12 ways to prepare for your bank’s 15 minutes of fame

Making the most out of an interview or media appearance can bring added attention to your bank. Here are some expert tips for making sure your bank shines in the limelight.

By Roshan McArthur

Knowing how to handle the media has always been challenging, but today, with social media added into the mix, it has become even more complex. News is instant and global, and your customer can even be the reporter. How should community banks and their representatives prepare for press coverage, both in good times and in bad? Here’s how:

1. Know your community bank’s purpose.

“That sounds very simple,” explains Emily Schmidt, a journalist and communications consultant with media training company Speaki2i in Chevy Chase, Md. “But I tell people to be able to say it in one sentence, ideally in three words. What do you stand for? You can’t always anticipate what’s coming from out of the blue, but if you can state what you believe in, it gives you a grounding to build on.”

2. Know your audience.

If you’re doing a TV interview, watch the show beforehand. If you’re being interviewed for a newspaper, magazine or website, read it first. You can even research the journalist to get an idea of their style.

3. Know what you want to say.

Whether you have a week’s notice or just a few minutes, take the time to write down three to five key points that you want to make. Take a fact sheet about the bank with you. It’s easy for your mind to go blank when you’re in the spotlight.

4. Don’t prioritize how you’ll look on camera.

“People always wonder: ‘Where do I put my hands?’ ‘Where do I look?’” Schmidt says. “The journalist can tell you that. Talk the way you would talk to someone in a restaurant or at a networking mixer. What you most need to have prepared is that message.”

5. Get to the point.

The average soundbite is between eight and 12 seconds long, so that may be all the time you have to say what you want to say. Start with what matters most.

6. Speak slowly and in short, succinct sentences.

Say what you planned to say, then stop. Don’t hit the journalist with a wall of information. “It’s a little like a meal where they give you an appetizer, and then the next course and the next course,” Schmidt explains, “as opposed to a buffet where you have all the food and you don’t know exactly where to start. Too many people try to throw it all out, then they say, ‘The journalist didn’t get at all what I was saying.’” Don’t leave room for misinterpretation.

7. Keep confidential information confidential.

Don’t overshare, even if it’s off the record.

8. Prove your point.

If you’re worried about coming across as trustworthy, give examples of how well the bank has performed in the past. Use stories or case studies, but remember to keep them short.

9. Take time to think.

On bad news days, it’s easy to imagine reporters beating down your door. First of all, that’s unlikely to happen. Secondly, if it does, you have the right to say, “I have a client call. I’ll be with you in 10 minutes.” Take your time to think your answers through. In the same vein, don’t take cold calls. Take a number and call the journalist back.

10. But respond promptly.

When it comes to damage control, however, time is of the essence. Schmidt says, “It used to be that people would say, ‘I’ll get back to you by the end of the business day.’ You can’t do that because with social media, that gives potentially an entire business day where a message could get out of your control. The best thing you can do is say, ‘Here’s what we know, here’s what we are looking into, and here’s when we will provide an update.’ And then provide the update.”

11. Show you care.

Always lead with compassion. If there has been a data breach, for example, start by saying, “We take our customers’ security very seriously.”

12. Take control.

When bad news is breaking, make sure your community hears it from you first. Use Facebook or other social media to tell customers what you know and what you are doing. Update them regularly.

Remember: Every customer has the potential to be a news outlet. “If they have a bad customer service experience at your bank,” Schmidt points out, “they can put it out to all of their followers, and suddenly you have a potential crisis or a potential obstacle that has nothing to do with the media. That’s why your message has to be there all the time.”

Roshan McArthur is a writer in California.