When the nation’s attention became fixed on the massive credit crunch and potential economic disaster of this year, the news media began exploring every angle of the story. Consumers were spending money they didn’t have, particularly on homes they could not afford, but lenders were also partially to blame. As part of the financial services industry, credit unions were brought into the discussion and began popping up on news networks and in national papers.
Fortunately, this media coverage was almost universally positive. Familiar faces like CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica appeared on the Fox Business Network to spread the word on the federal backing of credit union deposits through NCUA, and credit unions garnered kind words in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
The timing could not have been better for Michigan credit unions, particularly as they were working with the MCUL to develop the Credit Union Difference campaign, designed to make a strong push to spread the message of credit union trustworthiness and safety in turbulent economic times. MCUL Public Affairs began ramping up efforts to communicate the CU Difference message to news media, as well as the investment that Michigan credit unions were making in the effort.
The media outreach efforts were largely successful. Crain’s Detroit Business wrote a full-length article entitled “Credit Unions Ready to Lend: As Banks Tighten Credit, Credit Unions Booming.” The article pointed out how well Michigan credit unions were performing during the economic downturn and how many have money to lend, while former CEO of Community Choice CU (OC) Catherine Roberts, now board secretary of the World Council of Credit Unions, took a copy to the International Credit Union Day reception in Washington D.C. and gave the piece further exposure. As fall progressed, Michigan credit unions received more publicity from other statewide publications including The Kalamazoo Gazette, Grand Rapids Business Journal, The Ann Arbor News and The Bay City Times.
While some of the recent credit union coverage has been a result of proactive outreach by credit unions and the MCUL, there is no question that credit unions are becoming more widely recognized by the news media through recent economic events. It’s a reminder that credit union leaders must be prepared to be approached by reporters with questions about how they are performing in the current economy, but also that it doesn’t hurt to make the first move.
“Media outreach has been a priority for us for about eight or nine years,” said Genisys CU (OC) Marketing Vice President Lon Bone. ”We have made it a priority to get news releases out not only to the community, but to our congressmen, senators and state officials.”
Bone says there are multiple benefits to media outreach, in terms of general credit union image and future lobbying efforts.
"We communicate with media and lawmakers for two reasons. One is to let them know what credit unions are doing, and specifically what we’re doing in the community,” Bone said. “The second is to separate us from the other financial institutions. I’d recommend other credit unions adopt a similar program. When we’re able to go Washington, D.C. or Lansing, we often don’t need to explain the credit union difference, because the lawmakers have seen it. When we recently went in to see Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, she said: ‘Credit unions need to let us know what they’re doing.’ Her chief of staff spoke up and said ‘Lon, we hear from you, we hear from you all the time.’ That’s what we need.”
As MCUL President/CEO David Adams stated in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, there are a number of positive angles credit unions can use to spread the word of their success to the public.
“Credit unions are performing well in a very, very tough financial market,” Adams said. “They continue to grow. They continue to expand. They continue to have money to lend. We’re continuing to see people look to a credit union as a safe haven. When other institutions are making these so-called liar loans and cranking out mortgage loans that aren’t good for people, or making investments in mortgage-backed securities that have proven to be the first part of this meltdown, credit unions have not engaged in those practices because their mission is to serve their members.”
2008 marks the 100-year anniversary of credit unions, providing an additional angle with which to make credit unions relevant to the media. Between credit unions’ success in the down economy, the historic anniversary of credit unions and the CU Difference campaign, now is an excellent time to reach out to media. MCUL Public Affairs stands ready to assist credit unions interested in this area. Contact Director of Public Affairs Mike Bridges at ext. 246 for information on how to get started, or visit the MCUL’s Credit Union Media Resources page at www.mcul.org under the “Information Services” tab.