Strike Up the Band

By Rhonda Foxworth

How bank-organized community concerts/festivals can resonate with your overall marketing and promotional efforts.

Food and music are two things that excite people. Put them together, and you’ve got the makings of a powerful event. But what happens when you put food and music with a community bank? You have an opportunity to energize and excite your community—while also promoting your bank.

Banks are frequently solicited to be one of the sponsors of community events. But this often involves nothing more than donating money in return for getting the bank logo displayed at the event. A more high-powered way for a bank to help the community and to get noticed is for the bank itself to organize an event. Below are two examples of bank-sponsored events followed by a list of helpful tips and best practices for success.


A free summer-long downtown concert series

About seven years ago, Tim Marshall, president and CEO of the Bank of Ann Arbor (assets: $1 billion), Michigan, had a vision of a free summer-long concert series to enliven a downtown Ann Arbor park. The event would showcase local musical talent and further support the community’s arts and culture.

With the help of the bank’s advertising agency, Perich + Partners, the financial institution created and branded Sonic Lunch, a lunchtime concert series on Thursdays during the summer months.

Since then, the concert series has grown into a staple of the summer scene. From June to August, people from diverse sections of the community stop by to enjoy free music and to purchase lunch from a restaurant partner. The bank also partners with a local radio station to attract up-and-coming national touring artists. Over the years, Sonic Lunch has presented such vocalists as Darren Criss, a former University of Michigan music student who starred in Fox television’s “Glee,” Mayer Hawthorne, Michelle Chamuel (finalist on “The Voice”), Vance Joy, Brett Dennan and more.

Here’s how one local resident rated the series on a recent awareness survey: “[Bank of Ann Arbor is a] fun local company with a human touch. I’m also impressed with their support of Sonic Lunch. They seem to actually care about the community and not just profits.”


A monthly downtown block party with food, music and shopping

For years, Jill Castilla, president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond, (assets: $250 million, Edmond, Okla.) heard suggestions that the bank do something to help make the city more diverse and interesting. Inspired by the success of Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch, she and her team created Heard on Hurd, a once-a-month block party for downtown Edmond. Hurd is the name of the street where the event takes place.

In only its second year, Heard on Hurd is expanding in 2015. This year the event is closing more streets to make room for more local food vendors, more local shopping and more local music. More than 7,000 people attended Heard on Hurd’s 2015 kick-off event on March 21.

“It’s a homecoming for our community that gets to happen once-a-month,” Castilla says. “It’s not just people from Edmond.”

The community has responded with praise and gratitude. One downtown Edmond merchant said, “This event is a game changer [for my business]. Welcome to downtown Edmond 2.0.” Here are some sample comments on Twitter: “Heard on Hurd is our new favorite Saturday night! Wish it was every weekend!” and “Heard on Hurd is the best thing that’s happened to Edmond. So. Many. People!”






Best practices

Here are some lessons, tips and best practices concerning bank-sponsored community events based on the experiences of these two banks.

Make your bank’s role in the event highly visible.

As mentioned above, often for community events, all your bank is asked to contribute are money and a logo. Hardly two ingredients for high visibility. Instead, consider creative ways to make your bank a significant part of the event. Or create your own event. Sure it’s a substantial investment of resources, but the goodwill and community spirit these events generate are worth so much more.


Make sure the event and the event experience represent your brand appropriately.

You want people to enjoy an experience that they will associate positively with your brand. If your bank is a quality brand, then you must participate or host a high-quality event. A poorly run event may take your brand along with your investment down the drain.


Be smart about your partners.

Creating events that are free and open to the public is a must. But that doesn’t mean you need to let any interested business ride your bank’s coattails to success. Be smart about the other businesses that want to participate. Do they help build your brand or dilute it? You work hard to build your bank’s brand, so why taint it by being associated with other businesses that your community doesn’t value as highly as yours?


Don’t just write a check. Make a plan to engage.

A great community building effort gets your employees engaged with the event and the participants. When people interact with your team, they leave with the feeling that your bank cares about the same things they do. Engaging can be fun or serious—whatever fits your bank’s brand. Give your team something to do that gives them a reason to interact with the participants. Motivate employees to engage with participants. Don’t let them come just to eat hot dogs!

Choosing to connect with the public in fun and meaningful ways helps to engage them with your brand. The bank also builds pride in its own employees by allowing them to participate in a high-profile community event. A community event also helps your bank demonstrate its good will and community spirit. It makes your bank stand apart from competitors.

Wise banks see investments in innovative and exciting events as a gift to their community. This is a gift that improves and enhances life for all—and is also good for the bank’s bottom line.


Rhonda Foxworth is the principal of Plaid Fox Marketing, Ann Arbor, Mich. She is the former vice president and marketing manager at the Bank of Ann Arbor, in Michigan. Telephone: (734) 717-5176. Email: [email protected]