Financial services turn to PR for new era

Financial services companies seem to be finally recognizing the need for a solid, integrated communications platform that goes beyond Wall Street.

Financial services companies seem to be finally recognizing the need for a solid, integrated communications platform that goes beyond Wall Street. In the past couple of months, we've heard of a number of RFPs in the industry – and there are more to come. While in-house communications plans are often harder to get a peek at until a campaign launch, an agency hiring is a bit more public and the industry's version of a “leading indicator.”

Discover and MassMutual are two recent examples. Discover, noting that the industry “has gone through unprecedented changes,” enlisted a new firm to help it better connect with consumers, and MassMutual hired a corporate and insurance AOR after about a decade without a dedicated firm.

There are a number of reasons behind this uptick in agency solicitation by the financial industry. One, of course, is reputation mending. Another is defense against legislation, and a third is the recognition that things have changed after the Great Recession, and that they are continuing to change. For example, the CARD Act that took effect February 1 has altered the way credit card companies can approach college campuses, once a magnet for recruiting the newly liberated young adults to become card holders. Now companies will have to think of new ways to reach this coveted demographic just starting to build credit. Instead of pizza giveaways on campus, companies will likely host credit education seminars or some other education vehicle.

The CARD Act was minor, though, compared to the financial reform bill in the Senate now. All of this change plays into the PR industry's favor. In particular, there is a need to communicate to their customers about the various changes on hand. Each credit card company, for example, seems to be taking a different track toward what to do about overdraft fees. If not done properly, confusion and backlash is sure to ensue. Smart communicators are acting now.

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