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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Credit unions interested in brand/name recognition and growth should take a second look at their most valuable marketing asset-the “storytellers” in public relations. “While every credit union recognizes the need to market when it comes to public relations it’s not even on the radar for most credit unions,” said CUVA President Laura Enock. “Many don’t recognize the value of PR, which doesn’t require a huge budget. For example, a credit union featured in an article has more of an impact than any paid advertising because it carries more credibility. Members may not necessarily buy into what an ad is selling, but they tend to believe a news article.” According to Enock, public relations is often overlooked because credit unions don’t really understand what it really entails-which is basically building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. Credit unions that can effectively position themselves as a resource to media on areas ranging from financial literacy to how to purchase a first home can reap the benefits of free publicity. Pacific Service Credit Union PR Representative Mary Starr couldn’t agree more. “Public relations isn’t something only large credit unions should consider doing,” said Starr. “PR is an opportunity to tell `your story’ and if you don’t someone else will. Sometimes people get so involved in the day-to-day they forget to step back and see the great things their credit union has done and the people they’ve helped. For us, sharing those stories helps build our reputation in the community which puts us in a proactive position rather than a reactive one.” The PR program was added in 2002 and functions under the Walnut Creek, California-based credit union’s Corporate Development Department, which was established in 1995. Starr says since there have always been clear objectives for PR it’s easy to do her job. One aspect of Pacific Service CU’s PR program – press releases – are sent to all employees and the board of directors before being released to the media. Starr says it demonstrates that they are an integral part of telling the Pacific Service CU story. “The result is we speak with one voice.” She views every interaction from internal to SEGs or community outreach efforts, as an opportunity to put a face on Pacific Service CU and the credit union movement. “When you do good things in the community, that’s an opportunity to show what your credit union is like and what the movement is about. With mainstream media you often have to define what a credit union is because they don’t know,” said Starr. “Simple things we’ve done to build relationships with the media include trying to make professional contact by finding out what their beats are, when their deadlines are, and whether they can receive attachments. Sending them fact sheets on our credit union and resource information on CU organizations including URLs for the `bigger picture’ makes it easier for reporters in preparing a story and creates credibility for us to tell our story again at a later date.” Spokane Teachers Credit Union Public Relations Manager Susan Cerutti-Jensen adds that it takes a long-term commitment. “There are no shortcuts to building relationships and you have to have a genuine heart and really love to meet people and develop a positive rapport,” said Jensen. “People go into media relations wanting to see results in three months-that is just not realistic. There is no secret recipe-it is just consistency, having your word be your bond and always being accessible-not just in the good times. If I’m only willing to talk about our outreach but not the taxation issue that that isn’t a mutually beneficial relationship. Understand both you and the media have a job to do -make it be a win-win.” Enock says even the busiest credit union marketers should dedicate at least 20 minutes a day to PR whether it is to send off press releases to the media, contact the media or even brainstorm for ideas on how PR could help achieve the credit union’s goals over the next year. Starr adds that it is important to establish key objectives of what the credit union wants to happen so there is a systemic and consistent PR approach. “Our PR program is viewed as a long-term strategy versus a quick campaign.” While it is challenging to track PR progress Starr suggests credit unions not able to afford clipping services go to their local university library and track when they are in journals and publications on research database Lexis-Nexis. “We started using a clipping service last year and found in 2003 we had about 20 articles and mentions; in 2004 we had over 80 not including three mentions on television and radio for our events,” said Starr. “Again PR is something that is built over time. Don’t give up after one press release. You must build and maintain relationships with the media. They may keep you in mind and tap you for a story a few months down the line.” STCU could be considered a PR pro as the division was created some nine years ago under Marketing. Jensen says her position as manager is divided into community relations, special events, media relations and university/school relations. In addition to tracking the number of mentions Jensen says she knows the PR is working when she hears from people in the community that Spokane Teachers CU is “everywhere.” “It’s not because of a huge budget but because all 270 STCU employees are out there doing PR everyday from helping members in the branch to participating in community events,” said Jensen. “While the bigger banks may like to write those huge checks, where we shine is that we’re at the table helping the same organizations pull off their events and we position ourselves as an indispensable resource and they appreciate and remember that.” Jensen says it’s important not to look at PR through rose-colored glasses since it also includes damage control. Last year Jensen developed a crisis communication handbook for Spokane Teachers CU that covers everything from best practices and worksheets detailing what to do in the event of any crisis to sample press releases. “Depending on the crisis, your brand and reputation are all on the line and how you handle it will determine your standing in the public sector. So it is important to have a plan in place and a point person to help create message points, deal with internal and external communication and a step by step process on what will be done in the next hour or day because you never want to say no comment,” said Jensen. “Even if you don’t have a PR person, a crisis can happen, so it is better to be prepared.” [email protected]

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