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As hard as it might be for today’s full-time management level marketing professionals currently working for credit unions to believe, at one point there was no such thing as credit union marketing. In fact, to many of those then involved with CUs, including most CEOs, marketing was a dirty word. “Who needs marketing? ” was a common refrain back then. “ We don’t have any competition. We know all our members by name. Why waste money on marketing? That’s something banks have to do, not credit unions. Advertising reaches too many people who are not eligible to join.” Sitting in on a national credit union marketing conference awards presentation earlier this month, it was obvious that credit union marketing has come a long way from those pioneering days when I was pushing for creation of the credit union marketing function and respect for those assigned to handle marketing duties. The interest level in marketing in those days was so low that not even any of my nine CUES Board members employed a marketer at their credit unions. That made it a tough sell when as CUES CEO my staff and I continually made proposals for marketing related programs and services that CUES could offer its members and potential members. It was not unusual to find on the CUES Board agenda proposals (all eventually approved) for: A national conference dedicated strictly to marketing. A marketing institute spread out over three years with a top-flight university. A comprehensive Golden Mirror Marketing Awards program. A marketing magazine. A marketing newsletter. A marketing cassette program. A logo design service. Also, a publication evaluation program. A marketing book club. A marketing publication group subscription program. A marketing reprint service. A series of marketing white papers. Establishment of photo and audio-visual tutorials. The creation of pre-conference marketing workshops. At one point, even a separate credit union marketing association was force fed to the CUES board. Eventually a full-time marketing position was established at every CUES Board member’s credit union. Marketing had definitely become a part of the credit union world. Marketing was earning its keep day in and day out as sharp marketers were filling newly created slots on the organization chart. This all came back to me earlier this month when the CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council at its annual conference, awarded me a spot in the group’s prestigious Hall of Fame for being a strong advocate of credit union marketing throughout my credit union career. During my brief visit with some of the brightest and best credit union marketers, it became clear to me that CU marketing has undergone many positive changes. For example, new categories had been created in the Annual Diamond Awards program for e-mail, Web, and electronic marketing. There was even an asset breakdown for those credit unions over a billion dollars in assets. The new breed of college-educated marketers on hand outnumbered the grizzled old pros. And they overflowed with spontaneous enthusiasm. Could anything have been better? Sure. There is always room for improvement in a profession as dynamic as marketing. As one example, isn’t it time to eliminate non-agency categories from all marketing competitions? Credit unions and marketing have come too far to have a category that actually encourages credit unions not to use outside professionals. What CU would not hire a highly qualified CPA firm, or architect, or law firm, or planning consultant, choosing instead to do everything “in-house”? It was somewhat shocking to see billion dollar credit unions walk off with trophies in non-agency categories. These large credit unions can well afford the services of a top-flight marketing agency. As good as in-house staff may be, it would be rare for them to possess all the talent and resources necessary for every marketing challenge. A more important reason for eliminating non-agency categories is the fact that credit union marketing is marketing, regardless of who creates it. Other examples: Isn’t it long past the time to get rid of the perception (and reality) that marketing should be the dumping ground for every project that doesn’t seem to fit in any place else even if the connection to marketing is a real stretch. That infamous line on many job descriptions, “other duties as may be assigned,” seems to still be alive at many credit unions when it comes to the marketing department. Then there are those outdated titles that some of the best marketers in the credit union industry are still saddled with; such as specialist and coordinator. There is no consistency. Small CUs have VP’s of marketing while much larger credit unions have marketing managers. Why? Remember when CU CEOs were called managers? Closely related, I am still troubled that after all these years some credit unions still do not recognize the marketer as a member of the senior management team. Although it was nice to be on hand to add my personal congratulations to the Annual Diamond Awards winners, what I didn’t say is that giving almost a third of the entrants an award takes away from the prestige of winning. So does giving awards to some really old-fashioned, clip-artish, bland print ads and collateral materials. One award-winning TV spot was so amateurish in concept, acting, photography, and production values that I was embarrassed for the marketing profession. And when will marketers learn that while producing bank-bashing marketing can result in TV and radio spots that are humorous and award winners, in the overall scheme of things they do not represent good credit union marketing? What bothers me the most is that some credit unions continue to grow at a snail’s pace and yet are consistent award winners. Shouldn’t results count more than great graphics and clever copy? Meanwhile, other CUs that do little professional marketing have become members of the billion-dollar club. Why? Finally, this question: is credit union marketing ready to raise the bar to the next level? 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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