6 Ways to Get the Right Kind of Attention for Your Collection Agency

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It’s no secret that the debt collection industry gets a lot of attention from countless places–consumers, legislators, regulators, attorneys, and the mainstream media (just to name a few). Unfortunately, much of that interest in the ARM industry isn’t exactly the kind of warm and fuzzy consideration that collection agencies want, nor of a variety that makes their current or potential creditor clients giddy with joy.

So how can collection agencies get noticed in the right way, in a manner that will strengthen their own brand reputations and those of their clients?

In a few weeks I’ll be co-hosting a pre-conference teaching workshop at the Debt Connection Symposium & Expo in Las Vegas entitled “Essential Marketing Tools for Collection Agencies.” If you’ll be at DCS2012 this year, I hope you’ll join us for the workshop. But for those who can’t attend, I’d like to share a handful of straightforward ways you can beef up your company’s stature.

Before I dive into the tips themselves, allow me to dispense with one all-too-pervasive falsehood that some in the ARM industry still seem to cling to: promoting your brand does not “paint a target on your company’s back.” (Why? Because it’s already tattooed there, permanently.) Remember all those sources of undesirable scrutiny I mentioned above? Do you think your detractors are going to break camp and go home simply because you choose not to publicize the importance of the collection industry to the U.S. credit markets, or the Walk to Fight Cancer your company participated in last month, or the fact that there are 5 more people employed in Cleveland or 50 more in Phoenix because your agency added staffing in one of those cities?

Trust me: they won’t stop complaining, or legislating, or enforcing, or suing, or writing. So what can you do? The answer is alarmingly simple: Play an active role in the conversation about the collection industry. Here are a few ideas for how to do that.

1. Create content. You and your employees work hard every day. Doing good work is your job, but it doesn’t magically benefit your company if you don’t also do the work of telling that story. Do you have a website? What does it say about your firm? Do you use LinkedIn? When is the last time you shared an achievement or commented intelligently in a discussion group? Write your own history, or someone else will write it for you.

2. Get online. Bonfires are great for roasting weenies, but sending up smoke signals (and other forms of antiquated marketing) are both inefficient and not necessarily cost effective. The daily work of a collection agency might happen in the brick and mortar world, but reputation management, branding, and positive publicity must have an online component in order to be relevant and recognized in the world of business today.

3. Be frugal. Does your agency still utilize glossy brochures or send out fancy post cards through the USPS prior to a conference? So be it. But how much did you pay to produce those materials that, like it or not, begin losing value like a new Cadillac the minute they hit the mailbox. And how much did you pay to pass all that paper through the hands of decision makers en route to hundreds of trash cans under their desks? Instead, perhaps consider broadcasting that same message in a targeted email, or a series of Twitter posts, or a well-timed press release via any number of free PR sites on the Internet.

4. Call on your friends. Many ARM industry professionals are active social media users. Pay attention to them. Good information in a B2B context is addictive. Direct competition aside, most collection agencies face the same challenges and are untied by the same business interests. Share on behalf of others in the industry and they’ll soon do the same thing for you.

5. Leverage available resources. In addition to social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+, numerous organizations–from industry associations to corporate or individual blogs to media companies like insideARM–publish content about the ARM industry every day. And in many cases they reach a lot more people than your corporate website or company Twitter account (this, by the way, is nothing to feel bad about). Take advantage of these resources by sharing content and information with them. Yesterday, for example, I published an article written by a rookie collection manager at a Canadian agency. In it she described her astonishment at how great working for a debt collection agency has been in her first month of employment. Guess what? Over the course of just 24 hours almost 2,200 people read that post, and scores of readers clicked on the link to the collection agency’s website after reading what a fantastic place it is to work there.

6. Start today. You don’t have to be a professional writer to jot down a few sentences about how many cans of vegetables your employees donated to a local food pantry this summer. And it only takes about a half hour to set up a basic Google+ page for your company, regardless of how big or small you are. Already using LinkedIn? After clicking “Like” on someone’s post later today or accepting an invitation to connect, why not take 5 minutes and share an update about something good happening at your company. You never know… the agency manager at a blue chip credit card company who could care less about what you “Like” on LinkedIn just might be interested to know that you recognized an Employee of the Month in July who posted the largest month over month increase in dollars collected for the year.

 

Michael Klozotsky is the Chief Content Officer at insideARM.com and insidePatientFinance.com. On September 10 he will be presenting, along with president & publisher Stephanie Eidelman and Client Marketing Specialist Jennifer Szumiesz, Essential Marketing Tools for Collection Agencies’ at DCS2012 in sunny Las Vegas. RSVP to join the free workshop.

 

Continuing the Discussion

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  • avatar Patrick Donovan says:

    Good article. However, I’m still very apprehensive about using social media with my collection agency. My main concern is with the potential for comments to be posted by people who are die-hard anti-collection agency. Where our intent would be to provide a different channel to interact with our consumers, clients and prospective clients I fear that it could end up being an opportunity for people to just trash the industry in which we work. I’m also concerned about a consumer trying to contact us about their situation through social media and then we somehow get accused of violating the FDCPA because of third-party disclosure even though we didn’t disclose anything. Seems too risky to me.

  • Patrick–

    Thank you for reading and commenting. Your points are well taken. Allow me to say a few words that might help put your mind at ease.

    First, I don’t recommend–at least at first–using social media as a vehicle to market to consumers, at least not in any direct way. But to your point about the risk of having the industry “trashed,” remember what I said at the outset of my post: this is already happening. Sitting on the sidelines isn’t going to protect collection agencies. That said, some social media platforms, like Facebook, for example, allow users to restrict who can participate in a given discussion. On Facebook you can vet those who comment on your wall by “friending” only certain people; if someone should violate the terms of use you establish you can simply “unfriend” them. Moreover, platforms like LinkedIn, for example, are designed largely for business professionals and many of the ARM industry LinkedIn groups are gated communities that only approved members can participate in. The insideARM and insidePatientFinance LinkedIn groups, for example, do not have any consumer members. This fact makes these groups a pretty safe place to discuss your business and issues of importance to the collection industry.

    I think the second concern you raise is even more simple. I do not, under any circumstances, suggest communicating with consumers about their accounts via social media. If your company sets an explicit policy never to respond to a consumer inquiry via social media, the risk of third-party disclosure is almost nil.

    In addition to the marketing workshop I’m teaching at DCS, Lance Black of the Northland Group and Jeff DiMatteo of American Profit Recovery and I will be hosting a 90 minute panel discussion at DCS in September on Social Media for Collections. I don’t know whether you’re attending DCS this year, but if not I’d be happy to share some of the materials from that session with you after the event. Just reach out to me.

    I would also reemphasize that social media is only one aspect of getting your company–or any agency–noticed in the right way. If you have a website where you can post news about the industry or your firm, you should do so. The websites insideARM designs for clients almost all contain this feature (a blog or “news” section)–and none of them allow for comments on those posts (to your earlier point). Or, for example, if your’re not issuing press releases about the good things your company is doing, I suggest you do that. As I wrote above, there are numerous free press release resources on the Internet and insideARM, for one, will always publish “good news” about industry companies (i.e. charity work, hiring, advocacy efforts) 100% free of charge.

    Finally, think about the kind of information you’re putting out there. If your employees volunteer in your local community to help build a playground, clean up a park or a section of highway, or donate money to a charity, what can someone–even a “die-hard collection agency hater” say about one of those efforts that won’t still make you look good and make that person look like a total jerk?

    Again, in most cases, the risk to your reputation of doing nothing is much higher than the benefits that attend proactively promoting your brand, your people, and the work you do for your clients.

    Best regards,
    MrK

  • avatar John Nemo says:

    Nice post Mike! You hit on the key points – whether you like it or not, and whether you choose to ignore it or not, people already are having those discussions about your agency online.

    Think about it: If you walked into a large cocktail party and heard someone a few groups over loudly trashing your agency, carrying on with lies and insults about how awful your business was, would you just stand there and pretend you weren’t hearing anything? Would you fail to respond to this vocal critic because you were scared a consumer attorney might be lurking behind the bar, ready to set down his drink and start signing up potential plaintiffs if you spoke up and called attention to yourself? Would the other partygoers assume your conspicuous silence must mean the allegations were true?

    Unfortunately, far too many debt collection agencies are doing exactly this online when it comes to ignoring the conversations happening every day on social media!

    In addition to the benefits you mention, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a great additional benefit of the positive buzz you can generate for your agency online by diving into social media on channels like LinkedIn, Google+ and here on InsideARM.com.

    Not using social media in 2012 is like refusing to use a telephone in 1982 or a fax machine in 1992. If you continue to sleep on social media, you continue to avoid the communications medium of choice for consumers, clients, regulators and everyone else who comes into contact with your business in today’s world.

    Thanks for this post – I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments and advice!

  • avatar Blair Wettlaufer says:

    Another item to add … put continuous effort in.

    One blog post, one blood drive, one good deed will not turn the tide of all the negative press surrounding the credit and collections industry. To make a positive difference, you need to be putting forth consistent efforts to present your company (and our industry) in a positive light.

    Everything else Michael has written I agree with wholeheartedly.

  • Thanks for the comments, gents.

    Kloz

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