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Getting media coverage for your convention.

Texas Credit Union League and Affiliates (TCUL&A), Dallas, is used to good convention turnout and coverage. So that's what Dick Williamson, CAE, vice president of corporate communications, expected when he went into Austin last March for the association's 59th annual meeting and exposition.

Not everything went as expected.

Business as usual

When Williamson's public relations plan works as it should, it begins with news kits and personal visits to media representatives in the host city.

The news kit features statistics for the credit union industry along with the TCUL&A meeting program, highlighting key speakers and topics.

In Austin, that much worked. As usual, Williamson arranged to meet with the editorial board of the city's major daily newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. Accompanied by a local credit union executive, he did a presentation with the goal of getting an editorial published on how well the credit union industry is doing and its message to legislators: "We're not broke and don't need fixing."

The public relations plan has a third component: individual lunch or dinner meetings with three primary contacts in the host city--one each for the major television station, newspaper, and wire service. These activities foster favorable coverage before and during the meeting. "If I had a choice, I'd choose a news|paper~ story over one on TV or radio," Williamson says. "Then I have clips to send back to legislators and regulators--plus our delegates would more likely have the chance to read a newspaper article."

Business not as usual

What Williamson could not have anticipated was that a negative story on the state's credit union industry would break in the Houston Chronicle the Sunday TCUL&A's meeting opened. "It's the first time a negative story hit the same day we keynoted a convention," Williamson says.

The story claimed the state's credit union commissioner had been secretive about the state's deposit insurance fund. By Monday, 90 Texas papers had picked the story up from Associated Press, causing a deluge of calls to the state's 850 credit unions--at a time when their executives were at TCUL&A's annual meeting. (In Texas, one person in four belongs to a credit union.)

On Tuesday, Williamson countered with a news release. Sent to the same 90 papers, plus 100 radio stations, it emphasized the safety and soundness of the credit union system in Texas.

Just as importantly, he succeeded in getting a story published in the Austin newspaper announcing that the University Federal Credit Union had opened its membership to the entire undergraduate student body (19,200 students) at the University of Texas at Austin--a move that would make those students eligible for credit union services, including student loans.

As for the annual meeting, three members of the trade press covered it in its entirety. Anticipating that the association's president and its chief elected officer would be "lightning rods" for questions about Sunday's story on the regulator-insurance problem, Williamson prepared a statement for them to carry in their pockets. It confirmed the league's neutral position in any disputes arising from the process of converting from state to federal insurance for credit unions.

Develop your contacts

Last year, Williamson prepared a formal crisis communication plan. It's fine on paper, he says, partly as a reminder to be flexible and prepared to improvise.

But events in March convinced him of the best long-range strategy: "Develop contacts you can trust in cities where you hold your convention." With key media contacts, he has concluded, timing, honesty, and credibility are indispensable.

PR Pointers

1. Prepare news kits and personally visit media representatives in your convention city.

2. Write a crisis communication plan.

3. Develop trusted contacts in key cities. Seek their advice.

Katherine L. George, CAE, is president of Catalina Communications, Haymarket, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Meetings Communication Series, part 7
Author:George, Katherine L.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:625
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