Three Steps Every CU Should Be Taking

For the last few years, the anti-Wall Street sentiment among American consumers has helped fuel the increase in membership numbers at credit unions across the country. From Bank Transfer Day to the Occupy Wall Street movement, lately it has seemed credit unions were always in a positive media spotlight commenting on the latest developments on these national issues and aptly positioned to share expert financial insight.

For those closely connected to the mission of community-based financial institutions, the consumer call to action may be as strong as ever, but how do credit unions reach general consumers who may have tuned out the pro-CU messages? Credit unions can take action to re-engage the consumer market by implementing some simple pro-active public relations initiatives.

Make friends with local media: Chances are you already read your local paper and/or watch the local news everyday. A great place to start for gaining attention in the media is to simply pay attention to what the reporters in your community are covering. Who is writing about financial literacy? Which station often broadcasts from the local community fundraiser?

Next, leverage the helpful information available to you. Check out local online newsrooms-are there guidelines posted for submitting letters to the editor or OpEds? These can be powerful means for sharing your thought-leadership on critical financial issues. Keep in mind, journalists are always in need of knowledgeable, quotable experts. Often, just by letting reporters know you're available as a CU executive source is one simple step in the right direction to begin obtaining credible news coverage.

Share your great work: As community-focused institutions, credit unions should start to share the often untold, interesting stories happening every day. Leading a financial literacy class for high-school students on the weekend? Write a Facebook or blog post about it and tag the participants in a photo. Making a generous donation to the local homeless shelter? Send out a press release about it. Embracing and subsequently communicating the community aspect of your organization is a key differentiator that should never be overlooked as a tool to attract new members and further engage existing ones.

Market your technology-driven products and services: While thousands of bank customers have moved their accounts to credit unions because of negative emotions about big banks, thousands more want to but worry they'll sacrifice conveniences like online banking and accessible ATMs. Make sure these potential new members are informed about the services you offer in addition to the values you stand for. What consumers don't know often holds them back from making a critical buying or banking decision. Education is key.

Engaging a public relations or marketing firm with the experience to develop a comprehensive communications strategy and leverage the work of your internal marketing team can greatly multiply the impact of the initiatives on your overall business plan.

However, any credit union leader who understands the value of earned media and makes a concerted effort to include a communications strategy in their quarterly to yearly plans is already on their way to staying top-of-mind with key consumer audiences and achieving a greater market share.

Andrea Trapani is a partner at Identity, a Michigan-based integrated public relations firm. She can be reached at ATrapani@identitypr.com.