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A few weeks ago, publisher Mike Welch addressed missed opportunities in public relations within the credit union system. Senior Reporter Myriam DiGiovanni continued the discussion last week with a report on the marketing power of good PR. Given this recent interest in public relations, I think it’s important to share a few observations on this up and coming discipline within our industry. My first observation is that we should make sure we are all on the same page as to our understanding of public relations. Ask 10 credit union people what PR is and no doubt we’ll get 10 different responses. I’ve seen public relations and marketing mixed together in one caldron too many times, and assigned to well-intentioned credit union officials who have had no professional experience or track record in the PR profession. To be serious about practicing PR, we must take an educated look at the discipline and be fully aware of all the applications that a comprehensive PR strategy entails. A second observation is that we recognize the distinct characteristics of both the marketing and PR professions. While marketing and public relations are intimately connected and function as communication tools of a credit union, they are two distinct and separate disciplines. Marketing is more closely tied with sales-selling your products and services. Its focus is on acquiring market research and appropriately developing and selling one’s products and services based on that market intelligence. Public relations, however, is focused on selling and promoting concepts with the end goal of affecting public opinion. PR strives to create a perception and move audiences to an awareness and acceptance of the perception. To suggest that marketers spend a portion of their time doing public relations is unwise and a waste of resources. As a matter of fact, assigning marketing and PR responsibilities to one person can actually impede his or her ability to deliver results. News organizations are not interested in having a marketing person with sales responsibility serve as their source of information on a story. My final observation focuses on PR tactics. While sending out releases on items that are genuinely “news-related,” working with other non-profit organizations and simply “telling your story” are a great place to start, and in fact, essential to a credit union’s branding efforts, they are only the tip of the iceberg. In order to meet and surpass the PR efforts of those who challenge our industry, PR must be taken to the next level. We have to go beyond the basics of the discipline and further expand the scope of our strategies, striving to become more creative and proactive in advancing the perception we want others to realize about credit unions and what we stand for. We should look for opportunities each day within our fields of membership and in the local and national news media. And then, when the opportunity presents itself, we need to move fast before our competition does. Operation Best Wishes is a good example. During last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, WesCorp and CIA Studios invited military families to record a Webcast to their loved ones overseas. The initiative, born from an objective to promote WesCorp’s use of Webcasting and the opening of a new Web studio at our San Dimas facility, communicated the message, “credit unions care about our troops and their families.” More than 125 family members and friends participated. We achieved news coverage on television and radio stations in San Diego and Los Angeles, and in the Sunday Los Angeles Times. The coverage brought us more than four million impressions with an ad equivalency of $77,000. Not bad, considering expenses were less than $10,000. Let’s all take PR to the next level in the credit union system. We have a great story and we are doing exceptional things. It is time for us to reach out to all the news media, creatively and proactively, pursuing a PR strategy that is on par with the values and qualities credit unions represent. Walt Laskos Public Relations Manager WesCorp San Dimas, Calif.

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