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VANCOUVER, B.C. – Early in his credit union career, San Antonio Federal Credit Union CEO Jeff Farver learned a very valuable lesson in public relations. He was new to a credit union when the CEO was suddenly removed by NCUA. The credit union had no plans of how to deal with the media that would surround the event. About $7 million left the credit union the first week and $10 million the second week, according to Farver. There was a `run’ on the credit union. In the third week $20 million flew out. “Media relations has to be a part of any disaster recover plan,” he stated during an education session at NAFCU’s 37th Annual Conference. So, two years ago when two employees who were opening a branch were held hostage by a man with a shot gun, SACU not only knew how to respond to the situation, but also the families of those employees, the other employees, and the media. When BJ’s Wholesale Club’s credit card system was compromised, hundreds of thousands of account numbers were stolen, including thousands from Navy Federal Credit Union members. “After intense debate, we made the tough decision to cancel all the cards,” Navy Federal Senior Vice President of Marketing Mary McDuffie said. Navy Federal came through fairly well, in part because a public relations specialist was involved in all decisions from the start, including guiding the language in the memo that went out to members. The public relations people worked with VISA on some basic answers and when to refer members back to VISA. They also prepared the appropriate staff to focus on Navy Federal’s message and the actions taken. A local reporter happened to be one of the people whose account was stolen and broke the story. When interviewing members, McDuffie said the journalist reported that while it was an inconvenience, they were glad Navy Federal was looking out for them. She said this answer could have been very different and possibly damaging if the credit union had not employed appropriate public relations. McDuffie said she would make a copy of Navy Federal’s public relations policy available to those who are interested. Aside from recovering from disasters, credit unions can also use the media to get the word out on all their good work. “I think this is an important opportunity we can’t afford to miss,” she said. But the general press is not interested in a “factual, dry press release,” NCUA Special Assistant to the Chairman and Director of External Affairs Nick Owens told attendees. “You need to humanize the story.” He suggested focusing on a region of interest or focus on the number of events falling under a topic, such as financial literacy. For example, he said NCUA’s Economics Empowerment Summit sounds better than a group of credit unions discussing economic empowerment. Additionally, Congressmen love photo-ops, so plan events where they can get that. NAFCU Vice President of Communications Jay Morris said that public relations best practices can be summed up in the word MEDIA-M for manage the news process; E for educate; D for deadlines; I for integrity; and A for advocate. Also, get to know the media, by subscribing to as many publications as possible. “The media loves trends. They love statistics. They love a human story,” he said. Additionally, learn their deadlines, various story types, and whom they are likely to quote, Morris advised. That way credit union officials can call up and say, how about talking to us next time. And, one of the biggest rules, Owens said, is never to say “no comment.” Instead say something like, it is not appropriate to comment at this time,” he recommended. [email protected]

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