Santander (formerly Sovereign Bank)

Challenge

Sovereign Bank (currently Santander) originally retained O’Neill and Associates for integrated communications and government relations services in 1999, when the merger of Fleet Bank and BankBoston prompted the U.S. Justice Department to mandate the divestiture of 281 bank branches in New England, the largest divesture in American banking history. O’Neill and Associates helped Sovereign first win the branches and then successfully launch the bank in the region. After several years of communications and government relations services to support Sovereign’s growth in the region, O’Neill and Associates has worked hand in hand with the bank during the recent financial crisis and resulting internal reorganization.

Solution

Bid for Divested Branches

O’Neill and Associates provided a two-phase strategic communications and government relations campaign. The first phase focused on advancing Sovereign’s goal of being named by the Department of Justice as the recipient of the 281 divested branches. O’Neill and Associates developed and implemented a comprehensive federal relations strategy, educating the congressional delegation about Sovereign’s strengths and its “good fit” with the New England market. Through direct negotiations with key political leaders, O’Neill and Associates secured critical support for Sovereign, providing a strong, positive environment for the Justice Department and Federal Reserve in which to approve the deal.  Throughout the competitive bid process and regional conversions, O’Neill and Associates provided representation of Sovereign Bank before key regional and state officials.

The second phase focused on public relations to quickly boost the bank’s identity in the region and ensure customer retention. O’Neill and Associates executed the communications strategy with a variety of public events, corporate initiatives, announcements and meetings with key opinion-leaders. These included creating a “Solutions Center” to reinforce Sovereign’s commitment to be forthright and proactive about problems that occur with conversions; arranging media tours across the region for top bank executives; producing a historic and high-impact opening day event which gave Greater Boston commuters free rides on the area mass transit system, the first ever private-public partnership in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s 100 year history.

Ongoing Communications and Government Relations           

In the years that followed, O’Neill and Associates’ integrated communications and government relations teams provided Sovereign with:

  • Public relations services related to business milestones large and small including branch openings, the acquisition of New York’s Independence Community Bank, a shareholder agreement with Banco Santander, the acquisition of Seacoast Financial Services Corporation, the introduction of CEOs and the recent buyout by Banco Santander
  • Continual government relations services to building and maintaining relationships with key federal, state and local elected officials in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island
  • Internal communications strategies to reach board members, employees, major customers and other audiences
  • Event planning and media relations services related to yearly Sovereign Bank Economic Outlook Breakfasts
  • Media relations to raise awareness of the philanthropic work of the Sovereign Foundation and provided counsel regarding strategic civic engagement
  • Executive speech coaching and presentation training services
  • Management of messaging, communications and media outreach during key changes of leadership

Results

O’Neill and Associates is proud to have consistently delivered results to Sovereign Bank throughout our multi-year engagement.

Entry into the Market

O’Neill and Associates’ work led to the U.S. Justice Department’s selection of Sovereign Bank to receive the largest bank divesture in U.S. history. Subsequently, our public relations work to introduce Sovereign to the Boston market resulted in multi-day news coverage of the initial entry saturating the market and making a positive impression on more than 1 million people. Sovereign retained 99.8 percent of divested customers, better than the national average of 85 percent and unprecedented in a market hostile to bank mergers.

Ongoing Communications and Government Relations

Over the years, O’Neill and Associates has secured extensive media coverage in the national financial press, mainstream statewide outlets and local town publications throughout Sovereign Bank’s footprint. We have also aided Sovereign in establishing and building important relationships with leading members of the media as well as business and community leaders.

Counsel During Recent Financial Crisis

During the unprecedented market volatility and uncertainty of 2009, O’Neill and Associates provided round-the-clock communications and government affairs support to Sovereign Bank, helping the institution manage the announcement of a new CEO and the full buyout of the bank by Banco Santander.

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