Tie-In To Infamous Bank Robber Boosts Minn. CU

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A credit union looking to get some attention for a new branch in a small town with ties to Jesse James has created a unique marketing campaign that enhances an already popular annual event, "The Defeat of Jesse James Days."

Marty Kelly, VP of Marketing and Business Development at US Federal Credit Union, said the promotion, spurred by his own father's extensive collection of old cowboy movies, includes a special event featuring several of the original actors such as Ben Cooper, Gregg Palmer and Johnny Western.

"Greg Palmer has been in a half-dozen movies with John Wayne and said that Wayne killed him four of the six times," Kelly said, noting that Palmer's favorite "death" came when The Duke stabbed him with a pitchfork.

Four of the actors will also ride in a covered wagon during the annual parade. The fifth, Cooper, also famous for his gun-handling tricks, will ride a horse.

Kelly said he approached the town's Jesse James committee last fall with a pitch for a symposium that would highlight the old movies and offer a question-and-answer period with the actors.

"This little town attracts 100,000 people over this weekend following Labor Day," Kelly said. "We wanted to take some ownership in it, and at the same time, get some recognition for our new credit union branch."

The branch, a 1,500-square-foot facility in a new strip mall on a major town thoroughfare, replaces a much smaller branch that was located in an "out-of-the-way" location. It is among 10 branches of the CU with $576-million in assets and 73,000 members.

Kelly said the committee, which includes Northfield Branch Manager Margaret Haugen "loved the idea," and were happy to make USFCU a major sponsor.

US Federal's symposium will be the featured event of the five-day celebration, starting Sept. 7. Among the other activities will be a parade, an outdoor art fair, a rodeo and a re-enactment of the raid that foiled a robbery attempt of First National Bank of Northfield on Sept. 7, 1876 by the James Gang.

US Federal is footing the entire bill for the symposium -including travel, hotel and food expenses for the actors-in exchange for recognition as a major sponsor on all Jesse James Days promotional material.

In addition, Kelly's team- with the creative help from Tom Schmidt of Range Printing in Brainerd, Minn.-created a series of "Wanted" posters that feature the actors and announce the event.

Five different posters are being pinned on telephone poles in Old West style and in businesses all over the town. Attendees will also receive a special program that will highlight the actors' careers and showcase the credit union's products and services.

"The nice thing about this is that it is totally our event," Kelly said. "We proposed it to them so they are standing back and letting us do it all."

He said symposium backdrops will have the actors' photos, and "you better believe our logo is going to be all over the place."

Ironically, Kelly said, the first request for tickets to the event came from a fan in Jacksonville, Fla., suspecting that word got out through a fan letter for Western movie buffs distributed by family friend, Boyd Magers, whose cowboy collection is even more extensive than the senior Marty Kelly's. Magers, by the way, will serve as master of ceremonies.

If events of the past are any indication, Kelly said ticket sales for the symposium at $7 each will cover all of the promotional expenses.

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