As chief communications officer at the American Bankers Association, Peter Cook oversees a team that serves as the voice of the banking industry in Washington—offering services that range from a daily email newsletter to marketing the organization's advocacy and politices to providing programs in the financial education space.
Cook says handling that broad range of responsibilities requires staying aware of the common thread that unites all the organization's members. "Certainly, there are some issues where large banks have a particular perspective or something might be particularly relevant to them, more so than a community bank and vice versa. But we try and highlight those areas where the industry stands together. And that's where ABA is at its strongest,when our members are united."
Formerly a journalist, Cook at one point covered the organization he now works for. That experience, he tells Simon was "incredibly invaluable because I know what the hard questions are that we will face and need to answer. And I think that perspective allows me to think ahead as to what's coming and prepare us for that."
His experience handling public affairs at the Dept. of Defense, Cook says, made it apparent that "the notion of hiding under your desk and avoiding hard questions and not being able to confront the issues of the day—that time has passed. You need to engage, and the more you can engage on your own terms and be proactive, the better."
Cook also talks about the power of research and data in effectively doing his job. "We're very lucky here to have a great research team," he says, something that was very importantin the wake of the failure of three banks in the spring. "One of the challenges we had immediately was make sure that we could demonstrate to the public that they should have confidence in the industry and every other bank in this country, and we were able to do that with data."
He also stresses that communications pros need to see journalists as collaborators, not adversaries. "When reporters are willing to listen, that's great. It is a different environment out there to be a journalist. It's a challenging media environment, and I'm absolutely sensitive to that. I have a number of friends in the business. I encourage young people to become reporters. I speak at journalism schools still all the time. And it's an honorable profession, and I'd love to see it remain as vibrant and successful as possible."
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