NetBank: The Pioneer in Online Banking
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NetBank: The Pioneer in Online Banking

In January 2001, NetBank, an Alpharetta, GA-based Internet bank was doing pretty well for itself. The Company was slowly expanding its strong local presence and acquiring customers.

Paul Holmes

In January 2001, NetBank, an Alpharetta, GA-based Internet bank was doing pretty well for itself.   The Company was slowly expanding its strong local presence and acquiring customers.  However, the Company was still a virtual unknown outside of its local arena and was one of many in a sea of online banks and other Internet companies.  In addition, we were entering the era of the dot.com implosion—Internet companies were one-by-one falling off the radar screen and many consumers as well as the financial community were very skeptical of the online banking industry.

At the same time, Weber Shandwick Worldwide embarked upon a strategic communications and aggressive media outreach campaign on behalf of NetBank. The program was designed to distinguish NetBank as the “leader” and “pioneer” within the online banking arena. Weber Shandwick educated mass-market consumers of NetBank’s products and services as a way to build brand recognition and while at the same time working to build “buzz” for the online banking industry.  In addition, Weber Shandwick had to also prove to the financial community as well as consumers that NetBank’s business model worked and that the company was here to stay. 

The integrated corporate communications program that was developed and executed on behalf of NetBank, despite all the challenges and obstacles Weber Shandwick faced, was successful in putting NetBank on the map.  As evident in the coverage of the Company in the business and trade media, a pinnacle of which was a story on the front-page of the Wall Street Journal, the program raised the profile of NetBank, increased awareness of NetBank’s products and services and put both the Company and its CEO, DR Grimes on the map within the financial media community. In addition, consumers and Wall Street alike are now embracing NetBank as well as the overall online banking community as a viable option for conducting banking and additional financial services.

RESEARCH/OBJECTIVES

Weber Shandwick’s objectives were to distinguish NetBank as “the” leader and “pioneer” within the online banking arena, work to position DR Grimes as an “industry luminary” within the Internet marketplace as well as work to increase awareness of NetBank’s superior product offerings and its Internet banking services. In order to achieve our objectives, Weber Shandwick began to research the competitive landscape in order to determine the best strategic approach. Weber Shandwick researched coverage of Internet companies, online banks as well as brick and mortar banks in order to determine where NetBank stood in respect to its online and offline competitors.  The research objective was four-fold:
Understand the challenges facing NetBank in carving out a niche in the marketplace;
Review of peer group including online banks as well as brick and mortar with an online presence to determine competitive media landscape;     
Research banking media contacts;
Research the changing business landscape.
Understand the major “players” in the online banking arena
Demise of other online banks
Proliferation of traditional banks as online alternatives

STRATEGIC APPROACH

In order to meet the previous outlined objectives, Weber Shandwick’s strategy was two-fold:
Building the Brand: Increase brand awareness of NetBank in order to drive and enhance the Company’s customer base and at the same time heighten awareness of the industry.
Working the Street: Build presence for NetBank and its senior leadership within the financial media community by working to drive Wall Street.

EXECUTION

Weber Shandwick utilized the following vehicles to communicate these messages:
Secured interviews with influential media outlets to begin establishing NetBank’s DR Grimes, as the key spokesperson for the online banking industry and thereby indirectly positioning NetBank as “the” leader in the online banking playing field;
Developed a corporate communications plan for announcing a series of NetBank acquisitions, including CompuBank & Market Street Mortgage, thereby working to further position NetBank as the diversified “winner” within the online banking industry;
Created a consumer and corporate-based editorial calendar program for NetBank to secure inclusion in all big picture internet banking related features;
Diversified the company’s communications with key audiences to include media, speaking engagements, and conferences;
Drafted a series of press releases that highlighted major initiatives, partnerships, new product announcements and quarterly earnings in order to show to both the financial community and consumers NetBank’s continued growth.

RESULTS

The results speak for themselves.  Weber Shandwick was able to garner consistent media coverage in top-tier outlets as well as key trade publications including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Investor’s Business Daily, Financial Times, BusinessWeek, CNBC, Forbes “Best of the Web”, Upside, Daily Deal, Dow Jones, Bloomberg TV American Banker, US Banker, Mortgage Banking, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

Some key quotes that highlight NetBank’s success include: Dow Jones reported NetBank “Completed the acquisition of Market Street Mortgage. The Deal represents significant revenue opportunities and further establishes the bank as a dominant online financial services provider.”  Red Herring reported “A dot.com that you can bank on.” San Francisco Business Times in its August 6, 2001 story stated, “NetBank’s success and profitability is widely followed in the industry as one model of online banking that is working.” 

The placements that Weber Shandwick secured reflect the results of its strategic and proactive media relations campaign.  The results also reflect – the consumers increased awareness of NetBank’s products and services; an overwhelming presence of both the Company and DR Grimes within the financial community; and how consumers and the financial community have come to embrace the online banking industry.

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