The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., acquired National City Corporation in late 2008 amid the greatest financial upheaval in American history since the Great Depression. Integrating the two companies created an unprecedented challenge: Introduce PNC’s brand in new markets as the company’s size doubled to become a top five bank in the United States during an era of eroding consumer trust in banks. By traditional standards, the integration was significant, ranking among the four largest conversions in U.S. banking history. But even with its time-tested experience of seven previous integrations, PNC faced strategic and reputational challenges in this environment as it sought to retain customers, inspire new employees and reassure shareholders and community partners.
Critical to the company’s success was customer-focused operational execution supported by skillfully integrated communications. PNC implemented a four-phase integration that enabled the bank to retain more than 95 percent of six million new customers, complete the merger of 1,300 new branches in nine states six months ahead of schedule and then grow the business to record earnings. Industry analysts recognized PNC’s performance with top investment recommendations among peers, and Banker Magazine named PNC “Bank of the Year in the USA 2010.”
PNC’s greatest integration challenge was to build trust and convey advantages the combined company offered to customers, employees, communities and shareholders. Given the widespread economic uncertainty, communications needed to overcome extreme variations in brand awareness, leverage the company’s structure to deliver communications at both corporate and local levels, and instill confidence among key stakeholders.
• Customers: PNC achieved strong brand awareness in existing markets but was relatively unknown in many National City markets. Further, the bank needed to prepare six million National City customers for the upcoming changes with their banking relationships and accounts.
• Employees: PNC needed to engage, educate and motivate half of its employees on the benefits of their new employer, while overcoming the stress and uncertainty that accompany a merger.
• Communities: Local community leaders worried about whether the combined bank would invest as heavily as its predecessor in philanthropic pursuits.
• Shareholders: Investors had high expectations that the company would deliver value on the transaction as it doubled in size, despite the dark economic times.
Unprecedented government intervention to support financial companies created intense public scrutiny of the banking industry. Public opinion research showed Americans’ trust or confidence in banks was at an all-time low, just 15 percent, while banks/financial services companies were blamed by more than half of the public for the economic downturn. Thus, PNC needed to differentiate its brand from the villainous perceptions of Wall Street banks. PNC media coverage analysis, conducted by Cision, showed historically the bank had generated more positive press contributing to the company’s overall favorable reputation than peers, thanks to a comprehensive proactive media approach supported by aggressive issues management. Clearly, research supported an active media relations strategy to tell the integration story: “PNC does it right.”
- Objective 1: Maintain or install confidence among key stakeholders about PNC in an unprecedented economic environment
- Objective 2: Retain customers and drive brand awareness by demonstrating the strengths of the PNC-National City combination for customers and communities
- Objective 3: Heighten awareness of PNC as an outstanding corporate citizen
The bank created a three-pronged communications program to address the distinct needs of its stakeholders during the integration.
First, proactively engaging the media enabled local company leaders to deliver messages pre-conversion to reinforce the advantages of becoming part of the PNC family, using media to reach key constituents. PNC seeded the brand in new markets, leveraged company milestones to focus on conversion and addressed non-conversion-related challenges with issues management. Next, customer/prospect communications supported marketing outreach, equipped employees to tell the PNC story and highlighted product innovation, as well as the bank’s strength and stability. Finally, a community-focused strategy, supported by local market leader outreach, reinforced or built partnerships while demonstrating PNC’s ongoing commitment as an involved corporate citizen.
Pre-conversion work required media training for more than 100 local leaders during the company’s four integration phases. Six weeks before conversion, the company aggressively pursued local media interviews, positioning well-regarded market regional presidents to serve as the face of PNC.
Messages reinforced financial soundness and conversion expertise/process. Stability was underscored through local continuity with the same familiar team providing customers with a more robust product set, deeper capital resources and local decision-making. To heighten awareness of the company’s outstanding corporate citizenship, PNC combined charitable giving and community commitments from both legacy banks and later introduced PNC’s major philanthropic programs.
Conversion messages communicated by Retail Banking leaders in news media prepared customers for upcoming changes, unveiled the PNC brand using local signage and affirmed customer benefits of the combined organization. Following each conversion phase, PNC declared success, generating additional media coverage as major brand advertising launched. Finally, post-conversion communications further brightened PNC’s reputation and drove new customer acquisition, while ongoing media activities helped tie PNC to communities through sponsorships and the company’s signature philanthropic cause, PNC Grow Up Great, a 10-year, $100 million early childhood education initiative to help prepare children from birth to age five for success in school and life.
Objective 1: Maintain or install confidence among key stakeholders about PNC in unprecedented economic environment
- Proactive media approach generated more than 500 news stories, with zero negative coverage related to customer issues. Print, broadcast and online news outlets, combined with media web chats, directly positioned PNC as a strong, customer- and community-focused bank.
- Cision media analysis tracked PNC and four key competitors in ten national media outlets. Following integration, PNC achieved its highest positive Impact Score in the history of Cision’s quarterly analysis, as PNC surpassed its peer class in positive coverage by six percent.
- Quarterly earnings statements stressed PNC’s integration success, and industry analysts rated PNC with the highest recommendation among peers. The company was named “Bank of the Year in the USA 2010” by Banker Magazine, published in London by the Financial Times.
Objective 2: Retain customers and drive brand awareness by demonstrating the strengths of the combined banks for customers and communities
- Outstanding operational execution, supported by an effective communications approach, enabled PNC to retain more than 95 percent of six million customers in nine states.
- PNC brand awareness achieved the fastest growth in new markets in the company’s history. TNS Global Market Research results showed significant increases in all key brand health measures following conversion: PNC’s advertising and media campaigns were successful and resonated with consumers. PNC was on par or ahead of the competition on trust and financial success among consumers across its footprint.
Objective 3: Heighten awareness of PNC as an outstanding corporate citizen
- PNC’s $50 million annual community giving assured community leaders and enabled the post-conversion launch of dozens of sponsorships, engaging community organizations to help drive further media coverage.
- PNC boosted the quality of life in lower-income neighborhoods by launching 10 local market programs as part of PNC Grow Up Great. These programs generated more than 50 additional community support stories in major dailies, TV, social media, ethnic media and blogs.
- In addition, PNC introduced multi-year arts programs generating 29 news stories, and Twitter and Facebook traffic by arts partners and grant recipients.