Advice On How CUs Can Respond To Banks In The Media

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The banking industry's assaults upon credit unions in the courts and legislatures is also likely to be extended to the mass media, according to one person. But there is a great deal credit unions can do to counter that.

Phoebe Howard, a media consultant who led an educational session at the California and Nevada CU Leagues' annual meeting and convention here, said banks are using their well-polished media skills to present their spin on taxation and other issues. One way for credit unions to combat this, she suggested, is to reach out to editorial boards-the groups of people at each newspaper who vote on and write editorials.

"The people on these boards are hearing outrage from banks," she said. "Banks are telling them, 'these credit unions compete with us and have an unfair advantage. They should be taxed.' And these people might not know what a credit union is."

To get the credit unions' side of the argument heard, Howard said CU representatives should call the members of the editorial boards at their local newspaper and make an appointment to meet with them and explain how CUs serve their members and why they should retain their tax status.

In addition, credit unions should submit opinion columns and write letters to the editor. Howard said the letters page is the second-best read page in a newspaper following A1.

When credit union representatives are trying to educate others about the movement, Howard recommends watching your words.

"Say 'as you know,' rather than 'you may not know.' It sounds like a small thing, but it is the difference between someone listening to and processing what is being said to them, and that person getting defensive."

Many credit union executives tell Howard they avoid the media altogether. She believes this is not a sound strategy. "If credit unions do not use the media, the media will be used against credit unions," she declared. "If a credit union proactively reaches out to the media, if the local reporters and editors have regular contact, then, when something bad happens such as a robbery or embezzlement, the credit union has some good feeling built up."

Reaching out to the media involves much more than waiting until a major event happens. According to Howard, many of the things CU executives take for granted are not taken for granted by the press. This includes fundraisers, charity events, job fairs and many things CUs might not think of as news.

"After a fire, flood or other disaster, many credit unions allow their members to skip a payment on their loans. (This) is news, and it should be publicized," Howard said.

Howard's other advice:

* The easiest way to draft a press release is to have bullet points that answer who, what, where, when and why. Write a sentence after each "W" and put a headline on it.

* Credit unions should build contacts with the media, but only with a purpose, such as positioning themselves for positive coverage, or setting the record straight.

* Assume every comment to a reporter is "on the record."

* "Before going on TV, practice being on camera. Have colleagues ask offensive, irritating questions, and have good answers ready."

* Know print reporters' deadlines, and return calls. "Try not to say 'no comment;' always try to say something positive," Howard advised. "The public feels someone who says 'no comment' has something to hide."

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