Don't Make These Mistakes

By David Jones

3 minutes

oops spelled out on a laptop

Public relations is one of the most effective ways your credit union can build its brand and increase awareness of the value you bring to the community. A well-orchestrated PR program can help raise awareness and interest in many key audiences – existing members, prospects, staff, community leaders, etc. But as in any communications discipline, a poorly executed PR strategy can damage a reputation and leave potential members completely in the dark on the services available to them.

The biggest mistakes credit unions typically make with their PR programs revolve around a misunderstanding of what PR can accomplish or how to craft messages that resonate with others. As you put your 2016 plans into action, be sure to avoid stumbling into these common pitfalls.

Let’s Talk About Me

Have you ever known someone who acted as if the entire world revolved around them? After a short time, conversations with a narcissist are draining and unfruitful.

So it is with a PR program. One of the most common mistakes your credit union can make is to become so focused on your own organization, products and services that you forget where you fit in the larger world.

This most often shows up in press releases that come out about every mundane action at the organization or an assumption that what happens at the credit union is the top priority of everyone you reach out to. Credit unions also risk alienating reporters by acting like the writer’s sole job is to advertise for the credit union.

In reality, reporters are always working on stories that help their readers, listeners and viewers understand major trends and issues or entertain them with stories that are unique or offer a peak at the "next big thing." Credit unions that can provide those ideas and information or explain the tough issues will experience ongoing coverage and increase their profile in their community.

Fame! I’m Gonna Live Forever!

Public relations is a fantastic way to influence people to become members or use financial services, but all too often, executives see PR as a  magic bullet that will automatically generate sales.

Unfortunately, it typically doesn't work that way.

Sales and marketing theory tells us that typical product buyers go through four stages in their purchase journey: awareness, interest, desire and action.

PR is the best strategy for impacting the first two stages: raising awareness and generating further interest in a credit union or financial service.  However, PR becomes less influential the closer people get to taking action. This is where the product or service begins to speak for itself.

PR is vital to a robust communications program, but it will not make up for a poor product or service (or sell that product or service by itself).

Let’s Tweet About This

The final mistake is putting PR materials out for the sake of putting them out. While social media is one of the most common communications channels where this occurs, it can be just as applicable to press releases, events or email blasts.

Public relations professionals have a wealth of communications channels available to them to tell the credit union’s story. But just as a carpenter doesn’t use a hammer to trim the size of a board, a credit union should think twice before using social media to host a Q&A. Or at least be aware of—and have a plan for—the potential sidetracking of the conversation. You don’t want to find yourself in the situation JPMorgan did back in 2013 when it invited Twitter users to #AskJPM for career advice.

Instead, always begin with a plan. Understand who you want to speak to and what you want to say to them. Then you can select the channels and tactics that best fit the scenario.

Whether your credit union partners with an outside PR expert or builds a team in house, taking time to think through the organization’s goals and identify how to use PR to reach those goals will go a long way to avoiding the traps of a poor PR program.

David Jones is an account director 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.


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

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