Reflect Your Mission in Your Message

by Michael Touchton

Credit Union Management’s online-only “PR Insight” column runs the first Thursday of every month.

How your public relations efforts can support your credit union’s mission statement

If you look at the “Top 100 Credit Unions in the United States” (by total members), you’ll notice a great deal of similarity among credit unions’ mission statements – most notably the inclusion of such terms as “leadership,” “responsibility,” “commitment” and “dignity.”

Credit unions pride themselves on superior member service and commitment to their surrounding communities, and that is reflected in the language they choose to describe themselves and their mission. The pitfall for most mission statements is in preventing it from morphing into meaningless lip service – simply “feel-good” messaging dropped into a boiler plate or website.

This isn’t to say being colloquial is wasted effort; in fact it can be quite effective. But PR professionals working for credit unions should charge themselves with eliminating any mediocrity by earnestly “practicing” as much as “preaching.”

Much of credit union PR is about effectively relating your institution’s activities to build general public awareness and establishing yourself as a viable and respectable component within the community. The types of messages and how you choose to convey them are entirely up to you, but an important caveat of “effectively relating” to “build general public awareness” lies in the recognition of two profound, yet often-overlooked, concepts: message and presentation.

From Mission to Message

By rule, mission statements are meaningless unless they have a way of being put into action. These concepts should be regarded as symbiotic, yet often times it is easier to consistentlysay and never actually do.

Your credit union’s message most likely reflects an institution heavily concerned with its members and the community (see the Top 100 list), but do the members and the community feel the same way? Regardless, there is a direct correlation between consistently proactive institutions and the frequency with which they make headlines.

First, by proactively identifying new opportunities for messages, your credit union will be seen as one with an initiative rather than one anchored in passiveness. Community involvement should be priority No. 1 in clear language, articulating that “We do care about our members and community, and here’s how we show it,” as opposed to the more generic messaging used by all too many credit unions today.

Some very basic — but highly effective — examples of community events are:

  • 5K/10K races;
  • picnics and other food-centric events;
  • tree-planting or recycling initiatives;
  • open-door community financial counseling; and
  • sponsorship of local sporting teams.

These are powerful ways to increase your visibility within the community as well as show you can deliver more than an obligatory promise to better your community. As your credit union’s PR professional, the question you should constantly ask is “what else can we do for our community?”

Presenting Your Message

If you were to take a second run-through of those top 100 credit unions, this time looking for how effectively each one translated the mission statement into proactive, community-centric news items and events, you might be surprised. With a few exceptions, the newsroom on the top 45-50 ranked credit unions’ homepages is quickly identified. As you progress through the list, the presentation of news seems to slip further and further away. That isn’t to say there are fewer initiatives being made, but as an unbiased onlooker, it is easy to see which credit unions prioritize community involvement and recognize the value of communicating it externally.

A lot of well-intended thought goes into a credit union’s mission statement. As your credit union’s PR professional, the burden is thus on you to make it known to your members and community just how true to your message and mission your institution really is.

Michael Touchton is an account coordinator at William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent financial services and technology public relations firm. Follow William Mills Agency on Twitter as well as check out its FinTech Marketing blog.