WASHINGTON-Much of CUNA’s staff is involved at some level in putting together `The Main Event,’ the theme of the trade association’s 2005 Governmental Affairs Conference. Theme development begins in the fall, before CUNA’s Future Forum has even come to fruition, which involves staff from the communications, special events, marketing, legislative, regulatory and political departments. As the Future Forum draws to a close, there is no rest for the weary: marketing begins for the GAC. CUNA uses a variety of methods to get the word out from credit union-targeted advertisements to video e-mails. The trade association also takes full advantage of its well-traveled Web site (www.cuna.org) and offers online registration there for the big event, slated this year for Feb. 26 through March 2. “One of the things that helps make this conference a success is the work of the state leagues,” CUNA Senior Vice President of Communications Mark Wolff said, explaining that they distribute the marketing materials CUNA puts together to their members. The media blitz pays off with registrations this year tracking about 200 ahead of the strong numbers the event posted in 2004, he said. In all, 4,000 people are expected to attend the GAC, which includes 3,500 credit union officials, according to Wolff. Not only will the crowd of GAC attendees represent a strong showing, but also the number of vendors has increased. Typically, the GAC hosts around 100 vendors that use 145 spaces in the exhibit hall with dozens more on a waiting list, Director of Meetings and Special Events Vicki Schmitz explained. This year, CUNA has rented a second vendor room allowing the addition of another 33 vendors, bringing the total to 140 vendors in 170-180 spaces. “The extra costs incurred are more than offset by the additional revenue,” Wolff said, and it will provide attendees more opportunities to connect with various vendors. The Washington Hilton & Towers has been home to the GAC for more than 15 years now. Schmitz said the biggest draws are the flow of the rooms and the size to accommodate such a large group. The theme this year that carried through the marketing materials and at the conference is `The Main Event,’ partially drawn from the boxing gloves in the `Bank Attacks: Credit Union Fight Back’ logo. The name also differentiates it from the National Hike the Hill Month last September and the `hikes’ that go on throughout the year. Well in advance of the GAC, CUNA must also determine key members of Congress to invite, and given the schedules of lawmakers, some of these responses come in very late. Wolff said particularly this year lawmakers were distracted with all the inaugural events. This is a big difference from the Future Forum, where CUNA actually contracts with speakers to participate. A couple weeks out from GAC, a handful of invitations were still up in the air, Wolff said, but the majority were accepted. “It’s gotten better in recent years as CUNA has become a stronger political presence on Capitol Hill,” he added. This year, key members of the House Financial Services Committee will appear on stage, as well as members from other committees, both NCUA Board members, a Federal Reserve Board governor, and political pundits. The programming also features 12 breakout sessions, including many hot button, Washington-focused topics developed by CUNA’s staff such as NCUA exams, the banker attacks, and grassroots efforts. Speakers in these educational sessions come from various backgrounds from Hill staffers to credit union officials. In 2004, CUNA switched up the format of the GAC a little bit to schedule all the Capitol Hill visits for Wednesday of the conference. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the group has chosen the same format this year, Wolff said, because `hikers’ are more likely to be able to meet with the lawmakers returning from weekend district work rather than their staff. According to CUNA Vice President of Legislative Affairs and Senior Legislative Counsel Gary Kohn, credit union folks usually visit every single member of Congress’ office during the GAC, and 2005 is no exception. But even all this planning cannot avert some crises. The U.S. Marine Band that used to come up from Quantico for opening ceremonies one year ran into a major roadblock, Wolff recalled. To enter D.C., the band’s bus had to cross the 14th Street Bridge. It just so happened the opening day of the major GAC activities, a man threatened to blow himself up on the bridge. While the man was eventually talked down, Wolff related, traffic was backed up for hours and the opening ceremonies were delayed until the mid-morning break. Since then, CUNA uses a local band. Lawmakers can also be unpredictable. One lawmaker, whom Wolff would not name, showed up one year with speech in hand without having been invited. Another time, the late Congressman Sonny Bono (R-Calif.) showed up 20 minutes late his first year in Congress and proceeded to speak for 55 minutes, well over the 20 minutes allotted. “The audience loved it but, as a planner, I had three members of Congress waiting in the wings,” Wolff remembered. GAC can also produce some very poignant memories. On one day then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) announced he would sign on as a cosponsor of HR. 1151; the next day, then-CUNA Chair Buck Levins had the duty to inform the audience that the Supreme Court had ruled against the credit unions in the landmark AT&T field of membership case. “That was an unusually dramatic moment,” Wolff stated. [email protected]

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