We love to hear from our readers about what's on their minds whether it's a letter to the editor or an opinion piece. But I have turned down a few lately, which has led to this column.
I want to take this opportunity to clearly explain what they are and what they are not in an effort to assist you, the readership, in submitting strong candidates for publication in Credit Union Times.
A letter to the editor should cover a reaction to a story or an opinion or maybe even an ad published in Credit Union Times. Or it could just be brief commentary on something in current events affecting credit union operations.
It should be relatively short and to the point.
Credit Union Times, as with most if not all publications, reserves the right to edit for length, style or inaccuracies. We reserve the right to publish or not based on these, but we will never preclude a letter from being published just because it was contrary to our opinions. What we will bar from publication is letters containing personal attacks or ones that are primarily marketing material.
The same holds true for an opinion piece. It should be information that is useful to the readership at large. It should delve into the intricacies of maintaining a balanced balance sheet or explain how credit unions can comply with a particularly tricky regulation coming down the pike. From a publication's perspective, the idea is to advise credit unions or others on how to do something, not who to do business with.
Opinion pieces, or op-eds, should not explain how wonderful a company is or extol the virtues of a particular product. Just take a look at pages 16-17 for great examples. SunCorp Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer Mark A. Schieffer advised credit unions on how to handle the current financial crisis and what they might be able to expect from it. Ondine Irving of Card Analysis Solutions offered up credit card portfolio advice in these troubled times. Not once did either plug their services; they offered themselves up as experts providing some simple free advice to readers. Who knows, maybe one of the pieces will pique the interest of a reader or two, and they will call up the experts? We print every author's name, title and contact information directly under their photo.
While marketing and advertising can be very effective, complementing it with these more subtle tactics is an important means to round out those efforts. See if any of these suit your fancy:
How might credit unions prepare for gift card purchases during the holiday season? Will it be busy or not?
What investments are good ideas for credit unions right now and what are not? Should they leave them where they are? Should they move some of those investments into branches or ATMs or marketing instead?
Why are CUSOs important to the movement and why should credit unions use their services over others?
Online bill payment: how much paper, time, and money can the average credit union save in a year and why else should CUs offer it? Should credit unions charge members or not for it? What is the fee-income potential there?
Why should (or should not) federal credit unions support state charters in their legislative efforts and vice versa?
These are just a few ideas off the top of my head for potential op-eds. You all are in the trenches everyday and I'm sure can come up with much better ones. Again, the idea is to present yourself as an expert on a particular subject, not a marketer. The recognition should come primarily from the photo and ID we run with the op-ed. Readers are smart enough to make the connection that this person knows a lot about IT Security, for example, and maybe I should call them up; that's where the opportunity lies for the author.
I also see a void in our op-ed pages. I would love to hear from, and I think our readers would too, credit union execs, like an IT exec who figured out a simple way to overcome a problem or a lending officer who worked out how to lend money to a borrower with a very troubled credit history. Credit unions always tout their cooperative nature. How better to demonstrate it?
Credit Union Times' guidelines are 900 words, phone and e-mail contact information for publication, and a high-resolution, color photo of the single author.
Some other practical suggestions from one writer to another: have someone who can truly write look it over and make suggestions. And avoid overusing bullet points; they're meant to emphasize and outline something. If they make the page look like something out of the Wild West, it buries the truly important points.
Also, be sure to write in plain English. Often, op-eds can be on very technical subjects, such as a new technology or a lawsuit that might be relevant to credit unions. Be careful not to get caught in the weeds because while your compliance buddies may get it, a credit union lending officer, CEO or even a magazine editor may not.
--Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org