plaque in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland moved into content marketing to let people know how it was serving their needs PHOTO: Daniel X. O'Neil

It's no small task when an organization that’s been around for over 100 years decides to launch a content marketing initiative. However, to generate awareness and publicize the work it's doing to improve outcomes in the regions it serves, that's exactly what one financial institution did.

Meet the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and Michelle Park Lazette, its writer and in-house journalist. Park Lazette took some time to explain how the Cleveland Fed got its start in content marketing. (Park Lazette noted that the views expressed here are her own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Cleveland Fed or the Federal Reserve System.)

Expanding the Reach of a 100 Year-Old Institution

Dennis Shiao: Tell us about the Cleveland Fed?

Michelle Park Lazette: The Cleveland Fed (or the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland) is one of 12 Reserve Banks in the country that, together with the Board of Governors in Washington D.C., make up the U.S. central bank. As the country’s central bank, we formulate and implement national monetary policy.

It also means that together, we are conducting research, engaging with leaders in our regions to study and share community development issues and approaches, and supervising and regulating financial institutions.

Reserve Banks are banks’ banks, so we take in cash for banks, destroy currency that’s worn or damaged, provide payment services such as electronic funds transfers, and more.

Shiao: What are your roles and responsibilities?

Park Lazette: My title is writer, but I call myself an in-house journalist. My job is to amplify and extend the reach of the work the bank’s experts are doing in ways that help our audiences.

In some cases, I’m asked to do immersive storytelling: to be in the room, to take notes and conduct interviews. I want to show what happens when we’re visiting people, convening people at events, publishing research and more.

In other cases, I conceive of story ideas, based on research or analysis the Bank has produced or based on changes in data. I pitch those ideas, conduct interviews and write pieces. We’re increasingly recording audio, shooting photography and adding other multimedia avenues.

Shiao: Who is your target audience?

Michelle Park Lazette
Michelle Park Lazette
Park Lazette:It depends on the piece. For some pieces, it’s community leaders and community development practitioners who are working to improve the economic realities in low- and moderate-income communities. For our next multimedia piece, the core audience will be bankers and those who have an interest in the banking industry, be they borrowers, our own regulators or a trade organization.

Shiao: How did the Cleveland Fed get started with content marketing?

Park Lazette: I joined the bank after it had started content marketing in the form of its print magazine, Forefront, which we just retired in favor of more interactive multimedia publishing on our website.

Content marketing makes sense for any number of organizations, but I feel it’s paramount for institutions like ours, where we’re not selling widgets but rather trying to ensure people know about the work we’re doing to improve outcomes for the region we serve.

My internal partners like that what we’re producing and publishing helps to extend the reach of what they’re doing and to illuminate the role the Fed plays.

Shiao: Can you share an example piece of content marketing?

Park Lazette: We just published “On the Ground in Eastern Kentucky,” our pilot of immersive storytelling. It’s intentionally conversational. It takes the reader along for the ride using granular details that you’d only know if you’d been there.

It includes multimedia, such as photo galleries, an audio file and maps. Our Multimedia and Editorial Services team worked with our Web Services team to execute on something our bank hadn’t done before.

If readers feel like they know more about efforts to effect change in Kentucky, if readers better understand that the Federal Reserve is invested and involved in Main Street communities, we’ve done our job.

If readers stay longer to explore the content, the people we met, the institution we are — and early metrics seem to reveal that they are spending more time with this content — we’ve done our job.

Shiao: Are you measuring the results of your content marketing? 

Park Lazette: With “On the Ground in Eastern Kentucky,” we did build in ways to gather qualitative and quantitative measures of our success. We created analytics to track how readers are scrolling and navigating the pages, plus interacting with the multimedia features.

We built into the piece a survey and asked readers to “Tell Us What You Think.” We’ll have numbers and feedback that tell us something meaningful, but we just published, so it’s hard to say we’re there quite yet.

Shiao: What are the Cleveland Fed’s content marketing plans going forward?

Park Lazette: We’ve dipped our toes in storytelling, and it’s caught others’ attention, so I believe we’ll keep vetting which topics warrant a deep creative investment of time and resources. As we hone this new approach and perhaps explore others, the aim for us is in ensuring that we strike an important compromise between what the needs of our organizational communications are and what audiences will actually sit, read and explore.

Shiao: Given that you’re in Cleveland, have you been to Content Marketing World?

Park Lazette: I attended for two years, then attended and became a speaker in 2016 and 2017. The top benefit to me from attending (remember, I’m speaking only for myself here) is being exposed to inspiring ideas and best practices from both our industry (finance) and other industries.

In truth, a lot of industries are faster to move on new communications approaches and faster to learn their best practices than finance, so I like absorbing what those industries’ people have to say. There’s also a sense of camaraderie in talking shop with people who understand the limitations on communications in a regulated industry.

Content Marketing World is one reason we started a bank-wide e-newsletter. I returned to the office convinced of the benefits of owning a direct channel to subscribers. It’s the Cleveland Fed Digest (and you can subscribe here).