Affinity FCU Seeks To Turn Viewers Into Readers With New Magazine

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Nearly every credit union in the country routinely mails monthly newsletters with member statements that detail new car loan drives or the usual financial services.

Affinity Federal Credit Union had long been among them, but it also had a problem: "We couldn't tell if they read it," said Tonni von Schaumburg, assistant vice president of marketing.

Affinity Federal also faced an increasing number of members switching to online statements. While online banking saves money for any credit union and its members, it reduces the effectiveness of the newsletter as the traditional means of reaching large numbers of members.

In response, Affinity FCU has created a full size, four-color magazine that focuses on improving members' lifestyles and not just CD return rates, new debit card designs or an upcoming holiday branch closing. Titled "Connections-Easier Living with Affinity," the magazine provides a "fresh look with new content," she said.

"We wanted to revise and update from something people looked at, to something people read," von Schaumburg said.

Part of the strategy, according to von Schaumburg, is to create a design that distinctly does not look like a typical credit union publication.

"It's warmer. It's not cold and 'salesy.' It's not promotional in nature at all," she said.

Affinity FCU teamed with Raoust + Partners, a marketing communications firm, to create Connections. Executive Vice President Bryan Claggett said Affinity FCU was intent on creating a publication that members could use and possibly even keep for future reference. Claggett said Affinity Federal also wanted to be an "enabler" to its members, that is helping people improve their lives versus simply providing a product or service.

"They don't need a mortgage, they need a house," Claggett explained.

Raoust and Affinity staff met and set up an editorial calendar for stories to appear in each quarter. The first issue of Connections was mailed to members with stories that included "Money Smart" ideas for entertaining, saving for unplanned expenses in "Affinity Online," and creating a family budget in "Budget Breakdown."

The spring issue was printed with ideas on the perfect yard sale, security in cyberspace, and quick home-improvement ideas that can be finished in one weekend. The back cover of each issue features a "True Story" of Affinity FCU members or employees improving services or helping one another.

Von Schaumburg said Connections is mailed separately from member statements improving the chances it will be read, but also allowing members who don't want it to opt out. She said some members simply don't want it, while others choose to read the online issue instead.

Von Schaumburg said she is very happy with the magazine's quality and member feedback for Connections, but added that it isn't cheap to produce a high quality, four-color magazine. von Schaumburg estimated that Affinity FCU spent roughly $60,000 to fully produce, write, organize, print and mail copies to 70,000 households. The $1.3-billion credit union serves 115,000 members.

Von Schaumburg said she recommends a similar type of publication to any credit union, but noted each must tailor it to their membership. A smaller CU might be able to get by with a smaller size publication with fewer pages, only two colors, or to produce it in-house using marketing or public relations staff.

"You could save a lot of money that way," she said.

Von Schaumburg also cautioned about the amount of time it takes to plan a magazine and the lead time required to take a publication from a two-page newsletter to a 16-page, four-color magazine.

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