In the summer of 2001, Ernst & Young LLP (E&Y) approached Hill and Knowlton, requesting assistance to launch Ernst & Young Corporate Finance LLC (EYCF), an investment banking subsidiary that would provide services in the area of corporate finance. The new company would focus on mid-size transactions ($50 million to $1 billion) and would offer a broad range of services including mergers and acquisitions; divestitures and spin-offs; joint ventures and alliances; leveraged recapitalizations; management, employee and leveraged buyout strategies; fairness options; and restructuring advisory services. Hill and Knowlton’s brief was to launch the subsidiary and quickly build awareness and credibility for EYCF and its services and establish it as a player within the financial services arena. A concise program, consisting of media relations, was implemented, generating coverage in numerous publications and establishing EYCF as a recognizable player in the investment banking arena.
CHALLENGE OR OPPORTUNITY
The public relations team faced several communications challenges. First, it was important to build on the brand equity of its parent company, E&Y, but it was also important for EYCF to establish its own identity. Second, EYCF had to distinguish itself from E&Y’s existing corporate finance practice and capitalize on its own strengths – namely practitioners who are licensed broker-dealers and therefore able to get more deeply involved in the transaction process, as opposed to serving in an advisory capacity. Additionally, EYCF was entering the market at a difficult time – the economy was headed for recession and the financial services industry was deluged with issues such as declines in lending and venture capital funding, industry consolidation and declining stock prices. The team had to find a way to break EYCF into this environment, and create a name for it in the mid-sized transaction space. Therefore, a program was needed that would clearly define EYCF’s value proposition and highlight its benefits.
RESEARCH AND PLANNING
Hill and Knowlton undertook the following research:
· A competitive analysis of key players in the financial services arena (large-size and mid-size firms) to determine how EYCF would position itself by leveraging specific service offerings and knowledge
· One-on-one interviews with EYCF communications staff and senior managers to better understand the firm’s goals and to develop key messages about the firm’s services.
· An integrated communications session with marketing and advertising team members to ensure consistency across all mediums
An analysis of the research pointed to several key factors. First, EYCF would be competing against well-known firms focused on mid-size transactions, such as Hambrecht & Quist and Robertson Stevens, which for the most part, had been acquired by even larger, more well-known firms, such as JP Morgan Chase and Fleet, respectively. Second, EYCF needed to articulate why it would not offer equity research and debt financing services offered by other investment banks. Third, while E&Y is well-regarded as a professional services firm, none of the “Big Five” firms are noted for their financial transaction capabilities.
Fortunately, the research indicated that EYCF could capitalize on its core capabilities, such as restructuring and mergers and acquisitions, both of which were essential offerings for current market conditions.
The team developed the following objectives:
· Build visibility for EYCF and establish it as an aggressive, yet objective, deal maker
· Begin to differentiate EYCF from its competition (financial services and professional services firms)
· Communicate the breadth of EYCF services
· Establish EYCF industry leaders as reliable, knowledgeable spokespersons in their respective fields
· Drive businesses to EYCF for transaction support.
The team developed a media relations program that focused on EYCF’s commitment to the success of its clients and building long-term relationships through a robust suite of services. Key messages articulated what made EYCF unique, such as its objectivity (no vested interest in deals), broad perspective and industry contacts. The Hill and Knowlton team wanted to demonstrate the extent to which EYCF could provide clients with specialized services in the mid-size transaction area, global reach and convenience, all with less risk. Our strategies included:
· Introduce EYCF to the media community by highlighting its service offerings and unique position within the financial services arena
· Build a presence in vertical markets (industry areas) relevant to EYCF
· Leverage the knowledge of EYCF management
· Use examples of client work to lend credibility to EYCF
· Leverage momentum of initial media relations effort through continued outreach
Phase I – Getting Ready
The Hill and Knowlton team spent several weeks preparing for the launch of the new firm. Specific activities included:
· Developing supporting materials including bios of industry spokespersons, fact sheets for targeted industry areas, backgrounder, etc.
· Conducting media training for top management
· Identifying spokespersons by industry, practice specialty and region
· Creating media lists of top-tier business press, financial services trades and vertical trades
Phase II – The Launch
On September 5, we announced the formation of EYCF by distributing a press release over business wires and by contacting key journalists to encourage them to interview senior executives at EYCF.
Phase III – Continued Media Support
EYCF executives continued to participate in interviews with business and trade media following the actual launch date. In addition, EYCF industry and practice experts interviewed with reporters at vertical trade publications, providing industry-specific insight on an ongoing basis. The team also continued to identify creative ways to generate media coverage and opportunities for publicity, including media alerts, bylined articles, webcasts and pitch letters targeted to vertical media outlets. Finally, the team sought breaking news opportunities into which we could insert EYCF as a source
We exceeded our goals by generating significant awareness for EYCF as a player in the mid-size transaction space. To date, EYCF’s involvement in the financial services arena has been featured in numerous business and trade media, successfully reaching a variety of audiences including analysts, clients, prospective clients and industry trend spotters. Specific results include:
· Differentiating EYCF from its competition
· Nearly all articles noted three key distinctions: definition of market segment; reasons for choosing this transaction market and; a definition of the relationship between E&Y and EYCF
· Building awareness for EYCF through media coverage
· Coverage has appeared in more than 35 print and online publications including New York Times, Business Week, American Banker, The Daily Deal, Reuters and Bloomberg
· In the vast majority of articles, EYCF was the main focus of the article and at least two of the three messages were conveyed
· Increasing exposure in industry segments that would not necessarily have considered EYCF a player
· Articles appeared in various industry trade magazines, including Hart’s Oil & Gas Investor, Telephony, American Metal Market, Home Furnishing Network
· Industry spokespersons were invited by various publications to submit bylined articles