Rogue Federal Masters Low-Cost Media Coverage and Event Ownership

It’s “Cash or Gas” promotion day in Medford, Ore., and the team from Rogue Federal Credit Union is gearing up for a well-attended event. Thirteen local radio stations duke it out for coverage rights, and Rogue’s executive vice president rolls up his sleeves to direct traffic until police arrive to help out.

It’s another win-win—for consumers, who will buy gas for 50 cents per gallon below the listed price; for the participating gas stations; for business partners whose logos and products are showcased; and for Rogue Federal, which continues to set membership growth records almost a year after Bank Transfer Day.

A quick visit to the 54,000-member, $575 million credit union’s website shows that it offers investment planning, online banking, competitive loan rates, youth accounts and other products that consumers value. But you’ll also note the message that it’s about “more than an auto loan.” Rogue Federal’s community involvement gets equal billing with the financial services it provides.

The credit union’s list of sponsored events is impressive—there are more than 20 high-profile, highly anticipated events, including the family friendly “Medford Movies in the Park” series, the “Pear Blossom Festival,” cruise events attracting automobile enthusiasts and youth baseball.

“There’s no ‘one thing.’ It’s just everything,” said Rogue Federal President and CEO Gene Pelham when asked about the extensive resources the credit union commits to events. While some events are tied to credit union promotions, such as a special vehicle purchase program during the Medford Cruise, the event, not the promotion, is the major focus.

“And you can’t just put your name on an event. You have to really do it,” he continued, stressing that a lot of talent and muscle is needed to make sure the events are successful.

Pelham credits the savvy of Jeanne Pickens, the credit union’s vice president of marketing, with negotiating partnerships and ensuring the outcome is good for Rogue Federal’s members as well as for the rest of the public. The Medford market is a competitive one these days, with many large credit unions from other Oregon cities operating branches there. Pelham believes the “Living Local” branding resonates because so much of the community involvement is not simply disguised marketing of the credit union.

“Don’t try to turn events into a marketing piece,” Pelham said, noting that giving the community a positive event or activity without hype helps to build trust.

Rogue Federal has taken the same approach with its unique “Local Money Matters” radio show, which airs live on KCMX AM 880 each Tuesday morning from 8-9 and is then repeated on Thursdays at 9 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m. The broadcasts are also videotaped and archived on the credit union’s website.

For a minimal investment and the purchase of a  high-quality soundboard, Rogue Federal is able to produce the personal finance broadcast from high-traffic spots, such as branch parking lots or lobbies. The credit union maintains control of the content but takes the role as seriously as a seasoned journalist would.

“We don’t make it the Rogue Federal hour,” said Creative Manager Jim DeBoer, who said the focus is on creating content consumers will learn from. He listed one “good-get” guest after another, including experts from Experian who told consumers how to improve their credit scores, business start-up experts, representatives of other cooperative businesses and car dealership professionals.

DeBoer is passionate and enthusiastic about the success “Local Money Matters” has enjoyed. He said that at least one other radio station has inquired about broadcast rights, and consumers often call the credit union or KCMX to ask when the show will next air. In times of lean staffing in the news industry, the quality and credibility of the program is appreciated by the broadcaster and has earned the trust of listeners. In addition, the credit union is now top of mind when local reporters are looking for experts to quote in financial stories. Because of the relationship Rogue Federal has with local media, the credit union’s staff is listened to when it suggests stories about initiatives such as member business lending (MBL).

Another key piece helping to raise Rogue Federal’s profile in the community is partnering with for-profit businesses to raise funds for community causes.

Commercial inventory in the radio program is traded with for-profit partners for contributions. The credit union also charges auto and boat dealerships for display rights in the branch lobbies or parking lots. These earnings, too, are granted to local nonprofits through high-visibility check presentations. And the businesses love it.

“They see value, because they continue to participate, month after month,” Pelham said.

Was Pelham at all reluctant to share the soup-to-nuts formula for winning earned media coverage and owning community events? No.

“We all like our secret sauce,” he said. “But really, there are no secrets in credit unions. There is just vision and execution.”


Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor:

Posted in Around the NW, Community Impact, CU4Kids, Events, Federal.