming skeptical of standard brand messaging. Integrity is now one of the most important qualities in a brand. Do people trust yours?
  3. Feedback loops: Many brands are letting people receive instant feedback on their activities, whether it’s exercise or finances. There is a huge marketing opportunity here for healthcare brands, especially as health systems move from a model based on treatment to one based on prevention.
  4. The upside of down-aging: Thanks to prolonged life spans from medical innovations, people are choosing to stay young—no matter their age. Does your marketing continue to rely on old stereotypes, or are you ready to embrace an audience whose lives and interests are no longer defined by age?

The one thing that all these trends have in common is the rise of health engagement, where smart brands build conversations outside of traditional advertising venues—whether it’s through a smartphone, in an online chat room or at a Zumba class. As the health care marketing landscape changes, we must learn to evolve or be left behind by audiences.

After speaking recently at a university journalism class , many of the questions revolved around how to become a “really good writer.” My suggestions included:

  • Study how other people – particularly good writers – express themselves in words
  • Examine how they take thought and own it, by expressing it in words and phrases that are unique, memorable, evocative and colorful
  • Read a least one daily newspaper or news source, hopefully more
  • Practice, practice, practice, practice …………….

Writing creatively, using descriptive adjectives and “telling your stories” as a way to express your ideas can unleash other creative parts of your brain, as well as make you a more informative, persuasive and captivating writer.

 

CEO’s responding to a recent survey cited Innovation and creativity as the most valuable resources in a down economy. According to the  Anderson Analytics survey, CEOs said during a recession it is imperative to innovate and mine new insights and ideas, demand new, never-been-done-before approaches crafted by the company’s most out-there, creative thinkers.

Don’t be daunted. Any creative endeavor starts with a tiny spark of imagination. If carefully tended, that spark becomes a flame and that can become a roaring fire.

So where do you get your daily dose of inspiration? How do you keep the creativity flowing?  We’ve learned it’s done by creating an environment where ideas are respected, explored and played with, where we are not satisfied with the first solution we come up with, where we can cultivate our appetites to know more and learn more: an environment where we will create something better tomorrow than the good we did today.

That’s our bottom line

“Brands, remember, are about meanings. Every brand means something, and nobody can ever really control all the meanings a brand acquires. Brands are ideas. They are a tangle of associations. They are dreams. In the brand-rich environment in which we live, we take their power for granted,” Richard Branson posits in his book, “Business Stripped Bare.”

Everyone, every company has a brand or a reputation. Whether you like or live your brand is one thing. Whether your customer relates and believes in your band is usually a totally different thing.  And beware – if you don’t define what your brand means, someone else will — most likely your competitors.

Whatever your brand stands for, you have to deliver on that promise. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and deliver everything you promise.

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