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Virtually all credit unions today fall short in the important area of public relations. One reason is because most credit union CEOs and boards don’t understand the value of PR, or the big difference between marketing and public relations. Many full-time credit union staff positions, most of them now taken for granted as management level jobs, are relatively new. The most obvious example is a full-time marketer. It wasn’t all that long ago that the majority of credit unions saw no need for a marketing staffer. “Credit unions have no competition,” was a comment heard frequently. Not surprisingly, back then not many credit unions, even large ones, had a full-time marketing staff position. It was pretty frustrating for those of us leading the charge to get marketing recognized as a management function, to convince credit unions that they needed to hire professional marketing directors, and to show what a full-time marketer could and should do. Today, credit union public relations is where CU marketing once was. CEOs and boards need to be shown and convinced that public relations should be a full-time management staff position. Just like the uphill battle it took to get marketing and marketers recognized, creating a full-time credit union public relations position is easier said than done. What little PR credit unions do is almost always tossed into the laps of their already overworked marketing directors. That’s a huge mistake. Even the best marketers are not good at public relations, nor should they be expected to be. And PR duties are usually not at the top of their “to do” lists. Marketing and public relations are two different things. They have different goals. They require different skills. For example, most marketers still can’t write a basic news release and have yet to learn how to work effectively with the media. So credit unions need a full-time person at the vice-president level with a college degree, reporting directly to the CEO, to put together good news releases? Hardly! While by definition the marketer will be judged on how well he or she markets the credit union’s products and services, the PR professional will be graded on their ability to present the credit union in the best possible light. How? Here’s just some of what a full-time credit union public relations professional should be responsible for: Unless the regular newsletter is intended to function strictly as a promotion piece, the PR staffer should edit it. Newsletters can be a powerful communications and image building medium, and not just with members either. Who else should get it is another PR decision. PR should also be completely responsible for the credit union’s annual report. A well-crafted annual report, as noted in a previous column, can be one of the most effective public relations tools available to a credit union. PR distribution is almost as important as the actual report. The public relations staffer should work closely with any media that represents an important outlet to tell the credit union’s story. That means, getting to know (read) the publications and their editorial staffs, for example, and learning what they want, when, and in what format. A PR staffer should also handle special projects such as open houses for credit union main office and branch facilities, staff team building exercises, participation in CUNA’s Hike the Hill program, visits by political leaders and other VIPs, and observing various milestones achieved by the credit union and its leadership. Also, PR has an important role to play in the various award programs credit unions get involved in. When the credit union gives or receives an award or some type of recognition, the PR staffer needs to play a lead role in how, when, and where, it’s done. Some PR responsibilities are even more obvious, such as speech writing for staff and board members speaking on behalf of the credit union, letters to the editor, formal reports to members, coordination of all charitable activities and CU memberships, political action initiatives, and everything that falls under community relations. Large community-based credit unions not having a full-time PR person no longer makes any sense. An overall responsibility of a credit union public relations staffer should be to be an educator and in the process to make certain that the credit union consistently presents a positive image. One example of many: PR needs to step in if some credit union printed materials look like the credit union is going out of business tomorrow, while others sends a false signal that at this credit union money is no object. In the overall scheme of things, just who is this “public” that public relations entails? There are many credit union publics. For example, members, of course, but also potential members, all sponsor groups including the growing number of SEGs, all communities where the CU has a presence, other credit unions, the competition, vendors, regulators, politicians, and of course the media. Just think of the positive impact if credit unions collectively had an army of professional PR staffers spreading the good word. For one thing, there would be less confusion over what a credit union is or is not among all the publics credit unions relate to. For another, banker attacks would begin to fall on deaf ears as PR efforts put banks tax avoidance initiatives in perspective. The opportunities to do good are limitless. Some marketers may view this call to put a public relations professional box on the organizational chart as a threat to their jobs. They shouldn’t. By taking away PR type duties thrust upon them it will free up marketers time to do an even better job of pure credit union marketing. So which credit union will step up and become the first to hire a full-time vice president of public relations? Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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