An often overlooked way to improve the return on investment of new and existing
programs is building a strong brand through effective public relations (PR).
Americans are inundated with messages each day and PR provides a cost-effective
way to generate additional attention with the added value of a third party perspective.
“The average American is targeted by 3,000 messages per day. That includes
phone calls, e-mail, meetings, conversations,” writes David Shenk in Data
In addition to the plethora of messages, the added challenge for credit unions
is maintaining relationships with multiple “publics:”
- local community
- business leaders
However, the member-focused culture of credit unions provides a natural springboard
for building and maintaining a positive reputation. Here are simple ways credit
unions have successfully leveraged PR with their existing programs.
Generating Attention for New or Existing Programs
After Mid-Oregon Credit Union began writing press releases
that the local media picked up about their free financial planning classes,
attendance surged from typical four or five to as many as 30 at a single event.
The cost of hosting the event remained the same, but the free media publicity
dramatically increased the return.
Washington State Employees Credit Union (WSECU) received a
front page story in the Seattle Times, the state’s largest paper,
and coverage on the local CBS affiliate for its payday lending program. Though
Ann Flannigan, vice president of public relations for WSECU, invested time and
energy in pitching the story to the media, the return was phenomenal: a full
page ad in the Seattle Times would cost $10,000-$15,000 and the television
spot even more.
“It was a 90-second ‘ad’ for our program – and it was
free!” said Flannigan about the television news coverage and the added
benefit of the third party endorsement. “When something like this happens,
it’s phenomenal. It’s great for business and helps spread the word.
Promoting Organizational Achievements
Many credit unions have examined their current strengths and found ways to promote
them. David Barton, CEO of Gateway Metro Credit Union in St.
Louis, MO, learned through Callahan & Associates that his credit union was
Missouri’s fastest-growing over $50 million in assets. Not only did the
St. Louis Business Journal write a story about the credit union, but
posters in the lobby broadcast this achievement to members.
“We had a lot of positive comments from our members,” said Barton.
“We think that our members want to be connected with a winning organization
that’s moving in the right direction.”
Increasing Awareness of Community Involvement
Community involvement is a natural part of any credit union culture, but there
are simple steps to make the most out of any contribution and generate positive
“Co-branding is a win-win,” said Max Sucee, public relations specialist
at Wescom Credit Union in Pasadena, CA, with $2 billion in
assets. If partnering with a charity for an event, he recommends writing a release
covering both groups’ involvement so that the other non-profit can also
release it to its target audience.
If you donate money to an organization, Nancy Layton, vice president of public
relations at Service Credit Union (NH), suggests enhancing
the press release by incorporating a quote from someone with the receiving group.
“Those people are thankful for the donation and more than happy to offer
Maximizing Advertising Investment
Most credit unions invest in some type of advertising, but Dupaco Community
Credit Union in Dubuque, IA, with $341 in assets, leverages its investment
in the local media to partner with them on events. Teaming up with local media
for charitable events increases the likelihood of coverage.
“When you're signing advertising contracts with local newspapers, radio,
or television, let them know you're interested in working with them,”
said Michael Weber, vice president of marketing and public relations at Dupaco.
“Those entities are always doing a lot of community activities.”