October 6, 2011
Credit Union Management’s online-only “PR Insight” column runs the first Thursday of every month.
It’s budget season. Your credit union recognizes the value, increased brand recognition and market share PR helped build in 2011. Management knows that a well-executed strategy requires an experienced PR professional. The question then becomes, “Should we hire an agency? Or should we do PR in house?”
The answer is not simple. Each credit union has specific needs, goals, budget and staff resources that all influence the best approach to building a successful public relations team and executing thorough PR programs.
Average Costs for PR Services
Scope and Goal of the PR Program
The first thing a credit union must do is decide what it wants to accomplish with PR. A well-run program educates members and the local community on the great work a credit union is doing, with an emphasis on the soundness, safety and value working with a credit union provides. Credit unions should also plan to prepare for handling a crisis, such as identity and privacy breaches, compliance issues or legal troubles.
In-House: Access to management and being involved in business planning is one area where having an in-house team can be effective. Planning, messaging and execution can be easy for a communicator who lives and breathes the credit union’s values. It is also easier for an internal team to be a part of the management function and meld PR strategies with the credit union’s corporate goals from the very beginning.
Agency: If a credit union has not previously engaged thoroughly in PR, an agency brings a level of expertise, professionalism and strategic counsel that removes the learning curve for the credit union. Agencies have pre-existing relationships with key media, PR monitoring tools and subscriptions already in use, and decades – if not centuries – of experience.
Even credit unions with experience running PR programs will often rely on their agency to manage all aspects of the PR program, leaving credit union officials the time and energy to focus on their primary skills and responsibilities.
While internal PR can be very effective, it works best if the company has the right resources.
In-House: Small credit unions may dedicate one or two people to managing all external communications – PR, advertising and marketing. The advantage to this approach is that all communication channels should be integrated. The difficulty can be in staffing the department with one or two people who have all the requisite skills.
Larger credit unions may consider hiring a full team responsible for communications, which enables them to hire specialists for each area of the division. However, the vice president or manager responsible for communications should have proven experience managing each channel.
Credit unions should also consider the access they have to PR talent. Larger cities or areas near universities with strong PR programs will have the most access to both experienced and well-educated PR talent. Credit unions should post jobs with local PR association chapters (such as the Public Relations Society of America) look for candidates with focused PR training, or seek professionals who have gained accreditation, designated with APR.
Agency: Agencies are able to provide credit unions with experienced talent. A typical agency team will use a combination of veteran PR managers to provide strategic counsel and less experienced talent to handle tactical work. Agencies can also spread the costs of services and tools across multiple clients, reducing the overall costs.
However, credit unions should acknowledge that their agency team might have several clients, and there is always a learning curve for the agency to absorb and understand the credit union’s culture, goals and brand. The way to mitigate the learning curve is to work with specialized agencies that focus on credit unions or financial institutions.
Just as in any partnership, credit unions should take care to do their homework and select an agency that is ethical, professional and experienced working in financial services.
Cost is another factor in deciding whether to work with an agency or hire a PR staff internally. Costs can vary widely depending on the scope of a PR program and the resources needed to execute the complete strategy.
In-House: Internal costs are, of course, tied primarily to salary and benefits paid to a PR professional. Salary will vary widely depending on location and the experience level of the professional filling the position. However, credit unions should also consider the costs needed for key PR tools, such as media monitoring, research tools or press release distribution services.
Agency: PR agencies charge for their services, usually as a monthly retainer or based on defined projects. Credit unions should also expect to pay for expenses incurred on their behalf, such as travel, graphic design or printing costs. Just be sure that outside expenses are clearly outlined during the sales process.
Ultimately, having no PR is more expensive than either in-house or agency-provided services, since with no public presence, members and prospective members will work with those financial institutions that can more effectively communicate their value.
Whichever direction your credit union chooses, make a commitment to hiring PR-trained professionals, participating in public relations planning, and watching your organization’s brand and reputation grow among your key audiences.
David Jones is a senior account agent for William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent financial services and technology public relations firm. Follow William Mills Agency on Twitter as well as check out its FinTech Marketing blog.