Bank One, JP Morgan keep on top of merger message

NEW YORK and CHICAGO: Taking the advice of M&A PR veteran Gershon Kekst, the communications teams at JP Morgan Chase and Bank One decided to announce the merger of the two firms through a press release late Wednesday afternoon. The move came in lieu of a late-night, leaked exclusive and was designed to allow communications staffers to keep on top of the story.

NEW YORK and CHICAGO: Taking the advice of M&A PR veteran Gershon Kekst, the communications teams at JP Morgan Chase and Bank One decided to announce the merger of the two firms through a press release late Wednesday afternoon. The move came in lieu of a late-night, leaked exclusive and was designed to allow communications staffers to keep on top of the story.

"It gave us a chance to look at the response and adjust any messaging for the next day," said Frederick Hill, EVP of marketing and communications at JP Morgan Chase, who credited Kekst, founder of Kekst & Co., with the idea. "We discovered that we'd addressed them pretty well. That speaks to the logic of the deal."

The $60 billion deal, which was announced on January 14, garnered intense media interest, as it will create one of the world's largest financial institutions.

Along with Bank One SVP of communications and public affairs Melinda McMullen, Hill and Kekst led the communications team.

The merger release was issued at about 5:30pm EST. Shortly afterward, the CEOs of the two companies, JP Morgan's William Harrison and Bank One's James Dimon, conducted four hours of press interviews.

The communications team reconvened the CEOs at 7am - in time for an appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box. The banks then held an investor meeting at 8am. Two hours later, the CEOs attended a town meeting with JP Morgan employees in New York. The executive duo then flew to Chicago to do the same with Bank One employees.

"There's always a bit of trepidation from employees when there's a merger," McMullen said. "Our function is to communicate as openly and honestly as we can."

The only difference in messaging between the two meetings, according to Hill, was the hosting CEO. "Some people are under the mistaken impression that you need different messages for different people, but if you can't consolidate into one message, then you've got a problem."

In addition to Kekst's guidance, JP Morgan AOR Citigate Sard Verbinnen assisted with media relations in Chicago.

"You've got to have a third person," said Hill, "that set of eyes outside of the firm to enhance what the people inside can do."

For now, the long-term fate of the communications teams and their agencies remains uncertain. While Bank One has no agency of record, JP Morgan enlists the services of Sard Verbinnen, Fleishman-Hillard, and New York-based boutique firm Geduldig & Ferguson.

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