Quick Questions, Slow Answers; New Tunes, Same Old Songs

Some other notes following a year-end clearance sale of items remaining in the Reporter's Notebook:

* A posting on GonzoBanker recently noted that one person who had walked through one extensive trade show had asked numerous vendors the following, "What does your product do?" Seems simple enough. The blogger then added, "If you can't answer that question in 30 seconds, you don't belong in my booth." I had a similar experience at the BAI meeting in Orlando when I made the always tragic decision of establishing eye contact with one of the booth dwellers, who immediately put an arm on me and said, "Let me take a minute and tell you what we can do for your credit union." (That I don't work for a credit union was apparently deemed immaterial.) I'm not kidding when I say five minutes later this person was still blathering, and I had no idea what his company or his product did.

Incidentally, don't dismiss the question posed above as relevant only to vendors. How do your front-line employees and tellers respond when someone walks into a branch and asks, "Why should I join?" Can they answer that effectively in 30 seconds or less? Do they have to reach for a brochure? Worse, do they direct the potential member to ask someone else?

* Even if your credit union isn't feeling the pinch of the current economy, there's a good chance employees are worried just the same. For management, the challenge of maintaining employee morale is even greater if your 5300 has been showing some flat or even red numbers in recent months.

The goal, of course, is to keep staff and even the senior management team focused on brighter days ahead, a task that falls directly under the Easier Said Than Done file.

One company that found itself in the bottom of the well only to later emerge with a strong balance sheet used a tactic that you might find interesting. To keep its employees positive and believing that there was a better future ahead, Xerox created the newspaper "story" it predicted would be published when it put its problems behind it. When its balance sheet was bleeding at the turn of the century, and the company was, in the words of CEO Anne Mulcahy, "unraveling very, very fast," it put the power of the press to work-with a twist.

"We wrote a fictitious Wall Street Journal article for four or five years away about where we were then and how we got there," Mulcahy told a recent meeting. "It gave people a sense of optimism. Telling people a story they can feel passionate about and engaged in is critical."

* From the Where Have They Gone Dept: It's been observed before that no one ever seems to leave credit unions. But occasionally you come across someone who has changed careers, in some cases, dramatically.

For many years if you knew anything about credit union marketing you knew the name Paul Green. First as the head of marketing at San Antonio's Security Service FCU and later with his own agencies, SummitGroup and Creative Partners (which hosted the cumarketing.com site), Green's name was practically affixed to the trophies and plaques awarded in the various credit union marketing competitions. As those awards testified, the work Green's shop did for credit unions was some of the most creative, entertaining and effective work ever done on behalf of credit unions. And it wasn't just beauty pageant marketing, but effective, results-driving marketing.

But now Paul is following a different tune, one of those fortunate folks whose passion and hobby has turned into a business. An amateur guitarist, Green started a website for guitar players and collectors, and volume has gone grown, as metal-heads would scream, shred-like. The site, at www.geartalknet.com, is averaging 3.5-million page views per month. Green has also since launched several other guitar-related sites (www.tdpri.com, www.strat-talk.com, www. gretsch-talk.com and www.gibson-talk.com) and has now made managing all of them his career.

* ACI Worldwide Inc., a provider of software for electronic payment systems, recently released a survey it said showed that 85% of respondents in a survey of financial institutions are "investing in technology solutions that can deliver a positive impact on profitability into the current financial crisis." Kind of makes one wonder what the other 15% are investing in.

* You may have seen the recent report in Credit Union Journal in which a CU CEO was charged with overpaying himself extra salary and bonuses. Or, as this is known on Wall Street, Standard Operating Procedure.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.