Financial firms press on with advertising plans

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The full-page ad from Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney could be speaking for the financial-services industry: "We are carrying on."

Three weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, many financial-services companies are still camped out in temporary offices, but the industry has begun to resume normal marketing operations. Salomon Smith Barney, whose offices at 7 World Trade Center were destroyed, vowed "We are going back to work, we're going about our business," in the ad from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.

Salomon's image campaign remains on hold, and many companies-particularly insurers and those that lost employees in the attack, such as Morgan Stanley Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co.-have run only sympathy ads in newspapers. But some, such as Ameritrade Holdings and Credit Suisse Group have restarted the efforts they broke before the attack, and others have put their planned efforts back on track.

Charles Schwab & Co. became the first major financial marketer to launch an advertising campaign last week. The brokerage company broke a campaign Sept. 23 featuring a new corporate identity and logo and new print and TV ads; it was initially meant to break Sept. 17, but was delayed after the attack. The company spent $84 million in the first half of this year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, compared with $133 million during the same period the year before.

"I still think it's the right time. The message is very appropriate," said Jack Calhoun, senior VP-advertising and brand management. "Now more than ever, people want to know what to do."

The campaign, from Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, touts Schwab's education and advice services, such as its financial seminars and Portfolio Consultation service. The ads compare Schwab's advice to that of the most trusted people in consumers' lives. In one spot, a mother explains what she serves her son and his family on Sunday dinner: peach pie, meatloaf "and some small-caps, mid-caps and laddered munis." In another, a family doctor wraps a house call by suggesting his patient rest, drink fluids "and lay off the junk bonds."

Schwab had carried out consumer research that led to a focus on its position as a provider of unbiased advice, a hot topic among investors, said Mr. Calhoun. Unlike many Wall Street brokers, Schwab does not handle securities underwriting, so clients won't fear their advice is colored by other relationships, he explained.

Like Schwab, Commerce Bank had to put off a campaign due to the attacks on the World Trade Center. The Cherry Hill, N.J., regional bank postponed an approximately $10 million campaign to tout its arrival in the New York market after the attack, but opened the first two of a planned 130 branches in New York and Long Island Sept. 21, one week after its original plan.

The branches opened quietly, without the promotional activities planned before the attack, said David Flaherty, VP-corporate communications. A direct mail piece had been sent before the attack, but a full-page ad in the Sept. 14 New York Times was pulled, especially since it featured a skyline shot of the Wall Street area, with the Twin Towers prominently displayed.

Commerce Bank will probably reschedule the grand-opening celebration to December, when it opens a third New York branch. The bank's agency, Interpublic's Tierney Communications, Philadelphia, will also revisit the bank's advertising.

"We're going ahead, like everyone in New York," Mr. Flaherty said. "What we're trying to do now is see what is appropriate."

But even as the financial fallout of the attacks hit financial advertisers hard, some are going ahead with plans to promote services to consumers who have turned more fiscally conservative as layoffs mount. (AA, Sept. 3.)

H&R Block had already decided to postpone a fourth-quarter effort until November before the Sept. 11 attack, but the effort will go on. The company had increased its $100 million annual marketing budget by about 20% for this year, and planned an additional outlay for this year's fourth-quarter campaign.

A campaign from Interpublic's Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, is expected to break in print in November with TV to follow in December, according to a spokeswoman. That campaign will promote the company's two-year expansion into year-round financial services and its alliance with AOL Time Warner to offer tax and financial services to America Online subscribers.

Actually, the uncertain times make financial advice more important to consumers, Schwab's Mr. Calhoun said.

"Our clients and prospects really need to hear from us-now more than ever," he said.

For the companies themselves, it is important to continue to promote their services, especially in difficult times, he said. Even if Schwab has had to reduce its spending by 10% to 15% as part of the cost cutting, it continues to promote itself aggressively.

"It is tough ... [but] we have to speak to our clients," Mr. Calhoun said. "We are a growth company, we have to continue to grow."

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