When elected officials and their staff from all 50 states converged on Seattle this month for the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Legislative Summit, America’s Credit Unions greeted them with an almost inescapable messaging campaign.
CUNA and the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL) have always made their presence felt at the annual event, where lawmakers learn about and discuss the hot-button issues in statehouses nationwide—including issues vitally important to the credit union movement.
But with this year’s Legislative Summit coming to his backyard, Troy Stang, president/CEO of the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA), proposed upping the ante. His concept: A highly visible marketing effort designed to make a lasting impression on visiting legislators and staff, as well as on Emerald City consumers.
“When you’re traveling to a city that’s hosting the Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four, you know what’s going on in town the moment you land at the airport—you can feel that in the messaging,” Stang says. “We’re building on that concept.”
The signage blitz, which emphasizes the $7.1 billion value America’s Credit Unions return to their members annually, carried from the baggage claim at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, to the region’s light rail transit system, and to street banners in downtown Seattle.
The majority of the state leagues, CUNA, AACUL, CUNA Mutual Group, and Washington state credit unions combined on this marketing effort, which also featured a booth and special events during the Legislative Summit, as well as advertising in the event’s maps and programs.
“It really is a case of all the credit union system partners coming together for an extremely positive and extremely powerful cause,” says AACUL Chair Tracie Kenyon, president/CEO of the Montana Credit Union Network.
Besides CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., the NCSL Legislative Summit provides the best large-scale opportunity for credit unions to advocate directly with those who determine the regulatory and legislative course for the country.
In some ways, establishing relationships and creating awareness among state legislators and staff can be as productive as your relationships with federal representatives.
Statehouses are something of a farm system for Capitol Hill, so forming relationships with elected officials early in their careers can pay dividends down the road.
Also, credit unions must influence statehouses because of the “trickle-up” nature of much legislation, say Stang and Kenyon. States often serve as a proving ground for cutting-edge ideas, and legislation that proves successful tends to spawn copycat movements and bills in other states.
That momentum can bubble up to the national level, putting Congress in a reactive posture.
“It’s important to make sure we’re present, we’re engaged,” Kenyon says. “Mischief can be made at the state level, and it can spread like a wildfire.”
The Legislative Summit provides credit unions an opportunity to share success stories from other states involving member business lending expansion, relaxed field-of-membership restrictions, and regulatory relief.
“State legislators know their areas very well, but their global knowledge about credit unions often isn’t very strong,” says Paul Gentile, president/CEO of the Cooperative Credit Union Association.
“We can educate folks about the national landscape, and spur a lot of discussions between those lawmakers,” Gentile says. “Having a presence there really augments what we do in our home states.”
Stang and the staff at NWCUA will pass along the blueprint to the Illinois Credit Union League for use at the 2016 NCSL Legislative Summit in Chicago, and to Gentile’s group for the 2017 event in Boston.