From Collector: Changing Public Perception—One Regulator at a Time

The Institute for Collection Leadership is helping to rebrand the accounts receivable management industry.

9/14/2018 8:00 AM

NewsCollector Magazine
From Collector: Changing Public Perception—One Regulator at a Time

You probably don’t want to play a word association game about debt collectors with anyone outside of the accounts receivable management industry right now, and that’s exactly what the Institute for Collection Leadership is working to change.

For years, our industry has been tainted by inaccurate characterizations and a fundamental misunderstanding of the modern debt collection process. When ICL was founded in 2015 by a coalition of ACA International members who are all large agency accounts receivable management professionals or affiliate members, the group’s mission was simple but momentous: to address the broader strategic challenges of our industry, including presenting a positive, unified message to lawmakers, regulators and the general public, Collector magazine editor Anne Rosso May reports in the September issue.

ICL began by launching a public relations campaign called Collect the Truth, which featured a website with videos and written testimonials from accounts receivable management professionals and consumers, all speaking in support of the industry, Rosso May reports.

“That was a great starting point,” said ICL Chair Lisa Im, CEO and board chair of Performant Financial Corp., “but now the group is ready for a more targeted approach.”

In April 2018, ICL signed on with The Herald Group, a public affairs firm based in Washington, D.C., which is working to dispel misperceptions about the accounts receivable management industry and advance a positive narrative to key influencers, including media, regulators, policy experts and lawmakers.

The Herald Group’s plan for ICL is ambitious, dogged and wide-ranging. It includes a public education campaign that relies on key influencers and thought leaders outside of the industry from some of the nation’s leading think tanks to write editorials and blog posts, give interviews and informally advocate for debt collectors, Rosso May reports.

“The whole point is to have third parties say the things we’ve been saying for years,” Im said. “We believe other organizations care intensely about the positive impact of our industry on the economy, on small businesses, on our contribution to great diversity in the workplace. The truth about our important contributions on many sectors of the United States’ economy and the American consumer has not been highlighted to regulators and staffers. It’s in our best interest to have these third-party partners challenging misperceptions and highlighting the facts about how ICL’s members serve a critical role for businesses and consumers.”

In addition to working with third-party advocates, ICL and The Herald Group are strengthening relationships with members of the media, including journalists at Politico, American Banker, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and The Hill, to explore opportunities to get our message out on hot topics like reforming the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and illegal robocalls.

ICL is also pursuing research projects and producing relevant fact sheets it can use to address broader strategic challenges in the industry, and to help clear up confusion about the industry.

Im said the Collect the Truth website will be updated “to meet the group’s evolving focus on legislators and regulators, transforming into a landing page where a broad audience, including people on the Hill, can get information about the debt collection industry and corrections to inaccurate news articles in the mainstream media.”

It’s no small feat to rebrand an entire industry, but Im said ICL members are up to the challenge.

“Addressing serious regulatory challenges that have taken decades to form requires a strategic commitment,” Im said. “For example, there’s no way we’re going to condition an environment that’s better suited for our industry in one year. But in two to three years, for instance, we expect there to be a fairly significant understanding of where legislators can go when they see an untruthful article blasting our industry. They can go to our website and understand the process of how the industry really works.

They will know we are exhaustively self-regulated, good for the economy, ensure more people have access to critical lines of credit, and that we represent one of the most diverse workforces across industries.”

That may seem like a relatively small step, but Im is confident it will lead to bigger wins down the road.

For more information on ICL, visit www.collectionsleadership.org.

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