TSB has always been a bank that celebrates its local roots, describing itself as Local banking for Britain, so perhaps it should not be a surprise that three of its five most influential spokespeople during its first anniversary celebrations were branch managers.
Chief executive Paul Pester may have featured in 25 articles, but Michelle Wiggins, manager of TSB’s branch in Chipping Norton, appeared in ten, while the views of her contemporaries in Altrincham and Newport were also widely reported.
For TSB’s head of media relations Charlotte Sjoberg and her assistant manager Rachael Snelling, this simply vindicates their decision to empower high street branches to connect with local media.
Each of TSB’s 631 branches received a press release template in advance of the anniversary, with a ‘pick and mix’ selection of topics and suggested quotes that could be tailored to suit their requirements.
For example, one branch might have wished to highlight its charity fundraising over the past 12 months, while another might want to use the occasion to promote mortgages.
As a result, almost 90 releases were sent out for TSB’s first anniversary campaign. Where several branches shared local media, they worked together to create appropriate releases.
‘The goodwill and excitement that it has generated within the network is incredible,’ says Sjoberg. ‘These were simple quotes by managers in news releases that were picked up by the local media. We are offering our branches the tools to take ownership of their stories in the local media. It is early days, but we are really pleased.
‘We still have control but using our branch network is enabling us to hit media that is important to us.’
Even before its return to the high street in September 2013, TSB recognised the importance of local media.
‘We know people read their local newspapers more than they read national ones,’ says Sjoberg. A bespoke news release, which included information, such as its address and opening hours, and an introduction to its branch manager and staff, was sent to media in every town in which its branches were located. It was time consuming, particularly creating appropriate distribution lists for each branch, but these are now proving invaluable.
‘We wanted to say Don’t worry. We may be the new TSB, but the people in your branch have 50 years’ experience between them,’ explains Sjoberg.
Prior to the bank’s launch, Sjoberg organised media training for TSB’s executive team and network and area directors, which enabled the bank to hold 15 separate media events on launch day.
But the regional focus also had an unexpected benefit, with special features in the local newspapers of three executives. Human resources director Rachel Lock featured in her local paper in Reading, chief financial officer Darren Pope was covered in Bath’s South West Business while Pester, who then lived in Norwich, appeared in a double page spread in Eastern Daily Press.
‘Our branch network is helpfully divided into four regions [Scotland; the north; Wales, Midlands and the south west; London and south east],’ explains Sjoberg. ‘I have eight people reporting into me, and so I have assigned two to each region. It means that you have always got someone in the team thinking about Scotland, for example, and about different projects and initiatives in their regions. It means they are not always doing stuff about current accounts, say, but are instead thinking about a charity event in the north.
‘They then meet the senior people who run their networks, and can interact on a day-to-day basis about what stories there may be and what we could do to help them. Obviously, there are some people who are already involved with their local media and, rather than centralise everything, we have got involved to offer advice.
‘It is up to them to decide what the story is, and we may then offer suggestions on what else they may like to include and other pointers to help the story land well because, ultimately, we deal with more journalists than they ever will. And we don’t want people to get really excited and then find the story is not picked up.’
Such was the enthusiasm to suggest stories of local interest that in June, TSB’s media relations team created a local communications hub on the bank’s intranet.
The hub currently provides 14 press release templates for the branches to get involved with local media, local marketing or even their MPs. For example, one release is about a member of staff celebrating 25 years of service. A further three templates are about to be signed off.
The hub also provides an opportunity for TSB’s internal communications team to learn more about the people who work within the branches.
‘People are eager to do this so therefore we thought Let’s give them the tools and controls to do something quite special. It is a resource that they can all use,’ explains Sjoberg. ‘For example, we are piloting a local numbers initiative in our north region. Each branch will have its own phone number. We posted a news release on the website, and flagged it to the relevant branches, saying Here you are, tailor this release to your own audience and send it back to us.’
In the event, 22 releases on the subject were sent to local media, although most contained information about multiple branches to ensure newspapers did not receive several similar releases.
Sjoberg’s team then signs off the release, and distributes it to the relevant local media using the lists created prior to launch. ‘It is up to the branches to create whatever story they wish,’ she says. Since the hub was established, 220 potential partners from the branches have contacted media relations.
Each Thursday morning, the team send to the network a ‘consolidated view of what happened over the past week’, says Sjoberg, looking at all local media coverage and branch activity. And every Friday, her team ‘makes sure the whole bank sees a selection of the best regional coverage’.
While broadcast is ‘not yet on the horizon’, TSB’s media relations team has supported branches on social media, tweeting local media to engage them on initiatives that the bank is running.
And more recently, TSB has launched a pilot scheme to offer media training to branch managers. The regional directors selected 30 top performers to participate. ‘Before they are even on the scheme, they have to complete an electronic computer course,’ says Sjoberg. ‘If they pass it, then that is a gateway onto the media training courses. Our trainer films them as they ask questions to see how prepared they are. They can say Look, you weren’t prepared for that, and the media will rip you apart. They teach them about the language to use, and help them identify the important issues in their towns so they can build a message around that. They are speaking for their branch and their local community.
It is about thinking about how and why we can make TSB more exciting, and important to the local community, and about bringing our brand to life.’
But Sjoberg concedes that the challenge in operating a local media relations network is ‘resource’, adding: ‘National media covers the day job quite nicely. This is nice to do rather than essential, and creates a huge amount of work, but when you start seeing results, you just think How can we make it smarter?