Put Me On TV! Marketers’ Conference Attendees Share Solutions to Land Positive Publicity

By Lynn Heider, Northwest Credit Union Association Vice President of Public Relations and Communications

It was Nov. 5, 2011, and the lobby at Northwest Resource Federal Credit Union in downtown Portland, Ore., was buzzing. The single branch credit union is normally closed on Saturday’s, but the staff enthusiastically gave up a day off knowing activists from “Oregon Banks Local” were bringing a parade of new members.

The large, noisy and upbeat march presented a classic “media moment,” and Northwest Resource’s Kim Faucher found herself facing TV crews from all of the Portland stations. Her interviewing skills were spot-on, and it was a magic moment for a small credit union that couldn’t have bought such good publicity.

The spotlight on Faucher’s credit union was “seven times more believable than the ad you can buy,” according to earned media expert Jeff Crilley. The national-award-winning journalist was in front of the camera for 25 years, appearing in top markets such as Dallas and on networks including Fox, CNN and CBS. Today, his firm, Real News Public Relations, helps clients position themselves for the most favorable coverage possible without exhausting their advertising budgets.

Crilley shared secrets of getting news coverage at the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) Marketers’ Conference in Seattle last week. He pointed out that the even though the Bank Transfer tidal wave has settled, credit unions can still be media darlings.

“If you turn on the news right now and see a financial expert, that should be you,” he emphatically tells attendees. Crilley logged onto Google to demonstrate that dozens of financial experts had been quoted in recent news stories, and they were not credit union representatives. “Reporters need financial experts every single day.”

I can vouch for the accuracy of Jeff Crilley’s advice. I spent 12 years in front of the camera and then 15 years as the news director who hired and coached the Jeff Crilley’s of the world. Now as Vice President of Communications for the NWCUA, it’s my goal for our member credit unions to be the go-to media sources for all things consumer and financial. We have to work together to earn this status.

Standard issue news releases alone won’t get us anywhere. Crilley pointed out his newsroom in Dallas received as many as 2,500 emails a day.

Let me paint a picture for you: A newsroom’s assignment desk is a busy place with telephones constantly ringing, police scanners blasting crime scene and emergency calls at head-splitting volume, antiquated fax machines spitting out so many story pitches they run out of paper twice a day, and an email in-box filling up by the second. This nerve center is staffed by sometimes only one burned out person who is too busy to take your call. Unless you already have a relationship with an assignment editor in your market, your pitch will likely be deleted.

Jeff Crilley is right; bypass the “newstips@stationxyz” address and build a relationship with a reporter or behind-the scenes newscast producer.

The producersare decision-makers when it comes to the content that will air in their newscasts and they are often looking for leads. Crilley suggested reaching out to morning news producers because they have several hours to fill. (Word to the wise: these underpaid heroes work overnight, so plan on calling them when their shows are over, but before they leave for the day; I’m talking 7:05 am!) I’d also suggest finding out who is responsible for the weekend morning newscasts in your markets. These programs have a more relaxed audience with time to pay attention. The producer can often slot enough time for a live, in studio interview.

It is also possible to go right to the front line and build a relationship with the reporters. Let me tell you something: despite what some will say, TV reporters are not lazy. They are some of the brightest, most overworked people I know. A typical TV reporter will appear live in 3 or more newscasts a day and will be assigned to two or more stories every single day. They may only have access to a photographer for a few hours.

Here are some suggestions for outreach:

  • Visit the websites for your local TV stations. Look for tabs that will take you to the reporter contact pages, usually labeled “about us,” “meet the team” or “bios.” Read them! Look for beat assignments that are most appropriate for the type of outreach you want to showcase. There are consumer reporters, business reporters, education reporters and even people assigned to do regular features on families. If your credit union is located in a “bedroom community” to the television market, it may be more appropriate to look for the reporter assigned to cover your county. He or she is always looking for something newsworthy.
  • Know that their news directors want them to use more “real people” than experts in their stories. And they want the stories shot in real settings, not across an office desk. This is more connective with the viewers and is more visual. Have real consumers—your members — ready to go on camera to share their experiences. Arrange to shoot the stories in visual settings. For example, a story about membership growth should be shot in a busy lobby. A story about great auto loan rates should be shot at a car dealership. You and your happy-camper member should meet the TV crew there.
  • Give exclusives! Those reporters’ news managers don’t want to see their crews getting the same “dog and pony” show all the other channels got. Sure, from your viewpoint, you’d like to be on all the stations. Your best bet for building a relationship with a reporter, however, is to offer a story just to them. Don’t offer the same lead on refinancing and the same happy homeowner to everyone; arrange that story for the reporter you’re trying to build a relationship with.
  • Add value to their on-line channels. TV station’s websites are getting more visits than their newscasts are getting viewers these days. Ideally, you want your story posted online so it has a long life. The reporters will likely also be interested in statistics, loan calculators, links to your live chat experts and other information their online visitors will like.
  • Be nimble. Yes, you may have to make yourself available at 6:00 on a Saturday morning, and you may have to take a call at 10:30 at night to answer an interest rate question. And, train your CEO, lending officers and others likely to be interviewed right now, while you have the time. When you get the call, you won’t have time to prepare. Their deadlines are tight.

“All a lot of journalists really want is someone they can call at the last minute, who will say, ‘Sure, come on over.’”

Seizing the “last-minute” opportunity was what Rivermark Community Credit Union’s David Noble did last fall when a popular consumer reporter was looking for a credit union setting to report on membership trends. Noble moved fast, making available a branch located only minutes from the time-strapped TV crews’ studios, allowing access to real members opening new accounts and making himself available for background. The result was another magic moment that Crilley would have been proud of, and all it cost Rivermark was Noble’s time.

Crilley summed it up beautifully at the Marketers’ Conference.

“Have all the elements of the story together and wrap it in up in a bow. They will love you.”

Editor’s note: We can’t have it both ways, wanting to be on camera when the story is positive but dodging the calls when there is negative financial news. In Thursday’s Anthem we will share Jeff Crilley’s expert advice on crisis communication.


Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor: mhalvorson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Compliance News, NWCUA.