First Mariner Bank: A New Shining Star in Social Media PR

For all the fuss that has been made about Dell, Zappos, Comcast, JetBlue and a whole host of other big names utilizing Twitter and other forms of social media for their messaging and client support, there is one that stands out to me as the most impressive. I say this because of my own personal experience in the past few days. These encounters with my bank, 1st Mariner Bank, are fresh in my mind and, to me, demonstrate a truly productive means of “doing the job” with social media tools.

As an independent, self employed consultant, times can sometimes be tough. In fact, in many way, it’s a feast or famine game. You go through spells where clients don’t pay, they pay late, or you just can’t get the business going enough to generate the income needed to run the business, and sadly, sometimes to pay the bills. So bank runs are important. They are pivotal moments where you might go from pennies in the account to plenty of money to fill the reserves. Those bank runs are always personally fulfilling because it’s a statement that, hey, I don’t have to go find a “real” job now… I can continue to press forward pursuing the dreams I’ve tried to find on my own for these past years. That deposit of some check is a rewarding thing that, honestly, sometimes makes the difference between having the will to go on or just quitting outright.

On Wednesday, I finally received one of these very important checks that was long overdue from a client. With a diminishing bank account, I jumped in the car late in the day and trucked the 45 minutes through rush hour traffic just to get to the bank and find they were closed. When I called their customer service toll free number, I was informed (inaccurately, as I later discovered) that the drive through was still open. Since there was a problem with my Visa debit card, I couldn’t simply make the deposit at the ATM machine so I thanked the representative and tried the drive thru. As I said, I discovered it was closed as well.

Irritated, I jumped on Twitter and went ballistic, venting about how I was going to close my account and find a bank that was closer. I was livid and was letting the world know. These bank runs are not small things for me. They take gas and money and time away from my book. I have kept this account because I always valued the 1st Mariner Bank Customer Service, though, but even that wasn’t going to be enough to keep me banking 45 mins away from home.

@FirstMarinerBank contacted me on Twitter late on Wednesday and commiserated a bit, but did little to actually help my problem. I didn’t expect that he (or she) could, but it was nice to talk to someone nonetheless.

Thursday morning, I got back in my car and drove from Bethesda back to Columbia, Md. where I made the deposit into my account and had one of those personal victory celebrations in my head. I could breathe easier. About an hour afterwards, without prompting by me, I recieved a DM from @FMBCustServ (who might also be @FirstMarinerBank – I don’t know) notifying me that he (his name is Matt Sparks) had saw the deposit go into my account and would work hard to get it cleared for me by the weekend.

Fascinating.

I received another check yesterday as well (but sadly, not before I made my bank run) and thanked Matt, telling him I’d be making another deposit today (Friday) and thanking him for his efforts. And I did. Today, I went back to the bank (that’s the third bank run in three days, if you’re keeping track at home) to make a deposit and, convinced that I’d be stupid to leave the bank after their exceptional show of support, not only made the deposit and didn’t close my personal checking account, but also opened up a new business account for my company.

About an hour after this process, I received another DM from Matt letting me know that he also saw that deposit and noting I’d be able to have money for the weekend. I already did, but it was a nice personal touch.

This is the way customer service should be. As a customer, I may not know what I want or need. Going the extra mile (not wearing the minimum amount of flair, if you will) is what keeps customers around. If we, as customers, feel valued then we are going to value you even more.

It’s the economy of trust.

Well done, Matt Sparks and 1st Mariner Bank. If you’re local to Baltimore, this is the bank you should be doing business with because they get it. If you’re in Suburban DC, as I have been since October, it might even be worth the extra drive to do business with these guys.

This post and DMs shared with permission.

5 Things I Learned from Nuclear Winter

Nuclear Winter. It’s the time period after a holocaust that can last for hundreds of years, making the surrounding landscape around ground zero uninhabitable due to radiation.

It is the death of life and the birth of a new holocaustic life. We’ve never actually had an actual nuclear winter on a global scale, though the threat is there as more and more nuclear weapons proliferate the globe. Many science fiction stories have been built around the concept of a nuclear holocaust and life after.

Although it’s a dark time, sometimes proverbial nuclear winters are necessary. They are the times when you throw away everything you know and begin from scratch. A chance at a new life. A rebirth. It’s a time to correct all that is wrong and hopefully get on the right path over the long haul. Economists call it “corrections”. Historians call it the “end of an era” or the “decline of an Empire” – depending on the context.

As someone who is not experienced in an actual nuclear winter, let me describe a few things that I’ve learned from proverbial “nuclear winter”

42497244_77eee59002.jpg
Photo by nogoodreason

1. All Assumptions are False

In a nuclear winter, life is not as you expect. Landmarks are gone. People you know are no longer in your world. You can no longer go to the grocery store and instead have to live off the land.

If you’re in a business that is facing massive layoffs, you cannot assume that the way things always have been will still exist in the world post-layoffs. You cannot assume that, even if you retain your job, your “new” job will remain as it was. You will likely end up giving up responsibilities due to business strategy objective shifts and maybe doing some new work due to the need to backfill for laid off colleagues.

You cannot assume that, because we’ve lived in a world of thriving internet startups, that you the lay of that land will remain the same in an economic holocaust. You can’t. It’s just not a safe assumption. Ask Seesmic.

2. Live Off the Land

In a nuclear winter, as described earlier, you simply can’t go to your Whole Foods and buy your hipster organic food. The reality is is that even if you could go buy organic food, it’s likely tainted from the fallout in the water, ground and air. No, you live off the land. You find the bugs and plants that carry an innate immunity to radioactivity or that have evolved enough to live and thrive in a nuclear landscape. Because you have to survive, and that’s more important than getting your Venti Soy Chai at Starbucks (that don’t exist).

More and more companies that continue to emerge these days are bootstrapping. Companies like AwayFind, who launched the other day, are bootstrapping and not taking angel investing or venture capital to stay alive. They are not taking a devaluation just for the infusion of cash. They are succeeding the old-fashioned way – a method that might take a lot more runway, but that ensures that 100% of the value of the company is retained by the principals. If you can live off the land, do it. It might be awhile before you find yourself a Starbucks in the nuclear wasteland.

3. There is Always a Remnant

During any nuclear winter in any story, you’ll always find a remnant. It might just be a small village of survivors that are doing their best to build a community and survive. They may have built a wall of scrap metal around their community to keep raiders away, but they are surviving.

At critical times where the status quo is challenged, the companies that are the hardiest and most cost-efficient are the ones that survive. While companies like AIG require an infusion of cash (or, as I call it, a crutch) to stay afloat they continue to splurge on non-necessities. Companies like this are doomed to failure.

While the auto-industry, built around an inefficient union mentality that, at one end, limits innovation because it de-incentivizes that innovation, and at the other hand overpays under-qualified individuals to do jobs that are worth half of their paychecks, struggles to figure themselves out, they will eventually have to declare bankruptcy. During that bankruptcy, they will be forced to cut, by some estimates, 50% of their workforce while updating their approach to union labor to ensure survival. There will be a remnant, and that remnant will figure out what needs to happen to survive the wasteland.

4. That Bridge Used to be the 14th Street Bridge

Picture 11.png
I’ve been playing Fallout 3 recently, which is set 200 years after a nuclear war between the United States and China. The setting is a region called “The Capital Wasteland” and is, in essence, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.

Throughout the game, you can find indications of what used to be. I recognized, in my wandering around the Capital Wasteland, a landmark that could only be the 14th Street Bridge. I would not have recognized it from anything other than geographical position. There were no distinguishing features and it was largely destroyed and falling into the isotope-filled Potomac River, but I knew it was the bridge.

Practices will change throughout life, but principles and patterns remain the same. It is the essence of the Chaos Theory which states that though the universe appears to be full of chaos and disorganization, it is entirely made up of fractals and patterns at an atomic and sub-atomic level. More simply, there are patterns and principles that remain true, though practice, execution and manifestation of those principles change.

In the communications, newspaper, and television industries, as well as many large businesses, people are wrestling with how to do business in a world that is dominated by the internet and then, only recently. They see chaos, where they should see patterns. The principles of public relations is to communicate effectively with the public. The practices of public relations, however, are shifting and the ones that adjust are the ones that will survive that nuclear winter.

5. Know Your Immune System

In a nuclear winter, there’s no one looking out for survivors except the survivors themselves. If there are doctors, they are few and far between. If there is a support community, you have to look hard and not trust anyone. It’s the nature of the new dog eat dog world that such a holocaust causes.

Companies right now are scrambling to figure out “what’s up”. They are looking at their profit margins, cash in hand and extending their runways as far as they can extend them. Investors are reassuring their portfolio companies that there should be a way to survive if they are smart and proactive, but the reality is that in a nuclear winter, no one really knows.

Even if a portfolio company manages to get that C-round and the $15M investment they need, it will be on a down valuation. In layman speak, that means it becomes, in essence, a high-interest loan where the company gets the cash they need but give up a larger stake in the company to make it happen.

The big banks are getting bailout money, but giving up controlling stakes in their companies in some cases. Rollups are likely with smaller companies needing an infusion of cash. People are being reassured that they will retain their jobs, and being laid off the week after. You can trust no one in a winter except yourself. I reiterate my recommendation from a few weeks ago, though. If you have a stable job, stay in it. If you are an entrepreneur, don’t seek shelter in a stable job. Survive, survive, survive…. then rebuild.