HARRISBURG, Pa. - On the eve of kicking off its 2005 Statewide Network of Advertising in Pennsylvania (SNAP) campaign, the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association is celebrating the campaign's 32nd anniversary, making it possibly the oldest continuous running credit union awareness campaigns.
What's more, the campaign is still funded by voluntary contributions - and always has been. That, says PCUA's Mike Wishnow, SVP Communications & Marketing, has its upside and downside. Wishnow heads up a team of staff who annually decide on the campaign's theme for the upcoming year.
"The downside of depending on voluntary contributions is we obviously don't get as much money as we could to do a bigger campaign, but the upside is that those credit unions that do contribute get to see the sustainable benefit of their contributions," he says.
Started in 1973, the year after CUNA launched its National Advertising Program (NAP) featuring actor Chad Everett, the Pennsylvania Credit Union League as it was called then began its SNAP campaign.
For the first three years, the theme was "Credit Unions, It's Where You Belong." Initially the entire campaign was based on newspaper advertising. At least for the first decade, Wishnow explained, the League ran an ad in general circulation magazines that included a coupon instructing consumers "to learn more about credit unions, send the coupon back to the Pennsylvania Credit Union League."
Wishnow said the League would get "hundreds" of coupons with consumers' names and addresses, and it would in turn mail them information about credit unions including how to become a member.
"Sometime in the first 10 years" the League experimented with supplementing SNAP with some radio coverage, but that was short lived. Wishnow said there was some concern the League wasn't raising enough money to go statewide with enough radio coverage to make any kind of significant impact, so the campaign continued to focus on newspapers.
By the mid-1980s SNAP was already 10 years old and the number of coupons being mailed back to the League for credit union information began to decline. Wishnow speculates the use of newspapers had reached its saturation point. So the campaign emphasis switched toward using billboards with some radio advertising, and gradually less and less newspaper advertising.
In addition, for the newspaper advertising that was continued the League ran increasingly in business journals targeting businesses for potential select employee groups, and less in general circulation newspapers that targeted individual members. Wishnow said the League continued that media plan for about five years and eventually stopped using newspapers all together in the mid-1990s.
"In essence we've been doing in Pennsylvania for years what some other leagues are just starting to do now," said Wishnow. Credit unions' recommended voluntary contributions are figured on a formula based on asset size. A notice about the contribution is mailed annually to each PCUA-affiliated credit union in December along with their dues invoice.
The minimum contribution a credit union can make is $100 and the maximum is $15,000. Wishnow says the cap has remained the same for the last several years, and he stressed that since the contribution is only a suggested dollar amount, "we never know for sure how much we'll collect until we actually receive the money."
Wishnow estimated that approximately 40% of PCUA-affiliated CUs give toward SNAP. He hypothesized the reason more don't contribute is "perhaps they don't see the value of the campaign or see the billboard in their backyard to associate with the campaign."
Wishnow said in the past PCUA has tried to apportion the billboard advertising equal to where contributions come in from. "But the reality is the dollars don't always translate equally into a market because some markets like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg are the most expensive in the state. So dollars don't always translate to an equal number of billboards per market," he explained.
Wishnow and his team of marketing and communications staff from PCUA are responsible for coming up with the theme for each year's campaign. Including Wishnow the team includes marketing director Jay Young; communications director Diane Powell; and two communications specialists Janet Johnson and M.E. Siegfried. PCUA Communications Specialist and Webmaster Don Dotson, who is currently serving in Iraq, is also on the team.
The process starts in February with a "total brainstorming" that typically results in 30-40 ideas that are then narrowed down to three to five themes. Those are subsequently passed on to the internal executive management team which indicates their preference.
Once that decision is made, the preference is field tested, then it's time to tackle the creative design. The team writes all the scripts and creative. They also work with a media buyer to buy the media space. The entire process from start to finish takes about three months, says Wishnow, adding "hopefully we come up with a theme that works."
In addition to the billboard and radio campaign, PCUA also sends posters with the respective year's creative to credit unions that they can incorporate into their marketing or display at their facilities.
PCUA recently selected its theme for its 2005 statewide SNAP as "Building Strong Communities by Investing in You." Wishnow said the theme is designed to communicate credit unions' commitment to serving their communities through their members.
At press time, artwork for the 2005 campaign wasn't completed. Judging from the contributions PCUA has received so far, Wishnow is optimistic more money will be raised this year than in previous years. So far he said they're ahead of last year's total money contributions, even though fewer CUs have contributed - last year at this time 264 CUs had contributed a total $148,000; this year so far PCUA has collected $162,000 from 224 CUs. Last year's total contributions were just under $160,000.
PCUA will continue to collect contributions through the summer, but Wishnow stressed "we won't turn any contributions down even if they come in after that."
As for leagues such as the California Credit Union League which is running a mandatory participation $6 million advocacy campaign which recently triggered the disaffiliation of 30 CUs from the California and Nevada Leagues, Wishnow said, "Their ambition is laudable in terms of wanting to get out there in a big way. Understandably California is as larger state with more costly media markets than Pennsylvania. If mandatory participation works for them, that's terrific. In Pennsylvania we prefer to have voluntary contributions." - firstname.lastname@example.org