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WASHINGTON-Communications is one of the most important functions of any trade association, including CUNA. Perhaps that is why Mark Wolff was selected by CUNA to work in its communications office nearly 11 years ago and has risen through the ranks to Senior Vice President of Communication for the trade group. Wolff has spent most of his career serving credit unions in some fashion. While studying journalism at George Washington University, Wolff was looking for a paying summer internship in the area. An advisor told him of an opportunity at a little agency just up the street called the National Credit Union Administration. Wolff obtained an internship working in the agency’s public relations office answering phones and writing for an internal newsletter and a quarterly newsletter for all the regulated credit unions. Through his internship, Wolff met many people inside the credit union movement including then-self-employed credit union newsletter writer and editor Larry Blanchard, currently senior vice president of communications and public relations at CUNA Mutual Group. After graduation, Blanchard hired Wolff as an assistant. Following his stint with Blanchard, Wolff was offered a permanent position in NCUA’s public information office. “It was a very interesting time to be there, a very exciting time,” Wolff recalled. During his employment with the agency, the recapitalization of the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund was going on, which Wolff called “radical at the time.” He also remarked that then-NCUA Chairman Ed Callahan was one of the most “visionary” people in the credit union movement. After a few years, however, Wolff strayed from his credit union background. For approximately five years Wolff worked for the National Council of Savings Institutions and for about a year following that did public relations for Resolution Trust Corporation. Blanchard, then working in CUNA’s communications department again called Wolff and offered him a position with CUNA 11 years ago in October. Wolff said after having worked in the for-profit arena, the credit union difference was really driven into his head, and he was happy to be back in the credit union movement. “People truly believe in the credit union philosophy. That’s what’s kept me in the movement so long,” Wolff explained. This belief makes Wolff’s job just a bit easier, because credit unions, as the “white hat industry,” do not receive negative press very often, as the consumer friendly alternative to banks. In handling bad press, Wolff said, depending on the circumstances, CUNA will write a letter to the editor in response to a news story or head off the problem in a more subtle way, like talking with the reporter, or if necessary their editor, and hope that CUNA’s concerns will be addressed in the next issue. The most important thing to remember with the media is honesty, Wolff stressed, which he also teaches in sessions explaining to other departments how to deal with reporters. “It’s important to be honest with the press because if you’re not, it could come back to bite you,” he said. But keeping the credit union community informed of what is happening inside and outside of CUNA is a huge job that Wolff couldn’t possibly do without the help of his staff in Washington. Vice President of Information Services Steve Bosack writes and edits the trade group’s NewsWatch and contributes to News Now, CUNA’s online newsletter. Communications Specialist Louise Wynn covers regulatory and compliance issues for News Now. Public and Congressional Affairs Manager Jennifer Gore not only writes on legislative issues for News Now, but also works to increase communications aimed at Capitol Hill and builds contacts with lawmakers’ press secretaries. Additionally, Pat Keefe, vice president of communications and media outreach, works on media relations strategy and helps prepare the already-media savvy CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica for speeches. In addition to the responsibilities listed above, Wolff’s department is also charged with expanding CUNA and credit union coverage in the general news media, including the National Journal, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, and Money Magazine. The communications department is also helping to bolster the CUNA brand campaign usage in the leagues and the member credit unions. Aside from all this, the communications department must also coordinate press releases and other information among the several other departments at CUNA. Technology has really changed the face of communications offices around the world. CUNA is no exception, according to Wolff, particularly in the last five years. For instance, News Now would not even exist without the Internet and CUNA also offers NewsWatch via electronic delivery. Through the Internet more people can be informed much faster than through other mediums. Additionally, organizations like CUNA save significant amounts of money on shipping costs. However, while the Internet offers convenience and speed, Wolff said it is important not to inundate people with too many e-mails and other electronic information. When Wolff first started working at CUNA, the Internet was incredibly slow and nowhere near as popular as it is today. With all of CUNA’s successes in the public relations area, Wolff is still troubled that the association’s efforts to enhance its compliance department have been overlooked by the media. According to Wolff, CUNA’s compliance department has not always received critical acclaim from its members and others. Wolff feels that recent strides including the E-Guide, an electronic information database on regulations and proposals, and Operation Comment, which encourages credit unions to comment on different regulatory issues that affect them, have not received the recognition they deserve. At the end of the day, Wolff takes the D.C. Metro’s red line back to his home in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a Washington suburb. He then settles in with his wife, Cynthia, 11 year-old-daughter Emily, and their two older cats, picking out folk rock tunes on his acoustic guitar. At deadline, the Wolff family was heading off to vacation in Vancouver, British Columbia for nearly two weeks. [email protected]

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