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RALEIGH, N.C. – Moving to bolster ties with the media in the wake of stepped up bank attacks, the top brass of the North Carolina Credit Union League began scheduling special meetings with reporters and editors this month to convey a more positive CU message. “In light of some pretty negative stories popping up on tax exemption that the bankers have placed, we feel we needed to be a lot more aggressive,” explained Jeff Hardin, communications specialist for the League who joined in the meeting with journalists in three North Carolina cities – Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Greensboro. In addition to Hardin, also on the media tours are John Radebaugh, president/CEO of the League, and Dan Schline, vice president of governmental/regulatory affairs. Hardin said the CU awareness project with the media is a first for the League on this scale and is being undertaken considering some anti-CU articles appearing in both newspapers and business journals that obviously show banker influence. “It was apparent to us from the stories that writers were not using the League as a resource for information and we felt a need to change that,” said Hardin. Over the summer, the North Carolina Bankers Association had several stories appearing in the media challenging the so-called “new breed” credit unions and suggesting the tax exemption be lifted. While the League countered that American Bankers Association blitz with one of its own, League managers maintained a positive message was not getting through with reporters seeming to rely on the banking PR “spin” of urging a clampdown on CU expansion particularly on business loans. In line with the ABA, the NCBA specifically has been focusing on derailing the proposed Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act (CURIA) using an aggressive e-mail campaign involving bank employees, directors and customers to write Congressmen. One large Charlotte bank under guidance of the NCBA and ABA said it would be raffling off free vacation giveaways to employees who write a minimum of 10 letters. But the North Carolina League has called such tactics unethical and a ploy to create false “bandwagon” impressions when the facts are the e-mail campaign allows strangers to be included on lists of electronic letters. “We are witnessing just how low bankers are willing to stoop to gain support for credit union taxation,” chimed an Aug. 6 League news release. In a letter sent to the state’s congressional delegation, Radebaugh said with North Carolina banks using the vacation giveaway “a bank employee could put anyone’s name on the e-mail just to increase their chances of winning a nice trip – I can’t imagine that you want to hear from your constituents that way.” Radebaugh called the NCBA giveaway a stunt that is “an insult to you and the 2.5 million North Carolinians that enjoy saving money because they are members of a not for profit credit union.” Hardin, the League communications staffer, said Radebaugh and Schline would “be crisscrossing” the state to meet with business journalists and their editors on the premise of the state’s major newspapers and initial visits have already been productive. “As a result of our contacts, we already had a positive story appear this week in the News Observer that quoted credit union people,” said Hardin referring to a Raleigh paper. In five visits planned during the week of Sept. 13-17, the League staffers may meet individually with reporters or it maybe one or two, say Radebaugh and Hardin, sitting down at breakfast or lunch to discuss issues. “These are new times for credit unions and so as an industry we have to learn how to court the media,” said Hardin. In the future, Radebaugh said the League staff plans to schedule meetings with major media “at least annually and more often if needed.” The League wants to let news media personnel know “that the League is a good point of contact for financial institution issues.” -

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