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Truliant FCU Shines in Media Outreach in Credit Crisis

This is a bit of an update to the July 16th post about the credit crisis, and the insurance protection credit union members enjoy through NCUSIF. Credit unions across the state and nation have been busy sharing  important information with members during these uncertain times.

Truliant FCU has really done a masterful job of getting this information in front of the media through timely press releases. Last week, the credit union sent out a press release showing their mortgage closings shot up in the first six months of the year, even as the real estate market in Forsyth County and the Piedmont Triad struggled.   

A key quote from this press release:

“Our mortgage department stays extremely busy,” said Marc Schaefer, President/CEO of Truliant Federal Credit Union. “We take the necessary steps and time to analyze each member’s needs to ensure they understand all of their options and the costs associated with each. By placing this information within the context of all their financial needs we help them purchase a home that they can both enjoy and afford. As a credit union, we are member-owned and pride ourselves on doing what is best for our members.”

This quote really pushes out some clear points of differentiation for Truliant and just about every other credit union in America!

Of course, the IndyMac bank failure a couple of weeks ago also generated a lot of concern, and Truliant is taking the exceptionally wonderful step of scheduling seminars to help members understand and maximize share insurance protections. This info was also sent out to the media.

This information may or may not end up in newspapers or other forms of media – a lot of times, good news gets ignored at the expense of the sensational. And that’s too bad.

But at a clear inflection point in the economy and the financial services sector, these press releases do help Truliant differentiate itself in the eyes of reporters and editors. And in a movement that outsiders don’t understand very well, and the media sometimes forgets about, that can’t help but be positive. Keep it up!


PR Update: Subprime Recedes, Recession Leads as Issue for 2008

foreclosure-sign-732444.jpgThe subprime mortgage issue first appeared as a mere blip on the radar screen nearly a year ago, but has reached a crescendo lately as foreclosures rise, markets fall and uncertainty reigns in the minds of many. Taken as a PR “talking point” however, it looks to me like the subprime mortgage storyline is receding.

As you know, two credit unions in NC, State Employees’ CU and Local Government FCU, rolled out specific products in 2007 to help people in risky subprime loans. These credit unions have combined to help hundreds of families refinance out of these loans. In the process, both credit unions garnered a lot of positive earned media coverage for their efforts.

(To be clear, SECU and LGFCU obviously did not roll out these products to get earned media coverage … but in their wisdom, they saw how leveraging the PR process helped them spread the word about their products, and the mortgage products differentiated the credit unions from banks. While talking heads were offering fear, LGFCU and SECU were offering a way out for homeowners.)   

The subprime mortgage issue remains important to individual consumers and credit union members in 2008. A lot of mortgage resets loom across NC and the US in the year to come, which of course means that many people will be at risk of foreclosure. However, a few factors that were not in play in 2007 will provide clutter for credit unions that are designing mortgage products to deal specifically with subprime:

  1. Mortgage rates have plummeted in the last couple of months to their lowest point in at least a couple of years. Anyone who can refinance should be able to do so pretty easily, particularly when it comes to conforming loans.
  2. Last year’s headlines were all about subprime – which made LGFCU and SECU’s products newsworthy. This year, subprime as a storyline will have to share the stage with the threat of recession, stock market volatility and a raft of economic data. In short, subprime just ain’t sexy any more.
  3. The federal government and the Federal Reserve are getting aggressively involved in the ills of the broader economy.

This is not to say that credit unions shouldn’t be actively communicating how they can be a relevant resource for members and consumers in the months to come … especially those who need to refinance their mortgages. However when it comes to leveraging the media, the subprime mortgage issue is literally last year’s news in my opinion.

As a result, credit unions trying to spread the word about how they can help consumers will have to refocus their messages.

A “Subprime” Phone Call

I got a call from a reporter at one of the Business Journals in NC this afternoon, asking about any uptick in mortgage refi’s at credit unions as a result of the subprime mortgage mess. He had already spoken with State Employees’ Credit Union and needed more information about other credit unions that were helping out, plus general information about loan delinquencies and other indicators that members might be having a hard time meeting their mortgage obligations.

The easy part of the call was referring him to NCUA and other agencies for the statistical gobbledygook. The hard part was only having one other credit union – Local Government Federal Credit Union – that I could point him to as a credit union that is helping its members deal with bad mortgages from other lenders.

It’s quite possible that I’ve missed others who want to spread the word. If so, please call me and I’d be happy to refer this reporter and future ones to you.

However if I’m not out of the loop on this, one of three things is most likely happening …

1 – Some other credit unions are helping out their members, they just aren’t talking about it openly (which is fine, but you’re missing one heck of a branding, marketing & loyalty-building opportunity for your credit union in the community);

2- Some other credit unions don’t offer mortgages (fair enough, but are there helpful resources you can bring to the table for your members who may be trapped in a bad mortgage loan? By sharing this, you can perhaps prevent a personal financial train wreck, which is another great opportunity to build member loyalty and trust);

3- Some credit unions aren’t doing anything and haven’t talked to their members about this (I know, its not a charity you’re running … but if you haven’t said anything at all about mortgages that could possibly blow up in your member’s faces, ruining their finances and hurting your bottom line in the process … what exactly are you running?).

A common complaint I heard from credit union people during the mortgage bubble the last couple of years was that members went running after the shady guys down the street because they were able to get them in a home more quickly and flexibly than the credit union.

Well now’s your chance … not to say we told you so … but how can we help?

(Edit on 11/28 to add: Carolina Postal Credit Union is currently working up a targeted mailing to members who may be trapped in risky subprime mortgages. While details are still being worked out, the credit union is going to do what it can to assist members at risk of ARM resets that could end in foreclosure. Good going, CPCU!) 

SC League & Credit Unions Show Value of Building Relationships with Reporters

A hearty shout out to the SC Credit Union League’s Brandon Pugh and credit unions in the Columbia area who emailed Warren Bolton, the Associate Editor of the Columbia newspaper The State, about the sticky Courtesy Pay issue. Bolton penned two columns on Courtesy Pay and the attention it’s been getting on Capitol Hill (and with consumers, who have been burned by excessive fees for that matter). The follow-up column came as a result of emails Pugh and credit unions sent to Bolton.

In speaking with Brandon after the column ran, he noted that Bolton has a good history with SC credit unions, which extends back to an anti-predatory lending bill that the League and credit unions supported a few years ago. Credit unions are also noted for their continuing work in the financial education arena.

Brandon added that the League and credit unions also contacted editors & reporters regularly when the issue of predatory lending came up again this year. These contacts were not done with the expectation of getting a story, but merely to share opinions and reinforce existing positions on the issue.

Courtesy pay is no doubt a sticky issue for banks and some credit unions. Bolton inquired about the practice earlier this summer, and the League shared best practices, while at the same time acknowledging that it is a slippery slope in the credit union industry.

When Bolton penned a column last week blasting the practice of Courtesy Pay, it opened the door for local credit unions to share their consumer-friendly approach with Bolton via email. These email contacts resulted in a follow-up column that praised the efforts of these credit unions.

(Special kudos to Lucille Beckwith, who not only wrote an email, but also as it ended up – wrote Bolton’s headline and lead!)

The column can be found by clicking here.

The League and credit unions in SC did a masterful job of getting a fuller picture of courtesy pay painted, without as Brandon noted, an excessive amount of spinning on the issue.

To recap, their process works this way …

1. Establish relationships with the media.
2. Stay in touch by stating and re-stating positions on issues of importance.
3. Work together!

The steps that got them there are terrific, and I’m going to look into integrating their strategy here in NC. Nice work, South Cackalack!

Communicating Your Credit Union’s Core Values Using Earned Media

In a roundabout way, this post updates the subprime lending issue first raised on this Internet outpost back in March. The folks at State Employees’ Credit Union have rolled out two new products specifically designed to assist members who may be trapped in subprime mortgage products from other, less consumer-friendly (to say the least) lenders. (Edited June 21st to add … Local Government Federal Credit Union has also announced an effort to help its members who may be trapped in subprime mortgages.)

As I read the details of these new products and their impact on the credit union’s members, it occurred to me that SECU does an outstanding job of communicating its core values in its media outreach. If you look at the vast majority of the press releases they send out, most of them involve either a product or service that is meeting a need in the membership, or the activities of the SECU Foundation.

The Foundation seems to have given the credit union a real focus for doing good works across NC – and on a large scale. The credit union has provided millions of dollars in scholarship money, one of many educational investments the Foundation has made in the State.

On the product/service front, the subprime mortgage solution is but the latest example of the credit union meeting a consumer finance need on issues that have generated headlines and controversy. A few years ago, the payday/predatory lending issue was hot in the State. SECU rolled out a product to help people break the cycle of payday lending. This product won the credit union the national Louise Herring Award and the solution SECU offered generated a lot of earned media last year when USA Today spotlighted the issue.

(Edited June 21st to add … the SECU mortgage products are just hitting the market, but they’ve already gotten coverage in the Winston-Salem Journal.)

Of course, grabbing attention is not why SECU designs and rolls out these products … but by doing so and telling folks about it, the credit union reinforces its brand — on the media’s dime. And because they come up with some truly innovative solutions that meet needs – they make the entire movement look better.

Coastal Federal Credit Union is another example of a credit union that does a great job of communicating its core values using the PR process. Coastal sponsors “Food for Thought” seminars where people can drop in, grab a free lunch and learn basic financial skills. The credit union is also bringing national talk show host Clark Howard to Raleigh over the summer.

Coastal has done a great job of highlighting the ways it tries to make its members smarter when it comes to money. Like SECU, they have tailored programs and product lines that meet specific needs … and then they tell the world about it.

These are two examples of credit unions in NC that get it when it comes to PR. If you’re trying to figure out a more strategic approach to your communications efforts using the media and other tools, you would do well to ask yourself a simple question up front … “Of all the things we do, what is it we want to be known for?”

The Power of Storytelling (and Freebies!)

It’s hard to believe how quickly time flies … but I have been at the League for just about 3 1/2 years now! As some of you know, I consistently emphasize using personal stories to drive home the messages that are communicated to the media, your members and other audiences you are trying to reach. This emphasis comes from the work of Andy Goodman, who helps good causes communicate more effectively using storytelling as best practice.

I had the great fortune of attending a workshop Andy led just before I started at the League. It is not an exaggeration to say Andy’s workshop on Storytelling as Best Practice is THE best primer on effective communications I’ve ever gotten. It’s definitely colored my philosophy in the years since.

In addition to his workshops, Goodman, who was involved with two television series you probably remember … The Nanny and Dinosaurs … provides many free or low-cost tools to help non-profits sharpen their storytelling skills.

One of the freebies is a monthly print newsletter called Free Range Thinking, which examines the art of storytelling using real life examples from non-profits across the world. It’s a quick and easy read that comes to your snail mailbox every month. The link provided also allows you to look at back issues.

If you scan Andy’s web site, you’ll see some other resources for little or no cost as well. I’m a real fan of his work, and I hope it brings you some benefit as you demonstrate how your members are being helped at the credit union.

On that same note, Colin Rowan, a contemporary of Andy’s, has started a blog that also examines communications using the art of storytelling. The Rowan Report is linked off this blog – check it out!

If you have any suggestions for communications tools for little or no cost, feel free to suggest them by posting a comment.

Champion Credit Union Gets Awesome Kudos in Newspaper Article

Champion Credit Union in Canton is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It’s one of our state’s oldest credit unions (in fact, Champion is the oldest credit union in NC that doesn’t have “postal” in its name).

A local newspaper near Canton, the Waynesville Enterprise-Mountaineer, did a fantastic front page article on the history of the credit union. Included in the story is the fact that a random encounter on an airplane ride inspired the founding of the credit union, and a fellow named Bergengren came to Canton to help organize the credit union.

Yeah, that Bergengren!

The story also shares some great information about how people in the mill community have relied upon Champion over the past three quarters of a century for their financial services.

You can read the story by clicking here. If you aren’t touched by the loyalty and affection Champion members have for the credit union after reading this story, please quit your credit union job immediately and go work for a bank.

I Want Media Attention!!! (So Now What?!) – Part Two

Last week, we went over some of the media message channels you might want to consider if you’re looking to get attention for the work your credit union is doing and compared the pluses and minuses of each. We also threw out a few basic ideas about things that happen at your credit union that may be newsworthy.

With this baseline drawn, we’ll move into the most important aspects of getting your news out to the media. Many of these are common sense tips that will hopefully be easy to implement. Some will take legwork, but they are well worth the time investment.

The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that you have to put yourself in front of reporters to get in the media game. Meet a reporter for coffee or lunch, or spend some time on the phone with them. The purpose of the meeting is twofold – introducing yourself and the credit union to the reporter, and listening to the reporter so you can get a feel for what types of stories they are looking for in general.

This process can be a bit time consuming, especially if your credit union covers a lot of geographic territory. But this time investment helps you in two ways – you put a face with your name when you send material in, and you find out what types of information you should send. It can also help you out when a crisis hits the credit union (embezzlement for instance) – if the reporter knows you, you’re much more likely to get a fair hearing than if you’re some faceless person at Brand-X Credit Union.

Building relationships with reporters is important, but getting your news placed in the media is also depended upon another form of detail work – how complete the information is that you provide. One of the more common mistakes I see credit union people make when they send information to me is that they give very little detail about their events.

Sometimes, I’ll literally get two sentences on a credit union’s biggest events of the year, including annual meeting summaries or big fundraisers! Since the League loves to see credit unions shine, we’ll usually call or email people back to get more information so we can post these on our web site or publish them in Focus.

A reporter won’t call back for more information if you leave out details (why should they?), so you’d better make sure you’re giving them as much information as possible. In general, be sure to include six essential pieces of information in your press releases: who, what, when, where, why and how.

On that same note, send a good quality digital photograph in with your press releases after events happen. Odds are that reporters are not going to attend your annual meeting, but a complete press release and photo of the event increases your chance of getting a little coverage.

The final tip to consider is to be creative in getting attention. The Northwest Chapter holds a golf tournament each year. Over the past three years, they’ve reached out to a local radio station that has promoted the tournament and even had a couple of radio personalities play in the tournament each year! The chapter also appears on the local television station in Winston-Salem to talk about the tournament and credit unions. These efforts not only promote the tournament, but also position credit unions as organizations working together to improve the community.

So I encourage you to look for opportunities to be creative with the media process, and get to know the men and women who bring the news to your community each week. Granted, these rules are not etched in stone. What makes for a nice news item in smaller papers like the Hickory Daily Record or Jacksonville Sun won’t even be considered by big dailies like the Charlotte Observer. However, these tips will work in many communities.

As always, the League is happy to assist with media outreach and story pitching. A media contact list is located here on our web site. We also have press release templates available for you to download and use in the Marketing Resource Center. Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

I Want Media Attention!!! (So Now What?!)

Yesterday, I got a chance to see the folks in Hickory at the Foothills Chapter meeting. The chapter is composed of many credit unions that started up in the area’s manufacturing heyday. (The Hickory area is widely known for its furniture manufacturing, although a lot of those jobs have gone overseas the past ten years.)

With so many changes in the economy and the world, it’s more important than ever for credit unions to “get in the game” when it comes to public relations. Consumers are bombarded with ads from banks in a variety of ways. We cannot as a movement afford to remain silent any longer – we’ve got to get the word out about who we are, what we do and how we do it!

The folks at these credit unions wanted a short primer on how to get their news items placed in the media. So we took a few moments to discuss the pluses and minuses of different media channels (television versus print versus radio), and identified opportunities for them to get their news out into the public square.

In comparing some of the different media in the Hickory area, quite a few opportunities emerged. While every city is different, there are a few guidelines that are pretty much universal:

Local newspapers offer the best opportunity to get news items placed. Generally speaking, they contain many different sections where news from the credit union would be appropriate (more on what to send later). In addition, newspaper advertising is generally fairly cost-effective when compared to television.

Radio can be a good fit on three different levels. First, for those radio stations with a local news reporter, some news items will occasionally be appropriate to send. Second, radio stations do community announcements, which are perfect, free opportunities for credit unions. Third, radio stations with locally-produced shows (especially in the morning) can be good spots for you to talk about what your event (especially if you’re doing a community fundraiser or creative event). Radio advertising is usually fairly cost effective.

Television is tough! Not only are the advertising costs fairly high, TV news looks for visual types of stories with lots of movement. Credit unions and banks usually do not generate that kind of news (and when they do, bad things are usually happening!). A couple of exceptions include morning television shows, which can offer opportunities to appear and talk about your credit union’s activities. Also, cable companies are increasingly hopping into the TV news business and these operations produce news 24/7. These cable-based news channels can also be good outlets for credit unions.
Overall, I wouldn’t ignore the TV medium entirely but I would also be very selective about what types of information you send, and to whom you send it.

— Finally there are alternative channels. Look around for “low hanging fruit” in your community – free opportunities to communicate your events and news. Examples might be alternative newspapers or the community announcements channel on cable. (If you’re really brave, go on public access TV!) Another can be bulletin boards at the local grocery or book store that allow people to post fliers (heck, they even supply the thumbtacks!!!).

So now that we’ve identified some of the media message channels to consider, let’s take a look at a few opportunities through the year where you can send out a press release and hopefully get some attention. Granted, it takes a little time to get this information together, but the payoff of a third party communicating your messages for free is well worth the time investment. So consider sending these announcements to the media as a minimum through the year:

Annual meeting announcements – send information out beforehand to let people know the meeting is coming up, and then after-the-fact (with a good photo) to summarize what happened.

Board election results – give your volunteers a little free publicity! Send out a press release (and photo) for each board member to the newspapers in your area. Your board will love you for it, and the newspaper’s readers will be happy to see their friends and neighbors spotlighted!

Staff promotions, hires and other news – showcase people who work at your credit union, and celebrate your employees’ success when they advance in their careers.

Charitable and community events – helping out your neighbors? Tell folks about it! It’s a good way to get your news out there, and it also allows the non-profit community agency you are supporting to get some positive promotion.

Now that we’ve summarized a few of the different message channels and opportunities to spread the word, the question becomes how to actually share your information in a way that will ensure success. We’ll tackle the issues of how to write a good press release and how to send it to the right people in part two, next week!

Credit Unions Need to Talk About Their Success Stories!

I’m typing furiously this morning in an attempt to get out of the office by 11:00 am. I’m heading up to western NC to hear Kim Bohannon speak about disaster preparedness at the Western Chapter meeting in Waynesville tonight. (As an aside for League affiliates in NC, Kim has a lot of disaster preparedness tools and resources you can use in the compliance section of the web site. Contact her for more information.)

Before I head to lovely Waynesville for the chapter meeting, I’m going to meet up with Mike Whitmire of Ecusta CU. I saw Mike at State Capital Connections in Raleigh last week. In our meetings with NC legislators, Mike talked about how he lost his job at the Ecusta paper plant a few years back, and how the credit union helped him manage his financial obligations while he was looking for a new job.

What a great story – here is a guy who had two kids … one in college and the other in high school … and he needed to figure out what to do when the plant suddenly closed. Luckily, he had home equity to fall back on – and this helped him meet his obligations to his family, go to school and go into an entirely different career (accounting).

Mike didn’t need a handout – he just needed a partner to help him navigate some tough waters. That partner was Ecusta CU.

After getting his degree, Mike ended up working for the credit union! Anyway, we’re going to be doing a writeup on Mike’s experience with job change and how Ecusta CU was there for him when he needed them most. (3/28: Edit to add that the story is now posted on the League web site.)

Isn’t it great to have CU advocates with powerful stories like that when we speak with lawmakers?

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of stories just like that across NC – someone hits a rough patch financially, and the credit union is there to help the member help themselves. While these issues can sometimes be very personal in nature, credit unions need to continue telling stories like this.

Mike went to Raleigh to share his powerful experience, but I encourage you to talk about your success stories everywhere you can. From your web site to your newsletter, and from local reporters to the Rotary Club, credit unions should emphasize how we’re different in very personal, specific ways.

A lot of times we complain that people don’t consider us when they are thinking about their financial service choices. But what are we doing to highlight our niche in the financial services arena (namely, that we aren’t a bunch of money grubbers)?

With stories like Mike’s, we have a proud niche of public and consumer service — but if we aren’t willing to tell folks about it, credit unions can’t expect a lot of new faces to show up in the lobby.