PHOENIX -- Work for a nonprofit organization and you may get a lot of satisfaction, but few resources.
In the for-profit sector, you might enjoy a large budget and staff, but little sense you are helping people.
When Jason Meyers started pondering a career shift, he wanted structure and resources combined with a sense of mission. The result was about five months ago he joined Desert Schools Federal Credit Union as public relations manager.
Meyers was the first person to hold that job. He agrees it was surprising to realize an operation that large didn't have somebody specifically assigned to public relations until he came on board.
"The majority of growth at Desert Schools has occurred in the last five years," he notes. "Prior to my arriving here the PR function was really done at random. Whoever needed to write a press release kind of did it. There was no strategy. As the credit union approached $3 billion, they decided they needed this function.
"What really attracted me to the credit union industry in general was it has a mission-focused, not-for-profit philosophy. But it also has a corporate atmosphere, which I enjoy, and the resources and processes to get things done."
Meyers describes his career before coming to Desert Schools as a nontraditional path. He started in radio as a production director and on-air personality. He eventually shifted more to the marketing side.
In the mid-90s he went to work for the Arizona Republic as a senior editor and copywriter in the marketing department.
After seven years he decided he wanted to try the nonprofit sector. So he went to the Heard Museum, where he was director of marketing and communications.
"That's actually where I got a lot of hands-on experience doing everything a marketing department does," he explains. "What I found is there was a lack of structure and resources. So I began looking at options to get back into the corporate world but with a company or industry that has held onto a nonprofit philosophy. The credit union industry fulfilled all those requirements."
One of his first jobs was to rein in the Desert Schools public relations activity and become a central point for media relations, interviews and on-air contacts as spokesman for the credit union.
Public relations is handled in-house as part of a 20-person marketing department, with no outside agency involved. From creative to media buying, and now public relations, the media department handles it.
Meyers soon discovered most people have no idea what a credit union is and how it differs from a bank. He also learned even many employees didn't really understand the difference.
"Explaining the credit union difference, not only to the media but internally, has been one of my major tasks initially," he says. "I also had to sell the value of the position. I began working with the training department and our quality department on internal communications."
Meyers believes Desert Schools has indeed increased its visibility. The credit union is receiving more coverage in local publications, and Meyers wants to get exposure for human-interest stories, not just information about products and services.
He cites an example. The operations manager and lead cashier in the employee cafeteria is blind. Meyers is pitching to local media a story based on the fact that employee breaks down stereotypes about the blind.
"I'm trying to dig below the surface and find the kind of stories the credit union simply didn't have time to explore," Meyers says.
In addition to issuing four to seven news releases a month, Meyers is working on a media training program for senior management. He believes reporters are becoming more interested in credit unions, and are calling Desert Schools more frequently for a quote when a story involves financial issues.
For instance, the Arizona Republic has been working on the subject of mortgage fraud. Desert Schools is now more top-of-mind so a reporter is likely to call for a credit union viewpoint on the topic.
"The public relations initiatives have brought a lot of our departments together," Meyers says. "There's a new synergy."