By W.B. King
Day in and day out, credit unions go above and beyond for membership — be it through serving the underbanked, community outreach programs or partnering with fintechs to deliver best-in-class services. More often than not, however, these important stories go unnoticed. A new credit union-specific public relations course, Mission: Influence, was designed to change the conversation.
“Credit unions and the business partners that help them to better serve members are doing incredible work toward providing access to life-changing services,” Sarah Snell Cooke, principal of Cooke Consulting Solutions, said of her recently announced educational initiative.
“We need to share those stories with relevant media outlets regularly and effectively to remain relevant,” she added.
Cooke’s intensive six-week, 90-minute a week in-person or virtual media relations course will debut on Sept. 1, 2022. The course description notes “teaching participants how to share respective stories effectively to gain brand awareness and engagement through thought leadership that builds relations and leads.”
Prior to founding Cooke Consulting Solutions in 2017, a primarily B2B firm, Cooke served as publisher and editor-in-chief of Credit Unions Times. Throughout her career, she has felt that while many important stories have been told, the essence of the credit union movement is often underreported.
“The importance of how people tell their stories and how they share, not what they are and what their products are, but how they help people and that changes lives is just critical for all of us who work in the credits union market,” she told Finopotamus. “In my 20-plus years in the credit union market, I’ve seen a lot of the PR going on and some of it can be improved.”
Guest Speakers on Tap
The course will feature virtual guests who work in and around the business — from journalists to credit union leaders, Cooke explained. Among those scheduled to speak is CUbroadcast’s founder and host Mike Lawson.
“At just about every industry conference, webinar or roundtable gathering, somebody usually says credit unions need to tell their story and do it well,” Lawson said. “But that’s usually the extent of it. Few folks are sharing how to do this effectively and the results that can follow if done well.”
Lawson believes Mission: Influence has the potential of drilling down to the “nuts and bolts and strategies that can help credit unions get their messages heard and acted on within the media, resulting in more exposure and, ultimately, growth for the industry.” He added that Cooke’s experience as a reporter, editor, publisher and public relations practitioner “positions her quite well to educate credit unions in this important communications outreach area.”
Among those signed up for the course is Prodigy’s CEO, Amber Harsin. A core processing and cloud credit union service organization (CUSO), the Salt Lake City-based organization was created when “several credit unions banded together with a vision of collaboration and desire to own their future,” she told Finopotamus.
Harsin explained that a public relations gap was recently identified in the organization regarding its brand awareness, so it was “fortuitous timing” when Cooke announced the initiative. She anticipates that course will be a “boot camp” for creating or updating a public relations strategy.
“For me it’s being able to sit down and learn from industry experts regarding what considerations you should be taking when entering in to the discovery planning, building and executing phase of a strong PR strategy,” Harsin noted.
As a technology CUSO, she said part of the goal of taking the course is to further establish how Prodigy can play a role in educating the credit union industry, while partnering with other educators.
“This to promote a common goal: helping credit unions use technology to provide financial equity to our communities,” she said.
Conveying the Credit Union Mission: Changing Lives
Lawson plans to use some of his time as a guest speaker to address important issues, including promoting awareness around cybersecurity.
“Credit unions could certainly position themselves as an educator and protector in this area to their members and consumers in their communities,” said Lawson, who previously taught the course, “Working with the Media,” at the University of California San Diego.
“Providing an educational message to the community can position these credit unions as trusted financial resources, which hopefully lead to becoming a consumer’s primary financial institution,” he continued. “I have spent the last 25 years or so in the credit union industry. So, I know their message. I enjoy helping deliver a credit union’s message because what they are doing goes far beyond the financial transaction. They change lives with their mission. That’s quite refreshing today.”
Since this is the first time the course will be offered, Cooke said she doesn’t quite know what to expect. Initial feedback from operators in the credit union space, she noted, has been positive.
“My goal [for the first course] is to have six to 10 [people] because I do want to keep it very interactive, answer questions and dig deeper,” she said, adding that she plans on possibly offering a second course later in the year.
The deadline to register for the course is August 31, 2022.
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