VOL. 133 | NO. 68 | Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Former FHN Communications Chief Launches New Venture
By Andy Meek
Back in the summer, Memphis-based First Tennessee Bank was listed as the fifth most reputable bank in the nation in a report from the industry-focused news publication “American Banker.”
Bryan Jordan, chairman and CEO of the bank’s parent company, First Horizon National Corp. (NYSE: FHN), was enthused how such a distinction meant First Tennessee had to have scored high marks on the “many facets that shape an organization’s reputation.” It was, in other words, high praise.
Behind the scenes, though, the longtime communications chief of First Tennessee’s parent company saw it as something else.
When you’re assessing your career, have been thinking about the next move for a few years and are intrigued by the possibility of launching your own enterprise, you’ve got to pick your moment to exit. Being named one of the most reputable banks felt like a high note to Kim Cherry. So by the end of 2018, Cherry, who’d been executive vice president of corporate communications at First Horizon for 10 years, decided the moment had come. On Jan. 2, she formally launched Cherry & Co. Public Relations.
Having been in the same role for a decade – one, incidentally, she got the same year as the worst of the Great Recession hit – Cherry had been thinking about launching some kind of communications-focused enterprise of her own for a few years.
She knew her experiences at First Tennessee and as an executive at its parent company gave her a unique perspective. In 31 years with the organization overall, she’d seen it through leadership changes at the top, a massive ramp-up of its footprint beyond Tennessee, then the onset of the financial crisis and the scaling back of that footprint and much more.
“I focus on the same things that I did at First Tennessee for three decades,” she says of the new venture. “I do media relations, employee communications and community involvement.
“First Tennessee, when I started, was about a 6,000-employee bank with a very strong capital markets group that then expanded to 13,000 employees with a national mortgage company, in addition to the regional bank and the capital markets group,” Cherry said. “As the financial crisis hit, we sold the mortgage company and lo and behold we were back to being about a 6,000-employee regional bank with a capital markets group.”
In other words: she’s handled PR and communications in a highly regulated industry with large concentrations of professional employees that also came with a bit of geographic dispersion.
“The financial crisis certainly taught me a lot about maintaining and even enhancing a reputation in a crisis,” she said, a thought that Jordan has echoed in public remarks at times.
Jordan has said in the past, for example, that he was insistent that public relations not be an afterthought at the company – that the company’s PR representation be at the table with the bank’s leadership to help shape messaging and strategy.
The services her new firm offers run the gamut in employee engagement, from writing, editing and proofreading content to social media messaging and employee communications to the different facets of traditional and social media, like news releases, media pitches, meet-and-greets with journalists and more.
On the community investment side, she offers help with things like speeches, charitable giving, strategic sponsorships and nonprofit board placements.
In a way, it’s an odd place for a PR veteran to find herself in. After decades telling other people’s stories, she’s now telling her own and talking up her own skills and expertise. But she loves the work, always has.
“Dealing with the news media over all those years was a learning process,” Cherry said. “And I got to communicate with a lot of different types of audiences, from employees to investors, to community leaders and directors.
“That’s what I can help an organization do, is tell a story and build relationships to help the business succeed.”