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RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. – The California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues now have quantifiable results to prove the success of their ongoing public advocacy campaign, which has convinced nearly one million voters to support the credit union cause. The Leagues began the campaign in January 2005 with a series of radio advertisements in 28 markets throughout both states. The central message of the ads is that credit unions benefit all consumers, members and non-members, by providing competition to banks which keeps rates and fees lows, and by returning earnings to local communities. The radio spots were supplemented by newspaper advertisements in the states’ respective state capitols and key legislative districts. The print ads focused on how credit unions keep earnings local. To measure results, the Leagues selected independent research firm Strata Research of San Diego. Strata first conducted a benchmark survey in November 2004, calling registered voters in both states who were the financial decision makers for their households. Pollsters spent 12 to 15 minutes asking voters their impressions of credit unions as financial institutions, and whether they would side with credit unions or banks in the event of a legislative disagreement. Strata continually polled voters throughout the year until the end of September, providing the leagues with a concluding report in October. Using a sample size of more than 2,000 respondents, which leaves little statistical room for error, the report concluded nearly one million voters who were aware of the program’s radio or newspaper advertisements were swayed to support credit unions if a battle with the banking industry should take place at the state or national level. “We had expectations that we would be able to move the public awareness needle forward, but the degree to which we didn’t know,” said Henry Kertman, Director of Public Relations, adding that he was “absolutely confident with these findings.” A 21-person oversight committee oversees the campaign, ensuring results are properly tracked and measured among other responsibilities. The committee is lead by Chairman Richard Ghysels, CEO of West Covina-based First Financial Credit Union. The committee includes four executive-level League officials, as well as representatives from both California and Nevada credit unions. According to Strata’s pre-launch benchmark survey, 39% of all respondents, both credit union members and non-members, said they would “probably” or “likely” side with credit unions in the event of a legislative battle. That figure rose to 52% by the end of September, a 13-point gain. Proving that public awareness is key to the issue, the percentage of respondents who didn’t declare a position decreased by one-half, from 33% to 17%. Support for credit unions didn’t rise steadily during the nine-month test period, but instead rose and fell with the frequency of advertisements. In fact, after an initial ad blitz in January, 50% of respondents reported they were “probably” or “likely” to support credit unions in the event of legislative disagreement – a figure nearly as high as results at the end of the campaign. When campaign advertisements decreased during the month of February, support for credit unions receded by 2%. In March and April, the Leagues hit the media hard, attacking with a one-two punch of radio ads across both states and newspaper ads in state capitol markets and key legislative districts. April survey results showed support for credit unions had risen to 53% among those probably or likely to stand by the cooperatives with legislative support. “It clearly shows that we need to be consistently visible to consumers if we are going to have a lasting effect,” Kertman said. The League PR pro said his staff also learned legislators from both states are not only aware of the campaign, they are becoming educated on the issue along with voters. “Legislators have told us they now have an increased understanding about what we’re doing . which tells us the level of understanding about credit unions is low among elected officials just as it is among consumers,” Kertman said. During the Leagues’ annual meetings, member credit unions voted to continue the campaign during 2006. Kertman said support from member credit unions is notable, because League dues were significantly increased this year to pay for the campaign; in fact, for some large credit unions, league dues doubled. The advocacy dues structure, which is in addition to regular league dues, is based on both asset size and the number of members for credit unions over $33 million; smaller credit unions are charged a flat fee. In 2005, institutions with $35 million and up in assets were charged $0.36 per member plus $36 per $1 million in assets. In 2005, the dues formula for the $33-million and up institutions was $0.36 per member plus $36 per $1 million in assets. Due to smart media buys and unexpected support from affiliates, the Leagues were able to lower dues for 2006, Kertman said, to $0.33 per member plus $33 per $1 million in assets. “It makes a strong statement about how we’ve administered the funds, especially the way media costs are expected to increase from 7 to 10 percent as they typically do in an election year,” Kertman said. CU Direct, FSCC, the CO-OP Network and WesCorp were recognized as affiliates who donated to the cause for 2005. “We made it clear that the bulk of this program should be budgeted by credit unions themselves, so we did not budget for contributions from affiliates (in 2005). However, now that we’ve seen their commitment, we’ve added a line item for them in the 2006 budget,” Kertman said. League officials expect to continue a similar message for the 2006 campaign, recycling some 2005 ads next year. Development of new 2006 ads is in the creative stage, and Kertman said he expects new ads to be developed and tested during the next 30 days. In addition to education through the media, the League is also promoting a grass-roots effort to train credit unions to educate local officials about the ways credit unions support their local communities. “The best way to build present and long term support is to educate local leaders, especially in California, where term limits in state legislature are creating significant turnover. Every two years, our two legislative bodies turn over by one-third, and that new blood comes from local officials,” Kertman said. [email protected]

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