From North Jersey Community Bank to ConnectOne Bank: PR’s Role in a Successful Rebrand and IPO

How MWW PR Group’s Program Built a Base of Advocates from Main Street to Wall Street

By Frank Sorrentino, Chairman and CEO, ConnectOne Bank

Frank Sorrentino

Having a strong PR strategy to guide major organizational change is essential to minimizing disruption for employees, customers and a business’ daily operations. In fact, maintaining focus and communicating the value of change can mean the difference between dissention and lifetime loyalty, and MWW’s branding and public relations capabilities were instrumental through our bank’s corporate rebrand, initial public offering and management expansion.

Most importantly, MWW PR helped us recognize that business changes do not only impact our shareholders and investors. Our customers – the small business owners and the local communities we serve everyday – needed to feel vested and a part of our decision making processes for rolling out a new name and brand, and becoming a publicly traded company. Timing and tone were essential factors in our success. With communications constraints resulting from our IPO, including an SEC-mandated “quiet period,” outreach was limited to certain windows, making every communication count.  PR strategy ensured that our customers heard the news from us first, understood the purpose behind the changes and were assured that the superior service they have come to expect from ConnectOne would continue. We were able to influence how these changes were perceived by the market by proactively telling our story behind the change and the media coverage reflected those messages.

The following provides a deeper dive on how we brought our new brand to life…

CHALLENGE

As ConnectOne Bank considered its business outlook for 2012/2013, growth continued to be top of mind. This included plans for an initial public offering, which took place on Tuesday, February 12, a name change and an expansion to its executive management team (adding a chief technology officer and compliance officer).

In preparation for the IPO, it was critical that the public relations program set the stage for ConnectOne’s larger aspirations and shaped public perception of the Bank as a major player in the broader banking community – and not just within community banking or Northern New Jersey. A critical challenge was to demonstrate the Bank’s commitment to its mission of being “a better place to be” for its customers and employees, even during times of change and continued growth. Additionally, MWW needed to educate the media in real time on the updates from the Bank and make sure they understood and believed in the Bank’s strategy for growth.

STRATEGY

MWW put its media relations campaign into high gear to cement CEO Frank Sorrentino III’s position as a thought leader on all things banking and finance and what it means to small business owners, the Bank’s key customer. Going beyond their regional community, we increased the frequency of national print and broadcast interviews that provided Sorrentino an opportunity to comment on breaking economic news as well as discuss the Bank’s vision for the banking industry, small business issues and key principles of the Bank and its management team. In anticipated of major business changes, it was important to reinforce and safeguard the Bank’s greatest assets – a customer focused philosophy and the ability to demonstrate strong, stable growth.

On a parallel track, MWW worked with the Bank to institute a complete rebrand – including a name change, a new logo and a revamped website as well as new marketing materials. MWW Creative embarked on an intensive process to understand the Bank’s story, including one-on-one interviews with key Bank executives and employees to inform the naming process. MWW also conducted a competitive analysis to determine how the Bank’s branding compared to its peers and incorporated the findings into key messages/themes that explained each proposed name.

Once the name change was official, and the public offering was imminent, MWW was instrumental in ensuring the media received the news in a logical progression in order to clearly convey the Bank’s business strategy and ensure no confusion among customers.  First, MWW created a press release to announce executive management changes at ConnectOne and positioned them as a way to bolster the Bank’s position as a technology oriented Bank with deep bench strength. Second, MWW developed and distributed a press release to announce the name change to the media. Additionally, MWW crafted a customer letter for the Bank to share directly with its customers in conjunction with the release. The next day, the Bank filed for an IPO and issued a press release to announce it. MWW was readily available for media inquiries and reinforced the information provided in the release and approved by legal counsel.

At this point, the media, customers and business community were putting the pieces together and started to understand the business strategy around the prior changes.

Finally, when ConnectOne’s plans for the IPO gained traction, MWW worked with ConnectOne to distribute a press release that announced the public offering was official. Several weeks later, the Bank was ready to go public and announced its listing on the Nasdaq.  MWW identified specific national, local and trade print/broadcast media that would help the Bank tell its story on the day of the IPO. This included key media like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, American Bank, SNL Financial and The Star Ledger.

RESULTS

Media coverage on the name change was overwhelmingly positive – especially as the Bank’s stock showed strength on its first day of trading and continues to rise. Throughout each milestone, the media understood the Bank’s business strategy and supported the new developments. When the final news of the IPO hit, the media coverage demonstrated that influencers understood the progression of news – as a result, customers were kept informed along the way with clear, accurate information.

Beyond the IPO and name change, media results to date have been unprecedented, yielding interest from national, regional and trade print and broadcast outlets. Despite being a regional institution, the Bank appeared nationally, including several times on CNBC – with a live airing of CNBC’s Power Lunch, which was shot at NJCB headquarters – Bloomberg TV and Radio, The Ron Insana Radio Show, The Kudlow Report, and NBC Nightly News, to name a few. Print coverage has ranged from a regular ConnectOne channel on Forbes.com, Banking on Main Street, where Sorrentino serves as a contributing writer to inclusion in feature stories on The New York Time and The Wall Street Journal. The Associated Press, Bloomberg and CNNMoney.com also frequently call upon Sorrentino as a go-to resource. Additionally, the Bank has been featured in high-profile industry magazine placements with Entrepreneur, American Banker, The (Bergen) Record and The Star-Ledger.

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