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LAS VEGAS-Calling it a bold advertising approach to combat banker attacks “critically timed” because of their vicious nature, the California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues are making plans for a sweeping new radio ad campaign next January. With an allusion to CU complacency and the industry going down like the Titanic, the architects of the leagues’ unorthodox $6 million media buy appealed for broad member support for the campaign to bar catastrophe from a “full-scale bank attack” next year in both state legislatures. The “public advocacy program” as it is being called is being crafted to differentiate for consumers and policy makers the “unique” nature of CUs, as opposed to banks, and the role CUs play in financial markets and local communities. But an unusual element is the structure of campaign funding. Indeed, under the proposal, slated for approval by members of the two leagues at the annual convention here last week, a special dues assessment will go out with yearend billing doubling stipends for the very largest CUs and increasing dues for the smallest CUs anywhere from 10-33%. The assessment is “mandatory” and will continue yearly but with oversight from research and marketing personnel from CUs, league staff and outside researchers to ensure funds are spent “prudently” with results measured. There are various caveats to redesign the creative to fit changes in the market, said the planners. The proposed contractor to produce the ads is Foote Cone & Belding, a New York-based ad agency with offices in Irvine, Calif. which will supervise placement in all markets of California and Nevada. The campaign focuses primarily on radio but will also include newspaper supplements in smaller communities. “Research has shown that the public doesn’t know the difference between credit unions and banks, doesn’t understand or appreciate the benefits they get from having a robust credit union system in the marketplace, and they wouldn’t support credit unions in a fight with the banks,” declared California/Nevada CU Leagues CEO David L. Chatfield in a speech to delegates at the annual convention meeting. Chatfield said “most of our members like us a lot-but there aren’t enough of them-and the lack of public support undermines our entire advocacy program,” he said. Later at a news briefing, leaders of a special Public Advocacy Task Force whose origin dates to last January, when the idea for the campaign was first broached by top CEOs-and then kept secret for months from bankers-stressed the ad buy is flexible to make mid-stream changes to massage the ad message. In discussing the urgency of the Advocacy campaign in remarks to convention attendees, Rudy Hanley, Co-Chairman of the Task Force and president of Orange County Teachers FCU, Santa Ana, Calif., said over recent months he has been greatly concerned that bank attacks “are becoming very serious” and that CUs are increasingly vulnerable. Citing industry complacency, current CU attitudes “remind me of the Titanic” and now “we know this ship is not unsinkable,” said Hanley adding that he is disturbed to see “all the real advances we made in the 1990′s” being washed away by bank attacks. He said advertising surrounding an Indian gaming petition on a recent California ballot is particularly poignant for CUs since opponents ran ads suggesting Indian CUs were not paying their fair taxes and thus had failed to support the community police and fire departments. It’s not much of a stretch, he said, to see “ads against credit unions” run on the same plank by banks. Hanley said public ignorance about CU structure and the distinction between banks and CUs is rife. “How many times do you run into members who say, `you’re my favorite bank,’ ” said Hanley. Tony Mook, also a member of the Task Force and president of Cumorah CU in Las Vegas, said the Nevada League has done a limited number of advocacy ads in the Reno market but sees the broader 2005 campaign as vital “ in taking this battle to the streets.” He said CUs “need to get tough and do it together.” “What we’re doing can become a model for other state leagues,” forecast Frank Michael, the departing chairman of the California League and president/CEO of the $22 Allied CU of Stockton. Another Task Force member, Henry Wirz, president of SAFE CU in Sacramento, said the comparison of banks as profit makers beholden to shareholders and CUs as member owned can be effectively stressed in the advertising. “Look at the Enrons and what that has done to the public’s trust,” said Wirz referring to big bank exposure. The idea of CUs as institutions consumers can trust needs to be hyped. In a question and answer session following individual remarks from Task Force members, more than a dozen members of the audience spoke up from the floor in favor of the campaign as a costly but worthwhile venture deserving of support. League leaders expressed satisfaction at the positive comments fearing negative reaction to the dues expense. Apart from participating CUs in the two states, also being asked to contribute to the special assessment are associate members, vendors and nonmembers and out-of-state CUs with branches in the two states. In addition to Hanley, Mook, and Wirz, other members of the Task force include Richard Ghysels, CEO of First Financial CU; Teresa Halleck, CEO of The Golden 1 CU; Darren Williams, CEO of Wescom CU; Andy Hunter, CEO of Patelco CU and others. [email protected]

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