Powerful Messaging Doesn't Have to Break the Bank

Proactive credit unions are embracing earned media as a way to talk about who they are and what they do.


Negative press concerning the pitfalls of banks abound – bailouts, fees and skyrocketing credit card rates, anyone? – making this an opportune time to promote credit unions. Press releases and advertising are a part of that promotion, but proactive organizations are embracing earned media as a way to talk about who they are and what they do.

"We are getting a lot of earned media nationwide," says John Radebaugh, President and CEO of the North Carolina Credit Union League (NCCUL), who cites endorsements from reputable sources like CNN Money and Suze Orman. "What's missing is some credit unions are not getting that same leverage with local media."

Develop a Rapport
The media won't cover what they don't know exists. Establish contact with local news drivers such as editors, reporters, radio personalities and bloggers to explain what services the credit union offers and how it differs from banks. Make it known that the credit union is a valuable source of information about financial as well as community issues.

"Reporters tend to develop relationships with people that have a variety of information they can get to," says Jack Quigley, President of Compass Media Group in Chicago. "They reach out even when the story doesn't deal directly with what you do for background, context and depth."

Blogs, Twitter and Facebook are driving news content that appeals to younger audiences, so maintaining active accounts is a sound – and inexpensive – investment. A newspaper clip is no longer the beacon of effective coverage; major stories frequently start as small blurbs online and develop throughout the coming days. If a financial story hits, submit a letter to the editor or post online comments. When a hot topic issue is financial in nature, urge organization leaders to contribute Op-eds.

Once a relationship is established with the local media, continually nurture it thorough relevant press releases.

"Pitch a good story with a lot of the legwork done," Quigley says. "If you make a story easier to cover, you'll likely get more interest."

Get Involved
Advocacy is a great way to garner media attention as well as add value to the community. Partner with a reputable philanthropic organization to co-sponsor an existing event or develop a new initiative.

Cynthia McAree, VP of Marketing at Apple Federal Credit Union in Virginia, says many of Apple's partnerships – such as this fall's annual coat drive with the Salvation Army – are a natural fit because the organizations' philosophies align. The fact that the local ABC affiliate has agreed to cover the drive is an added bonus.

"Work with local non-profits that benefit the community at large," McAree advises. "Media outlets will often pick up on stories with a broad appeal and a greater reach."

McAree suggests establishing event timelines with defined responsibilities and stresses the importance of developing comprehensive proposals for possible partnerships.

"Do not call and say: We want to partner with you," she says. "Do the legwork and let organizations know what you can bring to the table."

Be Judicious
Decide what two or three messages the credit union wants to deliver; then narrow the focus of media outreach to promote those messages. Instead of bombarding all local media with generic press releases, identify the best recipient for a pitch, then tailor a release to that source. Use what is going on in the community, calendar or news to package releases that are meaningful to your community.

"Make pitches relevant to the community around you," says Misty Albrecht, VP of B.I.G. (Brand-Initiatives-Growth) at Main Street Financial Federal Credit Union ($112M in Baton Rouge, La.). Albrecht is one of three presenters at CUtv's upcoming public relations webinar.

"Pitch the story idea," Albrecht says, "If it doesn't get picked up, try again."

Are you maximizing your earned media possibilities? You can upload your press releases to Callahan & Associates Complimentary Press Center. Check out these newsworthy initiatives that credit unions around the country are leading: