Spin Doctors, Industry Rags and Other Warning Signs

By Elizabeth McMillan, APR

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

While Spin Doctors may be a catchy 90s alternative rock band name, a true public relations professional would shudder, cringe, or even worse at those words. There is no “spin” in the practice of ethical public relations. As a trusted financial institution and source of finance-related knowledge to members, your credit union should not encourage it either.

Another warning sign for me is the use of “rags” to describe publications. I have an almost physical reaction to the blatant disrespect of legitimate news outlets. I might clean my car with a rag, but I would not read it for timely and important information. Neither you nor your credit union’s PR counsel refer to an editor or reporter’s hard work so dismissively.

The PR profession – much like the financial services industry – has been marred as of late by the unscrupulous practice of some people and companies making major and disturbing headlines. This month’s column will take a look at some ways to identify the right PR resource to hire.

A Degree in Public Relations
Public relations, marketing and advertising are often lumped into the same category. While they all compliment each other, how colleges and universities treat the disciplines should be telling – PR, marketing and advertising are typically separate degrees or concentrations within a School of Journalism or School of Communications.

Ideally, your credit union would hire a public relations professional with PR on their degree. Knowing, however, that using your resources as best you can may mean one person does all three, make sure that your communications expert knows, understands and can execute each responsibility as separate, but collaborative functions.

PR Redefined
This year, amidst the ever-changing roles and demands of PR professionals, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA, www.prsa.org), the world’s largest and foremost organization of public relations professionals, adopted a new definition of public relations.

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

I bring up PRSA to also make the point that your credit union would benefit from a PR professional that is constantly educating and reeducating themselves on the practice of public relations. The same holds true for marketers – American Marketing Association – and advertisers – in Atlanta, we have the Atlanta Ad Club.

Accreditation in Public Relations
In 1964, PRSA introduced a voluntary certification program for public relations professionals called Accredited in Public Relations (APR). Now overseen by the Universal Accreditation Board (www.praccreditation.org), APR unifies and advances the public relations profession by identifying, through a two-step testing process and required maintenance program, those who have demonstrated broad knowledge, experience and professional judgment in the field.

There are currently about 5,000 APRs in the United States. Those of us who have earned the designation proudly display it at the end of our name. Keep an eye out for those three letters, as you talk to potential new hires or PR agencies. If a public relations professional has the drive to pursue additional education and certification, you will more than likely see a similar drive in their work for your credit union.

Lead by Example
Not only should you seek educated and ethical employees for your credit union, but you should also promote and foster a professional, collaborative and conscientious work environment. Honest employees, offering personalized financial product recommendations and impeccable service in a workplace with accountability makes your credit union an ideal choice for members.

“Just, just go ahead now” – Two Princes, Spin Doctors

Elizabeth McMillan, APR, is a group director for William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent financial services and technology public relations firm. She is also an active member of PRSA, PRSA|GA Board of Directors (www.prsageorgia.org) and Universal Accreditation Board (www.praccreditation.org).