Cal./Nev. CUs Get Update On How Money Was Spent

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The first year of a radio and newspaper-based public advocacy campaign on behalf of credit unions has had a significant positive effect on registered voters in California and Nevada, delegates of the California and Nevada CU Leagues were told at the recent annual convention here for the two trade associations.

Gretchen Ponts, vice president of Strata Research, the San Diego firm hired by the leagues to track results of the campaign, gave a statistical analysis of the numbers. According to Ponts, the key question was: who would consumers side with in a dispute, banks or CUs?

"All surveys show significant improvement in support of credit unions, by members, non-members and total," she said. "The 'I don't know' category showed a decrease in all three categories. As consumers began to learn about credit unions, support grew."

In total, approximately 900,000 voters in the two states were "swayed" by the ads, Ponts stated.

Several members of the 2005 Ad Hoc Public Advocacy Committee appeared on stage for a report: Chairman Richard Ghysels, CEO of First Financial CU; David Chatfield, CEO of the California and Nevada leagues; Teresa Freeborn, SVP for Kinecta FCU; Bob Arnould, CCUL SVP-government affairs; Henry Kertman, CCUL's director of public relations; Henry Wirz, CEO of Safe CU, and Tony Mook, CEO of Cumorah CU.

Ghysels noted California and Nevada CUs combined to raise $6.6 million to fund the campaign in 2005, and he urged delegates from the two states to approve a second year of the effort, which they did. "It is not a marketing campaign or a bank-bashing campaign," he said. "Instead, it is an information campaign designed to educate."

Chatfield said the campaign became a necessity when research performed 18 months ago revealed both positive and negative findings: "The good news was, our members like us a lot. The bad news: there are not a lot of them. We were way behind the eight ball in terms of public perception."

The public advocacy campaign has been able to "move the needle," Chatfield added.

Freeborn said the campaign was placed in 28 target markets. She said the radio portion began in late January with a "heavy run" for the first three weeks, then roughly every other week after. Because the leagues did a bulk media buy, they saved 20%, or about $1 million, compared to expectations.

Ground War With The Air War

"Print ads ran in 45 newspapers, mostly in the state capitals Sacramento [Calif.] and Carson City [Nev.]," she said. "There also was a grassroots component of the campaign-materials such as posters for credit union branches."

Arnould said the league is coordinating a series of rallies, which he termed "a ground war to go with the air war." He urged CUs to assemble new faces to participate.

The public advocacy campaign was approved by delegates of the two states at the 2004 annual convention in Las Vegas. Kertman noted the leagues last year promised the member CUs "we would be accountable and would present measurable results."

Before the campaign was launched, he continued, the leagues performed focus groups on the ads with both members and non-members. To detect the campaign's effect, if any, the leagues performed benchmark studies prior to its start, and continued to track results throughout the year.

Wirz said the committee was asked to develop a fair and equitable funding package, and to demonstrate "stewardship" of the money. "Of the $6.6 million raised, almost all came from credit unions. We took in $300,000 from our affiliates," he said.

The committee spent $5.9 million on the campaign, leaving a surplus of $692,000, Wirz said. "In 2006, we will raise $6.5 million and will carry over the surplus. This will allow us to increase the media buy so there are fewer days we are not in the media."

Wirz said the 2006 funding formula is about 10% less than 2005: 33 cents per member for credit unions over $30 million, and .000033 times assets. In addition, there is a 10% cap on increases from the previous year.

"Our promise, if the campaign is approved for 2006, is to continue to provide stewardship and value. It is an investment, not an expenditure," Wirz said.

Added Mook: "This is the perfect time for us to get involved with public advocacy. We have a real fight with the bankers."

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