Telling the Story of Success

5 steps to strategically align public relations with growth

by Ryan Mills

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

Every credit union has a story; a compelling, distinctive brand that sets it apart from competitors. Credit unions are “not for profit, not for charity, but for service,” and in this light, it becomes so crucial to effectively communicate that mission to the surrounding community. Not only to provide the highest levels of service to members, but to reach potential members within the community to spur growth.

Telling this story in a valuable way is the core, hidden value in creating a public relations plan with growth in mind. It will help you strategically target more potential members. Every credit union interested in growth, regardless of asset size, should include public relations in its strategic plan.

Take a look at the five steps below to become a storyteller of success:

1. The importance of an online newsroom: All of us have been to websites that are little more than frustrating, black holes of information. Where you house your information is the foundation of every successful public relations campaign. If there is no home to access the wealth of information the media and members expect to find about you, it can result in a negative end-user experience. Let this page be the face of the credit union with press releases, case studies and all press kit information. Make it active with photos and videos with the most updated information. Don’t forget to include links to any social media platforms to keep it integrated.

2. Sponsor or create a relevant and timely event, then spread the word! A proactive approach to public relations puts your credit union out in front, rather than taking a reactionary role to news, etc. Consider community events, needs and trends, then correlate an initiative within the credit union that addresses this need. For example, with students going back to school across the nation, unexpected expenses may generate the need to speak with a financial services representative, or look into loan options. Your credit union should be first on the list. Creating positive buzz around the core message of the credit union, while interacting with a larger base of membership can generate incalculable positive exposure that can result in coverage in local or state media.

3. News happens every day; make the most of it: This is a great way to differentiate your credit union from other financial institutions in the area that might be going through extreme regulatory issues, debit card fee debates or lending hurdles. When a credit union provides a solution to a problem caused by other financial institutions, it is an excellent opportunity to relay that message in a valuable way to the community. Consider the popular “Bank Transfer Day” as an example. Tying into and commenting on ongoing news or events is a great way to position your credit union ahead of competitors as an expert and leader.

4. Social media or bust! Despite fears around adopting and managing a social media campaign, in 2013 it is integral to reaching the community. Linking news from any of the above initiatives through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube can result in great exposure, and helps to incorporate and spread your message. Embedding links in all communications, providing easy access to information and repurposing content as much as possible is the key to a successful social media presence. Push out relevant content and pull in a new, interactive audience.

5. Create the culture: Front-line staff are, of course, critical to success. Employees’ buy-in and support can be the difference in whether a promotion is successful or not. The same news that’s distributed to members and the community should be spread among employees to keep everyone on the same page and up to speed with the efforts of PR and marketing specialists. The key is to do more than just provide a news update; provide a culture folks can recognize and respond to. It’s this culture that differentiates credit unions from other financial institutions, and provides an excellent springboard to create a compelling image within the credit union movement.

Attracting new members and retaining current ones are critical elements of successful credit union strategic plans. Public relations support this mission by creating valuable communication around your credit union’s success. This relationship-building environment provides a vibrant way to aid in the overall growth plan, drive awareness toward membership and support the community at large.

Ryan Mills is an account agent at William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries. The agency can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or its blog.