Since corporate home pages are a prime gateway to a company's positioning, messaging and reputation, we examined them to determine how an industry under intense scrutiny rises to the challenge of building trust in tough times
New York, NY (PRWEB) April 9, 2009
The majority of financial services companies - 66% - have been silent recently when it comes to communicating about the economic crisis on their corporate Web site home pages. Leading global public relations firm Weber Shandwick examined the home pages of 55 U.S. and European/EMEA financial services companies on a weekly basis since mid-October to determine how the sector was communicating online as economic news spiraled downward. Surprisingly, home page communications steadily increased from mid-October to mid-February (27% to 45%), but dropped precipitously during the last week of February for no single reason. Only two mentioned the Bernie Madoff fraud over the five-month period.
Economic News and Strength Dominates
When financial services firms did communicate, three main messages appeared most often - general economy updates and statistics (up to 33% in February 2009 from 19% in mid-October 2008), company strength and longevity (25% from 19%) and, least frequently but arguably the most important during difficult times, direct efforts to reassure customers and other visitors about their personal financial security (12% from 15%).
"Since corporate home pages are a prime gateway to a company's positioning, messaging and reputation, we examined them to determine how an industry under intense scrutiny rises to the challenge of building trust in tough times," said Barb Iverson, president of Weber Shandwick's financial services industry practice group. "It is not enough for leading financial services companies to communicate only in good times. Our ongoing analysis leads us to recommend to financial services companies that they use their low-cost/high-impact home pages to communicate more directly and personally with their stakeholders by acknowledging and addressing customer and investor financial concerns."
European/EMEA Firms Slightly More Communicative Early On
Despite the smaller number of European/EMEA financial services firms examined, a greater percentage of them (38%) were early communicators on their Web site home pages compared to U.S. peers (30%). European/EMEA financial services firms may have reacted more quickly when their banks experienced capitalization crises in September and sought funding from the government and Middle Eastern investors. U.S. companies, however, caught up to and surpassed their European/EMEA peers in using home page communications over the five months of the analysis.
Securities Lead the Way
By far, securities firms are currently the most likely to communicate about the crisis on their home pages. All securities firms (100%) were doing so at the end of February. Commercial banks did not communicate via their home pages about the economic crisis as often as securities firms did in mid-October but began communicating more strongly in November.
Video Has a Way to Go
The most common messaging methods employed by the financial services firms examined are corporate statements, commentaries and reports (up to 34% in February 2009 from 19% in mid-October 2008) and videos, audio casts and Webcasts (up to 14% from 10%). The least frequently used type of home page communications formats are press releases, newsletters and executive speeches.
When financial services firms addressed the economic crisis on their home pages, they sometimes linked to a message from a company executive, most likely the CEO/Chairman (up to 24% in February 2009 from 13% in mid-October 2008) although sometimes other executives were utilized. CEOs/Chairmen may have been communicating in the media to articulate their messages about the challenging economic marketplace. However, when CEOs/Chairmen were used on company home pages, they helped to humanize the economic crisis and put a face on the company.
Weber Shandwick's Iverson concludes: "High anxiety undoubtedly causes many people to seek information about the health of the companies in which they entrust savings and investments or do business with on a regular basis. For many, the Web sites of these financial services companies are one of the first places that customers, investors and others go to in search of information and reassurance."
Weber Shandwick recommends financial services companies incorporate the following on the Web site home pages:
- Feature useful and actionable information -- a glossary of terms frequently mentioned in the media about the crisis (e.g., "TARP" or "APS" stimulus and protection packages), FAQs, hot-line numbers, contact names and pictures, description of how the stimulus package is expected to impact customer accounts/investments, etc.
- Craft messages that convey empathy about the crisis and acknowledge customers' confusion and concerns -- recognize the challenging market conditions and the potential for loss of trust and identify specific products that are safe and secure.
- Tap into effective social media tools -- podcasts, Webcasts, blogs and customer discussion forums can engage stakeholders and make the financial services firm relationship more personal and interactive.
Weber Shandwick examined the home pages of 55 financial services companies on a weekly basis between October 17 and February 28 and recorded whether they communicated about the current financial crisis. The majority of financial services firms were Fortune 500 companies. The financial services firms reviewed included securities firms, commercial banks, financial data service firms, diversified financials, private equity/investment firms, and sovereign wealth funds. Several are no longer in business since we began the audit. Weber Shandwick's chief reputation strategist Leslie Gaines-Ross said, "Although a number of the companies in our research commented on economic conditions in less accessible areas of their sites, we saw a reluctance to tackle the issue head on via their most valuable piece of real estate, the home page. As the world's foremost expert on Web usability Jakob Nielsen confirms: 'The home page is your company's face to the world. The home page is the most important page on most Web sites and gets more page views than any other page.'"
About Weber Shandwick:
Weber Shandwick is a leading global public relations agency with offices in 77 markets around the world. The firm's reputation is built on its deep commitment to client service, creativity, collaboration and harnessing the power of Advocates - engaging stakeholders in new and creative ways to build brands and reputation. Weber Shandwick provides strategy and execution across world-class practices such as consumer marketing, healthcare, technology, public affairs, corporate/financial and crisis management. Its specialized services include digital/social media, advertising, market research, and corporate responsibility. Weber Shandwick received the highest client-satisfaction honors in the 2007 Agency Excellence Survey by PRWeek U.S., in 2008 won Large PR Firm of the Year (PR News U.S.), and in 2006 was named European Consultancy of the Year (The Holmes Report) and Network of the Year (Asia Pacific PR Awards). The firm also won the United Nations Grand Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Relations for the past three years. Weber Shandwick is part of the Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG). For more information, visit http://www.webershandwick.com.
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