Public Publicity of the Best Kind

From ING Direct publicity stunts to the Cherry Blossom Run, Ed Callahan and Bucky Sebastian discuss the importance and power of generating public awareness.


This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of the Callahan Report.

On December 16, ING DIRECT Bank bought the Metro transportation system of Washington, D. C. Or rather paid for it. ING shelled out the fares for every rider of the subway and buses during the morning commute that day, hundreds of thousands of people. Anyone who rode between the hours of 5 and 9:30 AM December 16, rode free.

That sure is a way to get someone’s attention.

And ING made the best of it. They had their people at every subway station, people at the top walking with billboards, other people handing out brochures. They publicized their exceptional savings and lending rates, exceptional because they have no branches (other than a few show locations in New York) and conduct all their business by telephone and Internet.

ING has done similar things in other cities, paying for gasoline fill-ups in Baltimore, for example, or commuter fares in Boston and San Francisco. ING has not been on the public’s radar screen to this point, but that is certainly changing.

Like Means, but a Different Motive

What ING does is, of course, self-serving, and it is meant in the long run to increase profits.

Can we do similar things? We can, and better. We, of course, are not looking to increase profits. We are looking to help people. We are a people movement.

Unfortunately, we are not particularly perceived that way. Our competitors continue to define us for the American public. They harp on our tax exemption, broadcasting that we are just like banks but with an unfair advantage granted by the U. S. Government and the tax code.

This is a perception we have to demolish. We are a movement for the benefit of people. We don’t look for profit, but only to improve people’s lives and the communities they live in.

Thinking Bigger

Accordingly, we need to do ING-like things but with our own emphasis on people and good works. In keeping with our last two articles in the Callahan Report concerning our entry into the big leagues of financial services, we need to think big and do big but in our special credit union way.

The Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run in Washington, D. C., in early spring is of the right idea. It is now in its 33 rd year and it is becoming a major race. For decades, it has been a local event; now people are working to make it a more national happening, and this is the right move. Members of Congress serve as sponsors, and through them and their staffs the race can become much more known around the country. Indeed, the word is spreading; the 10,000 running slots for the race were filled within 24 hours of being made available through online registration.

In Florida, in the Tampa Bay area, credit unions have held small golf tournaments for various community and charitable causes. They are now working to combine these into one larger and better known golf tournament. This will be for the benefit of a new children’s hospital. The local credit unions are making a major push for contributions. The result is going to be that the pediatric intensive care unit is going to be named for credit unions.

When banks organize charity golf tournaments, everyone understands that the event is in some portion self-serving, that in some measure it is a means of enticing CEOs out to the links and then pitching for their business.

But credit union races, golf tournaments and the like need not and should not be like this. We can show -- we need to show -- that instead, this is who we are, that this is our movement, a movement of volunteers for the good of their neighbors and their communities. This is the way we have always been and this is the way we are now.

We need to think big. We need to do big. We need to show that we are non-profit, pro-people, pro-community, volunteering people.




April 11, 2005


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