Our Guest: Erin Pryor
Company: First Horizon Bank
Website: first horizon.com
Allan Greer: Martha, we all know that mergers and acquisitions within the banking industry, you know, are definitely on the rise. What do you think are the key differences between a merger of equals and just an acquisition?
Martha France: You know, that's a great question, Allan, I think I would look to today's guest for the best answer to that question. She also really gets you thinking about why you should always build a strong foundation for your brand internally, and the answer may surprise you.
Allan: Hello, and welcome to Bank Marketing Today by Vya I am Allan Greer, and together with Martha France, we are interviewing bank marketing leaders about current trends, new marketing technologies, branding and the overall state of the banking industry. We will be joined from time to time by additional CO hosts and experts.
Martha: In this episode, we spoke to Erin Pryor, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer at First Horizon Bank. We discussed mergers, data, marketing budgets, building a brand and a lot more. So, let's get to it. We hope this episode of Bank Marketing Today helps simplify your marketing tomorrow.
Martha: Hello, I am Martha France, and I am joined today by my co-host, Allan Greer. And we are truly excited to be talking with Erin Pryor, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer at First Horizon Bank. Welcome to the Bank Marketing Today podcast, Erin.
Erin Pryor: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.
Allan: Absolutely, we are also excited. I’d like to start off with the first question, because I noticed that you've been with First Horizon for over a year, and obviously been with other financial institutions as well. But how did you get into banking? And then secondly, what drew you to First Horizon?
Erin: I always tell people, if you would have asked me about 12 years ago, if I would work in banking, I would have literally been like, no way. But you know, life has an interesting way of working out. So I moved to New York City after college, I played volleyball in college. I told my parents that I was either going to make it there or I'd be home in like five months. And it depended on whether I was going to get a contract in Europe or move to New York. So I ended up moving to New York, and I worked in journalism. So I worked for the New York Times, for Sports Illustrated and a couple of other magazine companies. At one point I had moved to California. And I was like, you know, I'm kind of ready to see what's next. And I happen to meet a bank CEO who had started and sold his first bank. He was a former Wall Street investment banker. And he had started a bank, he had sold that in the early to mid 2000s. He saw what was happening with the banking industry around 2008 and decided he wanted to start a bank to, you know, take it back. So he hired one or two people generally when he started something who didn't have banking background to really teach them his way of banking. So he offered me the management trainee role. And it was one of those things where you're like, I don't know about this, but he said, give it a year. If you don't love it, you can leave. It was one of those things where the door opens and I just felt like I really should walk through it. While I was there at Opus Bank, we recapitalized a bank in the South Bay of Los Angeles with about five offices at about 460 million. By the time I left, it was 7 billion and we were in three or four states. I had the pleasure of working with Brad Davis, who was the former Chief Marketing Officer for Washington Mutual Fund, he left well before the financial crisis, but he helped build that brand from 30 billion to 300 billion. I worked with him for about six years. And then I went to a FinTech, a wealth management slash FinTech, a B2B and B2C called United Capital, who ultimately sold to Goldman Sachs. From there, I went to USAA. And when First Horizon came knocking, I was like, you know, I don't know. But the opportunity was so amazing. The two companies that were in the middle of a merger of equals with Iberia Bank, and there was just a lot of opportunity from a marketing, you know, from the brand, all the way into performance marketing, and it was an opportunity and has been an opportunity to build something and to build a team and to really flex a new muscle for the organization and capitalize on the great work in the in the wonderful brand that existed, both from Iberia and First Horizon for the last 150 plus years. So that is kind of a long winded way, but I got here over a period of time, and there's been a lot of different opportunities, but I'm really grateful for all the wonderful people and the mentors I've had in my career to this point.
Allan: I know you're in Texas, and First Horizon Bank is headquartered in Memphis. Being remote and I think obviously, with COVID it kind of created a whole new trend, but you know, I don't know that that's really gonna change, but I'm wondering to how you feel about that? How does that work for you? Do you think that trend is gonna continue on?
Erin: My team jokes around and they're like, “Where's Erin today?” It's like, where's Waldo? They said, they're going to get me a red and white striped shirt. It has changed and I think there is more of an openness for remote work. I think there's also pros and cons. There's pros of being together too. And there's some of the things that happen when you're in the room and sitting face to face and brainstorming and collaborating. There's a lot of benefit of being with people and getting that energy. But I also believe that we globally have had to learn the discipline and how to work around and be together virtually as well. I'm personally in a little bit of a hybrid situation. So you know, I kind of come and go, I also travel a lot to the markets and do other visits. In regards to hiring, I also have been open to remote hire. So I made a few key hires, specifically even in my leadership team, to people who are remote. I think it helps to be in the footprint. But I think it's the new way of working and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Allan: Yeah, it seems like the hybrid approach is going to be here for a while. I kind of like it actually.
Erin: There's some days when you can be holed up at home and just get a lot done to write, you know, and there's not the distraction, even though there are wonderful distractions of talking over coffee or somebody stopping in your office, or, you know, if you're more of a collaborative workspace that, you know, are standing up and saying, hey, what can we do this, but there is a lot of benefit sometimes to be able to go home and just crank some stuff out.
Allan: Yeah, absolutely. Well, the whole time I'm praying my dog does not bark, you know?
Martha: Erin, you mentioned a little bit ago, the merger with Iberia Bank that was in progress as you were being hired, and even specifically, you mentioned that that was a merger of equals. I’m wondering, how is that different when two banks that are equals are coming together versus when a bank is acquiring a smaller bank? And what's been the impact on the marketing operation?
Erin: The difference is, in the merger of equal, you're really coming together as two partners, I think even in acquisitions, you come together as partners. There's obviously a reason your people want to acquire you. I think with the MOE it was a little bit different. It's a different conversation. So you're looking at some of the best practices and the best products. And you know, how did the team start to fit together, and I came in the middle of the MOE. So their announcement was made in January of 2019. And I started with the company in December of 2020. And the company's legal day one was in July of 2020. It’s been a really great experience. But you know, I think you have to understand that even when organizations have a lot of similarity, there's obviously also going to be differences. And culturally, I think you have to look at how do you bring everyone together, it's a partnership between the communications teams and the marketing teams, and you know, all of those other things, but great brands are built internally, I think getting the buy in, and the alignment with all of the associates and employees is critical. Your external messaging has to match your internal process and experience. It’s been a really interesting experience for me. And I think for the organization's bringing it together, it's almost like being a little bit of an entrepreneurial environment in a very storied and wonderful legacy institution. And technically, you know, two legacy wonderful institutions that have come together to form what is First Horizon today.
Martha: As you describe that you talked about great brands being built internally. And I know when we spoke previously, you talked about great brands being operational. And I'm curious to dive a little bit more into what you mean by both of those terms? Are you saying that that's really foundationally important as you're creating this customer experience?
Erin: It is, because as a marketer, we can create wonderful, beautiful, amazing campaigns that say everything we think they should say, but if the client is having a different experience, then there's going to be that disconnect. Think about great brands that that you love, or that really do have that long tenured loyalty. They have built an experience that you come to know and expect. I think that's what the critical piece is. At First Horizon we're a relationship based bank, and we went through and over the past, 6 to 8 or 9 months we reevaluated what our purpose and our values you know, as the combined organization so that we have everybody saying the same thing. When I started with the bank, I did probably over 100 one to one meetings with all the different constituents between the lines of business, my internal partners, my entire team. What was amazing was everyone was saying a version of the same thing and the foundation was there, but you need that critical mass so that everybody is buying into what the purpose of the organization is. That becomes the cornerstone of your communication architecture so that you've got 1000s of people saying the same thing. And it becomes a force multiplier. It's aligning the organization internally, and then you create the marketing and your external campaigns and all those things off of what that wonderful experiences internally or what the buy in is internally as well.
Martha: Curious, as you talk about all the people that you talk to and all the different versions that you had there, how challenging was it to get everybody aligned? Or did it kind of naturally fall into place as you were tackling that?
Erin: It's taken time. I mean, Rome wasn't built in a day. One of the things we had the conversation on was, this is not a campaign, a one and done campaign, your internal campaign is always on, and it's not over in a three month or six month period. It’s forever. We're still in process of doing some of the rollout. We've done some associate outreach, and I was laughing, there was a big box behind me earlier. And it's got a special celebration. It's a coffee celebration around the two companies coming together. And just really trying to instill that in aligning with your HR partners and our dei partners and our corporate communications partners so that there are consistencies and the purpose and the values thread throughout your entire organization. And how do you tie that to client experience? So ours is own the moment. So no matter what area of the organization you work in, not just the client facing bankers, that if you're in credit, or the digital teams, or technology, you have in play a part in the entirety of the client experience. And so I think it's just critical so that everybody realize they're a part of it. And they all own a piece of it. We spent a lot of time over the past six, eight months, really rolling that out and trying to bring that together.
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Martha: So, Erin when talking about getting everybody on the same page, your institution has banking centers operating in 12 states. So how do you ensure that both everybody's on the same page speaking that same message, but at the same time that you're relevant in those diverse communities.
Erin: You know, there's a lot of things we can do today, and marketing around personalization, and geo targeting and more localized tactics, if you will, to some of the things we work on as we have different visuals. Maybe when you come to the website or highlighting different clients in commercials and the testimonials based on where you are. You know, someone in North Carolina may not feel as connected to something that maybe we would roll out in Miami, you still have to have that consistency. It's like having the playbook where everybody's got the same playbook. But you can call some audibles in there as well. So there's consistency in the underlying current is the same and the underlying message is the same. But you call the audible for what is right for your market or for the specific target. I don't think you can have a one size fits all message or campaign across 12 states and varying geographies and varying lines of business. And so I think today with the personalization and some of the segmentation, other things you can do, you can have that consistent current and still be relevant to the areas that are the prospects that you're targeting.
Martha: That makes sense.
Allan: It does. It’s kind of a great segue because I know you have maybe a little bit over 1000 Associates there at First Horizon and 490 locations. So I’m curious, tell us a little bit about your marketing team and without giving away any secret sauces here, but how do you structure all that?
Erin: When I came in, I came into a team with a lot of fantastic, smart, capable marketers. And so I feel very lucky and fortunate for that. What we did is we looked at you know, where are we today? Where do we want to go? And where do we think we have the most opportunity and maybe some opportunity to bring in some expertise in certain areas. And so what we did is we restructured and I say, “we” because I really believe in the teamwork, I don't do everything myself. And so without a really strong team behind you I don't believe that you're going to be as successful. And so I really brought around my leadership along with that, and we looked at just what is it we want to accomplish. We set it up to where we implemented an integrated team. And so the integrated team, and a lot of times integrated can mean different things at different places, but it's really aligned with the businesses. So when I came in, I heard a lot of, “you don't really know what marketing does, we don't see results”. But I did see a huge opportunity for us to realign with the business and the company, the overarching strategies and tie the marketing to it. So that the lines of business and some of the bankers could see themselves, while we also have a brand focus. So we set up an integrated team. So there is a specific leader for each line of business that works directly with the lines of business to understand what they're trying to do, build those go to market plans, and then brings that back to the marketing team to execute. We also have a brand strategy, I walked into a team with an excellent marketing technology stack. I think that was a question especially coming from my previous employer, you know, what are we going to have, and we had a full stack, which was amazing. So we had the Martech and Operations Group. What we needed to build out was really to flex some new muscle here was around digital marketing. So you know, your paid media, the social media, in the website, and then also our analytics and insights, we had just a lot of opportunity there to really set up the performance marketing, and to give the transparency that was needed to a lot of our partners to say, “Hey, this is what we're doing. This is why” and make informed decisions. I think a lot of times, we in institutions make decisions based on what we think or feel, and not necessarily informed by data. And then sometimes, you know, you can also die by data. So it's like finding that happy balance and really trying to set up, showing the marketing ROI how we are performing, but also to really understand our clients and to get that insight into what do they need? And how are they behaving, and interacting, so that we can tie it all together. Utilizing our CRM, pulling in our paid media into that, and just putting together that 360 view, not only marketing, but the client as well.
Allan: That's great. You know, in our company, Martha's really good at pulling all that together. And I always get so frustrated when I'm wrong. This is the way it's gonna be. And I'm proven wrong. It's so important, and it's fascinating. You know, it's actually kind of fun to get all that provided data,
Erin: Yeah, for sure.
Allan: So, you know, what about externally, what are your marketing challenges? And how are you addressing those externally today?
Erin: The landscape is always changing and banking, it's viewed on a lot of scales as a commodity. It's a very crowded market right now. So we have to differentiate on our expertise. And we've always also got to be differentiated on our expertise externally, but proving the efficacy of marketing internally, I think that that's probably the biggest challenge today is looking at, who are we going to compete with? Well, who's our target? Who are we really going to compete with? And how do we win, and then positioning ourselves utilizing our client experience, utilizing the different tools that we have the bankers, as I said, the operational component of the brand, and then aligning it so that we make sure that we really, genuinely are delivering on that experience? You know, a lot of people say, do you determine whether your organization is pushing technology first? Or is it human to human? I think it's got to be a combination, or at least in our model today, I think that's critical. I think digital is fantastic. And I think people really want to interact digitally, and to be able to take care of some of their things. We're just in a different world and it accelerated through the pandemic, even more so I think, than anybody expected. But at the same time, you also want that human touch. Especially when you're making big decisions. I mean, finances can be scary for a lot of people. Our purpose is to provide capital and counsel. I think it's critical to have that advice and that ability to give that advice as well, because you can get money from anywhere.
Martha: That's true and kind of getting that human to human focus is so important and kind of leads to my next question. Earlier, you talked about your marketing organization and that you have leaders focused on the lines of business and in banking there does tend to be a very line of business focused approach. And so I'm wondering how do you balance that with the customer focused approach?
Erin: It's, again, the collaborative nature. I think with marketing, you're going to be more successful internally and externally, if you collaborate with your partner, so it's like, again, product, digital, aligning everybody in getting on the same page. But at the end of the day, no one's gonna buy your product if it's not right for them. And so aligning the strategies for your product strategies, and your value propositions and all of those things around the right target, and looking at what is really the next best action, and you can have the best interest of the client in all the different lines of business. I think, ultimately, you’ve got the brand, you know, we talked a little bit about brand awareness and some of the things from the top of the funnel. But you can also look at, you know, the performance marketing, again, it goes back to what I said earlier around analytics and insights, it's just critical to have those things. The insights, I believe, are what will set you up for success within your segmentation. And some of those pieces around the behavioral, it's the quantitative and the qualitative. And those together will help you know your client better than anybody else and that's what helps. It’s keeping the client at the center of the of the relationship.
Martha: Can we build on that a little bit further? In terms of your vision in terms of data and analytics, you talked about customer segmentation, but then there's also the measurement and proving the internal ROI. Can you say a little bit more about that?
Erin: When we have budget discussions, I've said, I can spend all the money you want me to spend, you give it to me, and I could spend it, but I want to be a good fiduciary of the dollars, right? So I think the critical piece is, you want to make sure that your spend is driving in and converting into clients, or converting into next best product. So it goes back to you can be so much more effective and efficient down the funnel if you're utilizing a lot of those data and analytics and insights and really watching and optimizing and ensuring that you're putting quality leads into the funnel for your bankers or into the digital channels for conversion in those products or lines of business as well. So I think that's critical for the success of marketing within an organization. My goal is that marketing becomes viewed as a revenue generator rather than an expense. I've had those conversations. I've gone to some of my biggest challengers who are like, marketing, I don't know is it just about a flyer? And I said, “Well, here's your opportunity. And if we convert 1%, based on the lifetime value, or the cost per product, here's what we can drive”. And they're like, oh, okay. So it's setting it up, it's getting everybody on the same page. I feel really fortunate here at First Horizon, there's been a lot of support with marketing. And I think that helps a ton that there's a lot of support, like they're embracing it. The organization wants to utilize it. We've gone out and found some power users and some advocates and you know we are kind of figuring out how do we build that. Let’s show everybody what we can do. And then we'll just continue to build upon it.
Martha: What you're talking about is so much about marketing, trying to overcome that arts and crafts reputation, right?
Martha: So the fact that you've got some believers there, and that you continue to build that advocacy is a good way to do that.
Erin: I always say marketing is an art and a science. And a lot of people like to focus on the art, because it's subjective. And the science is not. When we bring the facts and you're transparent, that's where the magic happens. I'm pretty open with the organization in general, like everything we do is not going to work. And that's okay as long as we're falling forward. That's okay, we’ll figure it out. We can optimize. We can switch gears pretty quickly. But we're going to be transparent whether it works or not and I think that's how you build the trust within the organization as well.
Allan: I think that's good. And I think between you, Erin and Martha, you handled that very well. Because I'm sure when you have those conversations, you’ve got to be thinking, “You must be kidding me if you don't think Marketing works. Like, is there a reason there are commercials? And you know, it works. But, I was curious about technology you may be excited about it. Are there any existing or anything on the horizon that you're very excited about?
Erin: You know, I think the opportunity that we have, and I think marketing in most organizations has today, is connecting the technology and just the ability to connect the different pieces to understand the totality of the relationship. I think there's a lot of opportunity with personalization, and getting really good at that, and really understanding what is next for the clients. I think some companies are already doing it very well. I'm really excited about that from a marketing perspective. From the banking technologies, there's just so much happening right now. You’ve got a lot of Neo banks popping up, you've got crypto you've got, I could name 100 different things. And I think, again, it goes back to keeping your client at the center. Any organization can do anything, but you can't do everything at once. And so really prioritizing what is important to the client and then the same thing for the marketing technology. I mentioned prioritizing, what do we think is most important? Let's not boil the ocean, let's try to take a couple of bites at a time.
Martha: One thing that I wanted to go back to as well, when you just talked earlier about falling forward, and that whole test and learn, because I think sometimes you can spend so much time trying to perfect something. And in this day and age, you've got to be moving and moving forward. So I wanted to see if you had anything more to say about your test and learn process, or just in general, like when you do fail, how do you recover and then get buy in for approval for the next idea?
Erin: Again, it goes back to the test and learn. So you're doing experimentation all the time. And rather than ripping a band aid across your entire footprint, maybe pick a market or two and test it out so that you can maybe identify areas of opportunity or optimization early. I'm also a firm believer in the 80/20 rule. To your point, if you want to get it to 100%, sometimes that could take forever. If it's 80%, good enough, let's get it out, measure it, and then we can continue to improve it. At the end of the year, we had some journey work that was happening and we were ready to launch. It was a bunch of different assets. They sent it to me and we all started talking and I was like some of the language in here could be tighter. There was some other pieces and they were like, “Well, do you want us to redo it?” And I was like, “No, I want you to go, and we can get that out the door. And then in January and February we can we can optimize progress over perfection, right?” And then if you have something that doesn't work or something that maybe didn't work as well as you would have liked it, what are the learnings and share them out. Because usually when something fails, it probably didn't fail 100%. It may have been a component that failed or one or two tactics that didn't perform as well as you would have liked. So I think if you're open about it and saying, “Hey, here's what we did, here's how we think we can do it better.” And we're going to try to continually optimize, I generally believe you can still keep the trust, it's the transparency with the organization. I think you're in a worse place if you don't tell them about the things that aren't working, because then they're just not going to trust it. Or if something does majorly blow up, then you're going to be like, “Oh, what do I do here?”
Martha: Yeah, you can really get in trouble when you try to bury those failures.
Allan: This kind of a broad question, I guess, but where do you think the banking industry is going as a whole?
Erin: Well, I think that is a very timely question. So we recently just this week actually announced that we have entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by TD Bank Group. And so you know, I think that, this again is a perception of one, I think you're probably going to see a little more of that. I mean, it kind of depends on the regulatory environment. But it's a pretty saturated space, and it gets to be tough competition. And I think the way a lot of the institutions will grow is I though consolidation.
Allan: Yeah, that is big news.
Martha: That was very exciting.
Erin: Yeah, it is exciting.
Allan: How about your knowledge? I mean, with anybody in their profession always seeking ways to expand their knowledge, where do you go for that?
Erin: I have a couple of different places. One, first and foremost, I always go to my kitchen cabinet. So that is my group of people that, some of it are mentors. Some of it are peers from former institutions. Some of them are just people I've networked with along the way. I feel like you can learn so much from those who you surround yourself with. So if I usually have a big question, like, who can I call on this list? And also, I just follow a lot of what those people are doing. I love podcasts. And I do like the Harvard Business Review. But I think what is critical is, and especially as we're talking specifically on bank marketing, I think it's important to learn about things that are happening outside of banking. You can learn a lot from even what mass retail is doing or any industry, I think it's just important to be open to expanding. I always tell people that when I'm not learning, it's probably because I will not be living any longer. I think it's critical to always be learning and to always be absorbing and understanding and really listening to what's out there.
Allan: I do think looking at other industries, you never know what nuggets you might find.
Erin: Totally. Well you know where else I learned? It is my own team? I believe, you know, surround yourself with great smart people. I don't want to be the smartest person in the room. And I'm definitely not always the smartest person in the room.
Allan: I’ve never had that problem.
Erin: It's really learning. They all have expertise in certain areas, and I learned a lot from them.
Martha: That's awesome. Well, I'd say that's a great note for us to close on here. So thank you, Erin, for taking the time to speak with us today. Allan, and I both enjoyed the discussion and Erin, we wish you continued success at First Horizon.
Erin: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Allan: What a great discussion. You know, I love the concept of building the brand foundation internally, no matter what your industry.
Martha: I couldn't agree more. I also felt that her approach to data and being transparent with ROI is a lesson for any marketer. I also thought her experience with being involved in a merger of equals and how it compares to acquisition was very timely.
Allan: Yeah, for sure. I also like when she said that she could spend all the money but she wants to be a good fiduciary steward. I can also spend all the money. What do you think about maybe getting a helicopter for Vya?
Martha: Prove the ROI based on some data and then we can talk Allan.
Allan: Thanks to our listeners for joining us. We really appreciate it. Be sure to subscribe and give us a review. We would love that. If you have any ideas or topics or questions you'd like us to cover in the future just email us at email@example.com. Thank you so much.
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