CU Water Cooler

CUNA GAC: Telling the Credit Union Story So the Media Pays Attention

Tim McAlpineComment

I attended a fantastic breakout session with Elisabeth Leamy today. Elisabeth is a best-selling author and a 14-time-Emmy-Award-winning consumer correspondent with ABC's Good Morning America. Her passion and specialty is helping consumers save money. In her position, she is pitched by companies and PR pros hundreds of times a day. In the last year, she has acted on only three of those thousands of pitches.

It was really valuable to hear from someone in her position on what actually works. Elisabeth broke it down into the six R's and offered really common-sense advice to credit union executives trying to get their stories picked up locally, regionally or even nationally.

1. Right

The story needs to be right. The right story for the right outlet for the right reporter in the right format. This takes some work, but you need to understand the reporter's style and what she writes about or features in her news segments. A great idea is to look out for a reporter that is doing a series of articles or segments and pitch an idea that would fit within the series.

2. Righteous

The story pitch must benefit the audience and the journalist before it benefits you! Credit unions have lots of positive news to offer. The key is to think of the audience first, not how can we get in the paper or on TV so we can sell more loans? Think about how you can help the reporter with her job or make her a superstar.

3. Razzle Dazzle

The story should have as many of these key attributes as possible. It should be visual (especially for TV), emotional, surprising, investigative and unprecedented. And, if you can bring a famous celebrity to the table, even better!

4. Real People

Your story pitches should not be about your credit union, they should be about people. Viewers and readers want an experience. They want a story. They don't want to hear a reporter drone on about dry financial information. You also want to make the reporter's life as easy as possible. If you are pitching a story about people, do the leg work beforehand and line up members with personal stories that fit your pitch. Have you refinanced a home loan that saved some members enough to pay for their daughter's first year of university? That's an interesting human-interest story.

5. Resource

You should attempt to be a resource even when it’s not going to be your story. You can't just start asking for things without giving things back in return. You should attempt to form a relationship with local reporters first and offer help. For instance, you could offer a location if they ever need a shot of a vault, an ATM or someone counting cash. You could offer to become a trusted expert and offer financial expertise if they need to fact check a story, include a quote or a brief interview. You could also offer access to member stories or any other banking or money visuals that they may be looking for. 

6. Repeat

If you are sure that you have nailed steps 1 to 5, don't be afraid to resend your message and to multiple people. The reporter is probably underpaid, overworked and dealing with a information overload. Spend some time identifying story editors and producers. Elisabeth suggested that it's OK to send your message up to five times.

An audience member asked is she preferred phone or email. Elisabeth said she hates phone calls and much prefers email and conveyed that this is the preference of most her peers as well. In fact, she even crafted an email on the spot for the audience and said she would definitely consider something phrased like this!

Subject: Re: I loved your story on XYZ

Opener: I saw your story on XYZ and I think, for the first time, people actually understood why this is so important! I have a similar story about a different subject that I think would be perfect for you."

Five stories you could pitch tomorrow

And finally, she pitched five stories that credit unions should consider pitching.

  • Owning a house is more affordable than renting!
  • “Grocery cart” comparisons between banks vs. credit union. Do a lifetime comparison of total average savings on all types of key products. Elisabeth suggested that supplying a finished grocery cart graphic would be a really nice touch to help that busy reporter with her job.
  • Pledge to help a good family in bad circumstances.
  • Find unclaimed money for your members.
  • Craft a savings makeover that nets thousands of savings at a time!

Overall, it was a really great presentation by a great presenter. Come to think of it, I believe I've got an idea to pitch Good Morning America. Thanks Elisabeth!


Tim McAlpine lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. He is the President and Creative Director of Currency Marketing, an integrated marketing agency specializing in helping credit unions attract the next generation of members. Tim is best known as the creator of Young & Free.