Credit unions have often been bashful in the past about publicizing their many good works, but that is changing. Several leading credit unions have recently discovered the power of professional public relations (PR) to spread their message.
Whether it’s improving lives and communities through philanthropic work, new product and service offerings, or political activities, these credit unions find that effective PR about their activities really pays off.
A little over a year ago Washington State Employees Credit Union (WSECU) in Olympia, WA, with $1 billion in assets, hired Ann Flannigan for the brand new position of vice president of public relations. Since Flannigan’s efforts began, she has generated media coverage for the credit union ranging from articles in local papers to a story on the local CBS television affiliate.
A public relations veteran new to the credit union industry, Flannigan has quickly seen the value in media coverage. “Credit unions are behind on this. Banks and other financial institutions have dedicated resources to public relations and credit unions need to do the same thing,” she said.
Media Coverage Adds Validity to Brand
Paid advertisements and public relations can both increase awareness of a credit union’s presence and program offerings. However, credit unions like Dupaco Community Credit Union in Dubuque, IA, with $341 in assets, and Wescom Credit Union in Pasadena, CA, with $2 billion in assets, have discovered the benefit that third-party perspective media coverage offers.
“When you hear a story about us on the radio it adds validity to our program because it’s not paid advertising,” said Michael Weber, vice president of marketing and public relations at Dupaco.
Max Sucee, public relations specialist at Wescom, agrees.
“There is basic adage when comparing a story that has been generated by public relations versus an ad,” he said. “It can add up over time to be a very valuable asset for any credit union.”
Doing Good and Telling About It
The motto of “People Helping People” is at the heart of credit unions’ continual contributions to the community. The philanthropic projects are an easy way to highlight the philosophy that makes credit unions unique financial institutions and thus an integral and valuable part of a community.
“Publicizing community relations is important if we’re talking about trying to reach a broader audience,” said WSECU’s Flannigan.
Dupaco focuses heavily on publicizing their community involvement, simultaneously highlighting the value of credit unions at large. "We are really proud of our credit union’s efforts and this is a chance for us to hammer home that we do these things because we’re a credit union. It’s a chance to get this message across and brand ourselves as being unique. That's where PR can enhance your brand and what you're trying to do,” said Dupaco’s Weber.
Philanthropy Only One Piece of the Puzzle
While the nonprofit spirit is an integral part of member-owned credit unions, grounding philanthropic efforts on a business model is crucial, he believes.
Dupaco has gotten the most bang for its buck by developing sponsorship partnerships with local media outlets, allowing them to be heavily involved in the community while guaranteeing coverage.
WSECU has refined its community efforts to focus heavily in two areas: assisting struggling credit unions and developing a financial literacy program for young people. “We aligned our community involvement projects with our core business,” said Flannigan. “Our philosophy is to have our involvement result in the maximum benefit for both the recipients and for us.”