Solvent financial entities boost comms amid panic

NEW YORK: Financial services companies in good standing are aggressively communicating with customers and the media during this time of great economic uncertainty.

NEW YORK: Financial services companies in good standing are aggressively communicating with customers and the media about their competitive advantage and the investment opportunities available during this time of great economic uncertainty.

Sarah Bulgatz, director of corporate PR at Charles Schwab, said her company has used multiple communications channels to reach consumers. Its eponymous founder – who returned to the CEO post in 2004 –appeared in the latest issue of Portfolio to discuss the financial crisis and why people should continue investing.

“Consumers in general are wondering what's going on and what will happen next,” Bulgatz said. “People generally have a ton of questions, so we've attempted to anticipate and answer some of them in a proactive way. Everything we're doing is designed to try and help people put the situation in some perspective and make good investment decisions, not [ones] based on emotion.”

Schwab chief investment strategist Liz Ann Sonders is serving as the primary face of the company in the media and on the corporate Web site, explaining what the potential ramifications are of the proposed federal bailout package. But Bulgatz said that branch managers and brokers could help by connecting with customers through local media.

Schwab and T. Rowe Price also took out ads in national papers intended to complement online information and media outreach conveying that not all financial services companies are in trouble, said Steve Norwitz, T. Rowe Price's VP of PR.

“One of the concerns people might naturally have is that if Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, and companies like that can lose their financial footing, then why can't anybody?” Norwitz said. “We want to reassure customers that's not the case with us.”

Norwitz said that his communications team has not been receiving more media inquiries than normal, perhaps because reporters are too busy covering the fast-changing current events in Washington.

The company has posted on its Web site six different interviews with individual investors that answer questions they have about their accounts and how to view the long-term impact of the current financial turmoil.

Another company, E-Trade, said that a recent edition of its futures and options trading seminar, held in Chicago, appeared to attract additional interest because of present market conditions. Such financial instruments are viewed as one way to counter falling equity prices.

E-Trade media relations manager Alison Cahill said her company wants to educate and “encourage customers to be more active and aware about their investments.”

In addition, E-Trade outreach efforts encourage customers to attend webinars on investment strategy. The company is also continuing its ongoing marketing campaign that includes online and TV ads.

However, not all recent campaigns were launched in response to the current financial strife.

Zurich Financial Services Group recently introduced a global branding initiative geared toward individual consumers, investors, and analysts around the world, though initially focusing on the US, UK, and Switzerland. The effort had been planned for months.

According to Arun Sinha, Zurich's chief marcomms officer, the campaign emphasizes its customer-centric research, Zurich HelpPoint. He said that the message is still “extremely relevant.

“Given the market turmoil right now,” he said, “we have to reassure our customers that the strength and stability of the company and what we provide for them is there.”

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