A “swipe fee” regulation capped the amount bigger banks could charge retailers for debit card transactions. In response, two-thirds of big banks nationwide eliminated free checking to help recoup this lost revenue. But FirstBank – Colorado’s largest locally-owned bank – decided to keep checking free to maintain its commitment to “do what’s right for customers.” As part of an integrated campaign, FirstBank tasked Linhart Public Relations with turning news about its existing free-checking product into an attention-grabbing story for major national and regional outlets.
Linhart PR developed strategies to differentiate FirstBank as the only Colorado-based bank of its size to still offer free checking and capitalize on the national dialogue about the “swipe fee” regulation (and ensuing consumer discontent) by timing outreach with when the legislation went into effect. Linhart PR also integrated its media relations efforts with FirstBank’s advertising campaign, which included an interactive billboard in Denver that encouraged passersby to “Text FirstBank” to see if their bank still offers free checking. The billboard provided a strong image to an otherwise visually challenging story.
Linhart PR helped raise awareness of FirstBank’s decision to keep free checking by securing nearly eight million media impressions, including front-page stories in the Denver Post and USA Today. FirstBank created a homepage banner linking to all news articles, so visitors could “see what the buzz was about.” More than 5,000 people clicked on the news banner, resulting in new account applications. Both website traffic and checking account openings increased during this timeframe.