CMO Q&A: Marty Dickinson, Sterling Bank

Sterling Bank's Marty Dickinson speaks about rebranding efforts and effectively communicating to staff about a merger.

Tell me about the rebranding effort you led when you joined Sterling in 2011.
Sterling was a 30-year-old bank and it had gone through some challenges during the financial crisis. However, it came out of the crisis a stronger, better bank that was still intact in its communities and still had the loyalty of its customers and associates.

We thought the timing was right to refresh and put a new package around the fundamental values that were already in place. We unveiled a new website, signage, business packages, collateral, and photography (below).

We repackaged everything from the ground up, but it never felt contrived to our customers, communities, or associates because the values that we were building off, such as having integrity and being a strong resourceful bank, had already been demonstrated for the last 30 years.

Everyone needs a fresh haircut every now and then. We did not change the core of Sterling - we just enhanced it.

How is marketing and communications structured at Sterling?
When I got here, marketing and communications were independent of one another. Our communications group handles the intranet for our 2,600 employees, as well as external communications as it relates to PR and community messaging.

The marketing unit oversees advertising, brand loyalty, revenue generation, and customer experience. I report to CEO Greg Seibly, and I have a VP of communications and a VP of marketing. They lead two teams, but they function seamlessly.

When I arrived, we brought them together. A key part to me joining Sterling was knowing we had the ability to do that because if we were going to rebrand, we needed to integrate the marketing and communications departments so they could tell the story of the bank and show examples of how people live the brand internally and externally.

Where does social fit?
Social media is a piece of our marketing group. We created a digital media team that handles social and everything digital. That unit ensures there is consistent messaging for those conversations we are having with employees, customers, and communities.

Although it is a fabulous marketing channel for us, there has to be great discipline and consistency across all social media outlets.

How did you announce the upcoming merger with Umpqua Bank internally?
We used a multi-faceted approach. Through our rebranding effort, we rebuilt the validity and necessity of our intranet as our core channel of internal communications.

Because we operate across five states and have 2,600 employees, we needed to ensure that our intranet, which we call The Source, had credibility and became the place people would go to for details on the rebranding effort. People then saw that the site was a place to find real-time, factual, and often two-way information and communication.

We did an entire page on The Source dedicated to the announcement of the merger. Umpqua is known for, and does a phenomenal job around its own internal communications, so it partnered with us and we were able to put together a really collaborative joint associate communications piece, both online and in print.

The theme behind the merger was that Sterling and Umpqua are more alike than different. In addition to The Source, we distributed merger packets and a series of conference calls with leadership out to our associates. We wrapped up a road show of town halls in December, where leadership had gone to markets for six weeks and met with employees for nothing other than Q&As to talk about what is happening.

We also announced the merger on social and tried to be consistent with Umpqua's digital and social media messaging.

What are your plans going forward with the merger?
It is a pretty large undertaking, so we have cross-functional teams at every level of both organizations. We have a communications and marketing strategy as we work to a close time, which will probably be mid-2014.

We are going to do an internal culture campaign for both sets of employees, so they can get to know one another.

We are also looking at doing some joint community giving and sponsorship opportunities where we can bring volunteers together as a means to introduce us as a unified organization. In Q1 2014, we are also kicking off another series of town halls, but this time they will have leaders present from both Sterling and Umpqua.

What's your proudest accomplishment?
So far, it has been building this cohesive and comprehensive marketing and communications team, and coming together in a way where we are seamless.

We have been successful as a unified group around rebranding the organization and then going on from there.

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