When talking about public relations, it means more than just facilitating and managing the flow of information between credit unions and the stakeholders. Public relations is more of a communication process that recognizes and analyzes the public opinion, letting key audiences get engaged and keeping them informed, building relationships that are mutually beneficial to both parties, and bringing of information back to an organization which needs analysis and action. It creates a significant and valuable impact on the company’s ability to achieve its strategic objectives.
Public relations is also considered to be one of the most powerful weapons in the marketing world. However, the sad news is that it is being underused by many credit unions simply because of the lack of understanding of what public relations is about and what it can do for credit unions. There are so many credit union marketers who have relied or believed in the power of advertising when it comes to brand building and driving positive results.
While it is true that advertising can bring in instant and immediate results, it will only be made possible if you have the money. But if you are one of the many credit unions, it might not be worth it to invest on that ad which not all audience may be responding to. This does not mean that advertising is that bad at all because advertising also has its merits. But, public relations can be utilized and maximized by credit unions in order to build and maintain positive relationships. If you are able to establish strong public relations, you will be able to bring in new members to your doorsteps. And not only that, you will also be able to encourage your existing members to stay loyal to your organization because they trust you. And more than that trust, they are more likely to stay because they like you, and your organization. These are just but some of the reasons why advertising can be different and why public relations can be more exceptional for credit unions
Today, the environment around banking is becoming more and more competitive and methods and forms of communication continue to grow and evolve, which is why, now more than ever, you have to be able to think out of the box and develop new ways in order to keep your credit union in the forefront.
So what’s the next step?
If your goal is to be able to develop initiatives for your credit union, there are some key points that you need to bear in mind. Remember that these principles are very important in order to manage and improve the perception of your members about your credit union, and it will also help you establish awareness when it comes to your credit union’s products and services.
1. Do your own research
Let’s face it – people always talk. It does not matter whether they are talking about anything good or bad, the reality remains that they will always discuss about things happening around. And this is something that you should leverage on. It will help you a lot and it will be easier for you to be able to reach members if you have the awareness about what people are saying about you.
One of the most effective and useful methods many organizations use to obtain the information they want from their members is by conducting member satisfaction survey. This survey has been very valuable for organizations whose only goal is to improve their market share. In fact, most people today are already expecting to be asked of their opinion and they are most of the time readily available to share their insights and feedbacks. Survey Gizmo even suggests that the response rate could even be very high if the population responding to the survey is motivated and the survey was conducted and executed well.
It is also equally important that you are updated of what’s latest in your industry, especially when it comes to the news and trends. Do not think about it as if it is an added task to your to-do list. If you will be able to develop this habit of keeping tabs on what’s going on in your industry, you will be able to make sound and smarter decisions. You will also be able to easily identify threats and opportunities as early as possible. This is very important for credit unions like you that exist in today’s time when guidelines constantly change and evolve, because it will affect the way you conduct your daily business with your members, in one way or another.
2. Identify your target media
One of the most important and essential ways for you to ensure that your credit union will thrive for many years is by establishing connection and relationships with the prominent media players, and understanding excellent ways to communicate with them. But, before you even start or take do your very first press release, you have to choose the right media outlets you will be pitching, and you can begin by making a list of your target journalists, the name of the magazine or newspaper or website, as well as their contact information. You can do your research online for the journalists who cover writings about credit unions. However, you must also do a research on the types of publications that your members are checking and reading most of the time. Selecting the right journalists is important because they will be able to understand your readers will care about the information you aim to share.
3. Make your message clear and consistent
There are just a plethora of press releases that journalists get in their inbox every single day and whether you like it or not, many of them put these press releases away or throw them out to the trash. You don’t want this to happen to you, do you? So what you will have to do is to stand out. You have to be unique, you have to be different. Make sure that you focus your efforts on developing messages that resonate with your target audience, and it should be something that will set you apart from your competitors.
What is the key then?
The key is your ability to create content which is interesting, newsworthy and important for your members. It should be something valuable to them, something that will make an impact on their lives. You also have to make sure that you use plain and simple language, and avoid using technical words or words that are jargons to your members. To make it possible for your press release to be published, make sure it does not contain anything but management-speak which does not convey a clear message.
4. Strategize and adapt to necessary changes
If you want to achieve the best results for your credit union, you should not be afraid, nor should you hesitate to adapt to necessary changes. From the very beginning, you should have anticipated that there will really have to be changes along the way. Assess your competitor’s business initiatives and see what their current strategies are. Observe the way they promote their services and the way that they reach out and educate their members. When you take ample time to evaluate how your competitors are doing things, it will be a lot easier for you to identify and establish the things that make your products and services unique. And by doing this, you will be able to determine the most important things that you need to highlight so that you can easily attract your target market. In the end your ultimate goal is to be able to deliver the content that will promote whatever makes your credit union unique and at the same time, attract new members and retain the loyal ones.
5. Develop a comprehensive plan
This is where effective communication comes in. One of the things that will pave the way for the growth of your credit union is a carefully thought-out public relations plan. This strategy will help you build credibility of your credit union and you will be able to raise awareness among your members how you stand out among your competitors. You can start by assessing and analyzing your current scenario and spot your organizations strengths, weaknesses, as well as opportunities and threats. These are four essential aspects that will help determine where your credit union stands at present, the direction it is heading to, how you can improve, and how it stands or positioned in relation to competitors. Through these things, it will be easier for you to set goals that are realistic, attainable and measurable. These goals should be achieve in the next six months to a year.
Remember that this process will not take overnight because it will take plenty of time and requires a lot of critical thinking. When it comes to comprehensive planning, here are the steps on how you can strategically plan for credit unions.
a. Lay the ground work.
There are three steps that you need to do in order to successfully execute this phase. First, you have to get senior leadership support involved and engaged. An engaged senior management team and a CEO are crucial to making a PR campaign successful. Senior managers will be able to see the value of PR if they see how a communications program can be a means to achieving successfully operational goals.
Second, you need to select a spokesperson. The media spokesperson you choose is the face of your credit union, and it is the one that helps your organization get identified by the public and the media. When selecting the best spokesperson, choose the top level executives who can understand and identify target audiences and are able to clearly articulate and convey key messages whenever they are on interviews or doing a speech.
Third, take time to review marketing and business plans, as well as sales collateral. The information from these documents are important because they contain key messages, achievements, competitive differentiators and other essential things that PR can promote.
Set a schedule intended for strategic planning. You need to have a thorough plan and during this planning session, you will need the help of senior level managers because they are the ones who can provide the information you need to device a thorough plan.
b. Developing the plan.
When building your plan, you will have to start with situational analysis where you have to determine where your credit union stands, its direction and its position in relation to its competitors. This is very important because it will allow you to set clear and precise goals and deliver great value.
You must also establish goals and objectives. Your goals should be able to follow the SMART format which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. This way, you will be able to accurately track the progress of your action items if they indeed aligned with your credit union’s direction. Whatever it is that you do in relation to promoting your credit union must meet one of your organization’s goals, for example, to increase your revenue and membership.
You should also put your target audience into consideration and this must be done at all times. Whether these people are already your members, or potential members, or partners, these people are all important stakeholders for your credit union. And the only time that you will be able to create news stories that will matter the most is when you begin to understand what is important to them.
Effective communication is also important. You should be able to develop messages that resonate with your key audiences. And then, you can use these messages on your printed materials, or even in websites. You can also utilize these during interviews. What your key messages should contain and demonstrate is why your credit union is unique and different from all other competitors. It is better to keep it short, and fact based. As much as possible, you should only have a sentence or two. You must also take note of these so you can use them for media interviews.
The next thing you will have to do is to create a media list, and when you create a media list, you should be able to determine the best outlets that you can use to reach your potential members, and just maintain your focus on these outlets. Targeting local outlets will be a lot more effective and will produce better results compared to trading or investing on national publications, if your goal is to increase your membership.
Then, you will also have to invest time and effort to do research and analyze your competitors. If you are wondering why you need to do it, it is because you need to be in the know of the things that they are promoting. You also need to spot flaws about what they claim, so that you can highlight and educate your audience on why your credit union products and services are a lot better. So if you do not know how you will start doing this, you have to start by identifying and knowing who your top competitors are. You also can check their key messages on their respective websites so you can review releases and online news in newsrooms. Also monitor outgoing news and check publications if there are any mentions of competitors or articles.
c. Define your public relations tactics.
You can have a press kit for your credit union where you can tell the story of your organization in a simple, concise and easy to read format. There are some companies who furnish an electronic copies or version of the press kit which they send to media before interviews. Then a hard copy is being furnished for tradeshows and conferences.
News releases are another tactic you can utilize that allows you to feature news, and show positive growth for your credit union. This is also one excellent opportunity for you to be able to build momentum for your credit union. When it comes to news releases, the most common announcements are new products and services, promotions of executives, milestones within the organization or other important accomplishments, new partnerships and many others.
Interviews are also a good way to increase the visibility of your credit union because it is an excellent avenue for you to send a positive message to your key audiences. When it comes to interviews, just like the one that was mentioned above, you have to select your media outlet and this task requires you to have a compelling story which you should be able to develop, and it should be something that journalists would want to write about.
Case studies are one tactic you can use in order to provide a more thorough story compared to what you can achieve when you do a news release. It will also help build your credibility because you are showcasing more success stories of your members.
Byline articles are also something you can leverage on because these in-depth articles are promoting your credit union’s executives as thought leaders. These articles also highlight how knowledgeable your credit union is when it comes to the challenges that your members face.
d. Measure your success.
Measuring your success is important because this is now the time when you will be able to show how your public relations have achieved objectives and goals of your organization. And one of the most effective ways by which you can measure the value of PR includes tracking or monitoring, as well as reporting the relationships between growth in your membership and PR efforts. Examples are tracking the number of interviews conducted, the number of news releases that were distributed, and many others.
How credit unions can take advantage of public relations to their advantage?
All personnel who face your customers and are under business development must have professional LinkedIn profiles.
One of the places online where businesses are developed is in LinkedIn. Your team’s profile in this platform will be a reflection of your organization. If they look professional in their LinkedIn accounts, it will also send the same message that your credit union is professionally taking good care of their members.
Promote your subject matter experts.
Under your organization, you surely have a number of people who are experts on many things or a wide range of things which are interesting topics for your credit unions. These are the people whom the media are looking for when it comes to being interviewed for articles, especially when there are fresh and brand new current events. The advice and wisdom coming from your experts are something that you can make use of in your blog posts, social media posts and even content in your websites. Remember that content is very much needed these days and this your chance to promote and leverage on your subject matter experts.
Nominate your organization for awards and recognition.
If you nail an award or recognition, you will have plenty of opportunities and ways for you to be able to use the title to your advantage. It may probably have to take a little research but this is very common in the areas where credit unions are actually doing business. What you must remember is that people may be believing what they have read, but if you have been recognized for something, they will begin to realize that what they have read must be true.
Do not quit, and just be patient.
Your success in public relations will not happen overnight. It is a long term effort that requires commitment. You also must have that faith that your effort in ultimately building relationships and establish positive perception about your organization will be paying off in the end. And you will be able to see these results in the form of new deposits, or probably new loans and increased membership.