Strategic Public Relations Planning for Credit Unions

Make it your roadmap for the year

By: Ron Anderson

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

A well-constructed public relations plan – or roadmap – can help your credit union drive growth, establish and maintain credibility, and educate key audiences on why your CU is better than the competition. The quality of the plan dictates its success and weighs heavily on the following key elements:

Phase 1: Laying the Groundwork

  • Secure senior leadership support – An engaged CEO and senior management team are essential to having a successful PR campaign. Showing how a communications program can help achieve operational goals, such as growing membership, demonstrates the value of PR to senior managers.
  • Designate a spokesperson – Your media spokesperson is the “face” of your credit union and helps the public and media identify your organization. C-level executives who understand target audiences and can clearly articulate key messages during interviews make the best spokespeople.
  • Review marketing, business plans and sales collateral – These documents contain key messages, competitive differentiators and achievements that PR can promote.
  • Schedule a strategic planning session – Planning meetings should consist of senior-level managers, including the CEO, marketing manager and others who can provide the information you need to write a thorough plan.

Phase 2: Building the Plan

  • Situational analysis – Knowing where your credit union stands, where it’s headed and how it’s positioned relative to competitors allow you to set clear goals and deliver great value.
  • Goals and objectives – Goals should be specific, measurable and tie into business, marketing and sales objectives. Promoting the credit union’s product lines, for example, can increase revenue and membership.
  • Target audiences – Members, potential members and strategic partners represent important stakeholders for many credit unions. Knowing what’s important to them enables you to create news stories that matter most.
  • Key messages – Effective communicators do not just wing it. They develop messages that resonate with key audiences and use those messages in printed materials, on websites and during interviews. Key messages should demonstrate your credit union as unique among competitors and should be:
    • few in number, usually no more than three or four;
    • short and fact-based, normally a sentence or two; and
    • written down for use in media interviews.
  • Media list – In creating a media list, you should identify the best outlets to reach potential members and focus specifically on those outlets. If your goal is to increase new membership, for example, targeting local outlets will produce better results than trade or national publications.
  • Competitive analysis – Analyzing competitors allows you to uncover what they are promoting, identify flaws within their claims and then educate audiences on why your servicers are better. This means:
    • identifying top competitors;
    • evaluating key messages on websites and reviewing releases and news in online newsrooms;
    • setting up Google Alerts to monitor outgoing news; and
    • scanning publications for competitor mentions or articles.

Phase 3: Defining PR Tactics

  • Press kitPress kits tell your company’s story in a thorough but concise, easy-to-read format. Most companies have an electronic version they send to the media prior to interviews and a hard copy for tradeshows and conferences.
  • News releasesNews releases provide a way to feature news, show positive growth and build momentum for your credit union. Below are the most common announcements:
    • new products or services;
    • company milestones, such as a new branch opening, awards or other significant accomplishments;
    • executive hires and promotions; and
    • new partnerships.
  • Interviews – Interviews increase visibility and send a positive message to key audiences. Most interviews come about through selecting a media outlet, which entails:
    • developing a compelling story topic that journalists want to write about; and
    • crafting a pitch to send to the reporter.
  • Case studies – Case studies provide a more thorough story than can be achieved through a news release and build your credibility by showcasing member success stories.
  • Byline articles – These in-depth articles promote executives as thought leaders and highlight your credit union’s knowledge regarding challenges its members face.

Phase 4: Measuring Success

  • Measurement – Measuring results enables you to show C-level executives how PR achieves business objectives, such as increasing membership. The most effective way to measure the value of PR includes:
    • tracking and reporting correlations between increased membership and PR activities, such as the number of interviews conducted between your spokesperson and the media, news releases distributed, articles placed, etc.

Ron Anderson is an account associate at the William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries. He can be reached at

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