Working With a PR Firm Has its Just Rewards
Mike Welch's comments in his June 25th column "CUs Need to Hire Full-Time PR Professionals" are very timely. Credit unions must be adept at managing public relations these days. Rather than a full-time staffer, however, some CUs might be well-served by hiring a PR firm on retainer. We work with a local PR firm that is compatible with our style, organization and company ties. We pay them for an expected amount of client work decided in advance. If we exceed it, we are billed hourly and for expenses. We plan annually to set strategic PR goals and meet monthly to manage tactics. One of the first assignments I gave the firm was to get media training for our key executives. We worked with a Las Vegas television network affiliate to learn how to initiate and respond to media interviews of all types. During the workshop, we experienced mock interviews, appeared on camera, created instant crisis responses, and then reviewed our performances on videotape. The experience was priceless. I also have the PR firm coordinate with our marketing plans and events. They back us up with speech writing and create speaking engagements in our community so we can show off in our market. They recently supported me in crafting a rebuttal to our state bankers association attacks in the newspaper. We have a crisis media management plan on paper for contingencies. We have full media kits ready to use. They produced our 50th anniversary event in 2001. They conduct press conferences for special events, such as last January when we announced a $4.2 million bonus dividend to our members. Additionally, we sometimes ask the firm to deploy PR on behalf of or in coordination with league and SEG efforts. Everyone involved loves us when we do this. The retainer arrangement has worked out well. We get professional representation at a predictable budget cost and no FTE expense. For credit unions that want to start up a PR program, there are two pitfalls that can doom the effort. First, don't launch a PR program with no objective and no means of performance measurement. Second, don't fail to give the effort a long enough chance to build inertia and credibility (12 months minimum). Here are the some of the results we see with our program: I get frequent inquiries from local and national media writers for stories about CCCU; the firm writes our newsletter and keeps an archive of everything that appears in the media; our board members (formerly quite introverted) are now comfortable with media and public events. In addition our marketing efforts get more resonance in the community and with our SEGs; our SEG members have more pride and loyalty for us ; we are now one of the `go-to' firms for financial quotes for news media in our market; when we lobby the legislature every term, elected officials already know us. Thanks for shining light on a great tool for credit unions to use for their own preservation and growth. Mark Andrews Vice President Sales and Marketing Clark County Credit Union Las Vegas, Nev.