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These days the media is routinely displaying stories about how bankers spend huge amounts of money, presumably taxpayer money, on inappropriate parties and travel. Even U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was publicly criticized for a recent trip to Italy that looked like a junket to at least one reporter.It is no wonder that the credit union industry continued to worry about the public relations fallout from an ABC television news expos? of a recent Credit Union Executives Society conference held in the Caribbean. Credit Union Times covered this media interest as well as offered observations on their editorial pages about how to handle such unflattering characterizations. Several credit union industry blogs have comment trails that carry good professional quality media management advice within. The trade associations also provided member institutions with explanatory talking points.However, this pundit’s advice is to throw it all away. There is no possibility that a video of credit union officials set in a lavish Caribbean resort location is going to be mitigated by a litany of business reasons, no matter how legitimate. If that exotic junket picture is juxtaposed against visuals of credit union members queued up at the food bank or anxiously waiting in long lines seeking employment, it doesn’t matter what the reporter says, the credit union officials are already toast.The country is in the worst economic shape that it has been in for generations. Large numbers of credit union members are out of work, out of money and filled with anger at those they consider the cause of it all. And even people who aren’t in a bad situation yet are worried that they soon will be. Under these circumstances, business as usual just doesn’t demonstrate the proper deference to the suffering of others.The only way to totally avoid this unwelcome media scrutiny is for credit union officials not to participate in a public culture of privilege, flaunt lavish expenditures or engage in open displays of opulence. If credit union officials look and behave like the media’s worst bad guys, they will certainly be perceived as callous, insensitive and unconcerned about the struggles of average Americans. That’s not exactly a desirable image for pillars of the community.The media management challenges are just beginning. As the economy continues to slide and the financial system hemorrhages, the news that gets covered will worsen. Consumer unease is already simmering. It won’t take much to boil over and when it does, people are unlikely to distinguish between a bank and a credit union. One should not count on scared and angry consumers being able to draw a sharp line between credit union officials and the bad actors from Wall Street.

Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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