Hibernia Bank, which is one of the oldest and largest financial institutions in the Southern United States, began expanding into the highly competitive North Texas market in 2004. When the New Orleans-based company entered the market, bank officials wanted to capture the attention of local residents – and communicate a brand positioning that’s atypical for the banking industry. Namely, that Hibernia Bank is friendly, approachable and accommodating – a bank that’s as much a part of the neighborhood as a good friend down the street.

Hibernia had virtually no brand recognition locally and was entering one of the most competitive banking markets in the country. To build brand awareness for Hibernia and establish a connection with the areas where new branches were opening, it was important for the company to launch a public relations program to convey a sense of community spirit and generate excitement for the new bank in town. One of the primary challenges for the company would be to convince consumers to switch their existing bank accounts to Hibernia. Another challenge would be to drive consumer traffic to the bank’s new branches – a difficult task for a type of “store” that doesn’t offer products consumers can touch and feel.

Prior to developing a program that would resonate with residents in North Texas suburban communities, BlueCurrent Public Relations conducted extensive local-market research, including compiling demographic data within a two-mile radius of each branch and identifying potential partnership opportunities with non-profit organizations, local schools, and key community and business leaders.

In addition, the agency conducted mystery shopper visits to other banks in each community to evaluate the products and services being offered and determine what competitive forces existed in the market.

The objectives of the public relations program for each branch were to introduce the bank, its image, key attributes and positioning; establish a connection with the community; and provide incentives that create excitement and consumer engagement. Media coverage was a secondary objective. For each new branch opening, BlueCurrent planned and implemented guerilla-marketing activities designed to create momentum in the community for the debut of Hibernia, as well as a unique, visual grand opening event that would help Hibernia generate media coverage, connect with the community and provide opportunities for direct consumer interaction and product sales.

The BlueCurrent team developed “The Power of a Flower” – a campaign that included deliveries of potted plants direct to the doorsteps of market area residents – representing a traditional welcome gift from Hibernia to its new neighbors. In some markets, BlueCurrent also rolled out a “Friendly Banker Brigade,” a SWAT team of identically dressed banker look-alikes who performed random acts of service in the days leading up to the bank’s grand opening.

In other markets, BlueCurrent used a “Hibernia Buzz Team” to canvass local high school football games and other high-traffic areas to invite spectators to the grand opening events and distribute promotional materials designed to drive traffic to the branches on grand opening day.

The guerilla marketing campaign in each market was followed by “The Ultimate Silver Dollar Pancake Breakfast” at the grand opening event, emphasizing Hibernia Bank’s down-home friendliness and desire to be part of the community. Each event benefited local high school booster clubs or non-profit organizations, which competed in a “Silver Dollar Pancake Stacking Contest” to win a donation of hundreds of real silver dollars from Hibernia.

The grand opening events would allow Hibernia branch representatives to sit down with potential customers over breakfast, talk about the bank’s unique approach to doing business with its neighbors and begin to build long-term relationships.

Prior to the grand opening of each branch, BlueCurrent mapped out neighborhoods surrounding the branch and hired temporary staff to form a “Hibernia Buzz Team.” The buzz team delivered small potted houseplants and invitations to the grand opening event to the doorsteps of 2,500 homes surrounding each branch. Plants also were delivered to small business owners, community leaders and targeted media outlets. The unexpected surprise of a plant on their doorstep had local residents talking about Hibernia and helped establish the company’s desired image as “not your typical bank.”

For some communities, BlueCurrent also hired professional actors to form the “Friendly Banker Brigade,” which performed random acts of kindness in the community, such as picking up the tab for consumers visiting quick-service restaurants, coffee shops and dry cleaners, or carrying groceries to consumers’ cars. In select markets, the banker buzz team also distributed Hibernia “greenbacks,” which encouraged consumers to visit the branch on grand opening day for the chance to win $200 by matching the serial number on the greenback with those posted at the branch. The greenbacks were passed out at high-traffic locations, including shopping centers, grocery store parking lots and high school football games.

To create a family-friendly, neighborhood block party setting, the agency set up a tent in the parking lot of each branch and served free pancakes to area residents. In addition to the breakfast, the grand opening events featured fun activities, such as a bounce house, face painter, balloon artist and a “pancake creation station” for kids to decorate their pancakes with a variety of supplies, such as icing, sprinkles and candy. To further attract residents, BlueCurrent arranged for Child Rescue Network to provide free child identification cards and fingerprinting services at each branch opening.

To extend the reach of the relationship-building campaign in new markets, BlueCurrent invited local non-profit organizations or area high school parent booster clubs to compete in a pancake-stacking contest for $2,500 in prize donations. While the contest was enjoyable and profitable for the organizations, the unique visuals it generated helped attract the attention of local news media. For each grand opening, BlueCurrent developed and distributed a media advisory and conducted media outreach to local print and broadcast media.

The pancake breakfast setting for the grand opening events offered an ideal opportunity for consumers to meet bank representatives and learn more about Hibernia’s banking products in a relaxed atmosphere.

At the end of the day, Hibernia would measure the success of the market expansion public relations campaign by product sales. New checking, savings, IRA and CD accounts opened during each grand opening event exceeded Hibernia’s expectations. Much of the buzz surrounding each opening was directly attributable to the plant deliveries, and bank officials noted that many consumers opening new accounts specifically mentioned these deliveries as the impetus for their visit.

Local media picked up on the creative elements of the campaign – the pancake stacking contest and the Friendly Banker Brigade – as strong visuals for television broadcasts and business column mentions.

The combined efforts of these seven branch openings have resulted in the following: approximately 3,000 consumers attending the seven events – an average of nearly 430 people per event, 18,000 residents receiving plants on their doorstep, and more than 10,000 people having personal contact with the Hibernia buzz teams, approximately 400 new bank accounts being opened during the grand opening events, which is significant considering most consumers are reluctant to switch banks due to the perceived hassle and 18 media placements (many including photos) being secured in local media outlets, reaching more than 1.6 million people.