An opportunity for IABC to care

IABC

Last November, I ended a 23-year relationship with IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators, when I let my membership lapse.

I wrote about it in February and outlined some thinking about why I hadn’t renewed it.

Six months later, I’m still a lapsed IABC member. I deliberately describe myself thus as I believe that my self-imposed exile from active IABC participation isn’t a permanent thing. How can I throw away so many years of commitment to an organization that I believed in and supported so fervently for so long? The many people I connected to and engaged with over the years? The contribution I made to shaping IABC in Europe? The professional development opportunities that have been available to me? And the fun things such as co-presenting the Cafe2Go podcasts?

Some of my professional friends wondered why I’d taken such a conclusive step rather than remain part of the association in order to influence change. Or why I’d done something that meant I could no longer use the accreditation designation.

In reality, I just didn’t care enough any more.

I’m not sure what will change my position into one where I care sufficiently to want to come in from the cold, as it were, and cough up the membership dues plus the lapsed-member penalty.

On May 7, Ragan Communications published the results of a survey they conducted in March that asked IABC members – active and lapsed – for their opinions on “the current state of IABC”:

[…] The Ragan survey questioned readers about the controversy that began with the layoff of half of its 32 staffers last fall, shortly after [current IABC executive director Chris] Sorek took the helm.

[…] In the survey, 55 percent of respondents, or 418 individuals, identified themselves as current IABC members, with another 24 percent saying they had let their membership lapse.

Along with the criticism, the poll revealed that IABC has a reservoir of good will as it reboots its Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) credential and undertakes other reforms. Three quarters of members expressed at least some degree of satisfaction about the services that IABC provides.

Ragan’s report makes for interesting reading, taken of course with the pinches of salt you would apply in an online survey that is as informal and open as this was, and didn’t require people to identify themselves. Those qualifiers by no means make the survey or its results invalid in any way: it’s simply saying that this isn’t some kind of scientific research project, but purely a snapshot from which you can glean insights into what people thought when they took it.

I took the survey as one of the 24 percent who Ragan said are lapsed members. My maths suggest that the actual number of lapsed members who took the survey is about 182. That’s a lot of people who care (enough) to share their opinions.

What adds to the credibility of the report are the comments that Ragan has also published – the unvarnished and unfiltered opinions people actually made – including those that are critical of Ragan and the few that questioned its motives in even doing the survey.

Enlightening, many of them.

What will happen now?

What I’d like to see is some clear and public acknowledgment by current IABC leadership of Ragan’s report. Some public communication – not something posted only in a LinkedIn group or in the member area of the IABC website, or as a member-only email – that shows they are listening genuinely and actually care about such opinion, especially from active members but also of the lapsers who shared their views.

Maybe something might happen at the international conference in New York next month. Something that would demonstrate caring leadership and recognition  of that groundswell of goodwill Ragan mentioned.

Here’s one lapsed member who’d care about that!

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It’s a matter of respect, IABC

IABC World Conference
IABC’s annual world conference, regional and Chapter events are key occasions in the calendars of many of the 15,000 members around the world as venues to listen, learn and meet friends and make new ones. Photo from the IABC 2009 World Conference album on Facebook.

For the past few months, a growing discussion has been going on in the LinkedIn group of IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators. It’s a conversation that has brought to the surface a wide range of passionate commentary and opinion among some IABC members regarding how the organization communicates with the members on certain issues.

It’s also brought to the forefront opinion and questions on other issues that have been simmering for years.

All of this is what my podcasting partner Shel Holtz and I would unhesitatingly call a kerfuffle, a word we use often in our weekly business podcast to describe an organizational issue like this, one that could quite easily deteriorate into a genuine crisis that will affect reputation at the very least.

It’s also a situation that has troubled me greatly in these past months, to the extent that I have hesitated – and continue to do so – on whether to re-join a professional association that I joined in 1989 and remained active as a member, volunteer and leader until November 2012.  I became an accredited member in 1994. As a leader, I’ve been a Board member of the UK Chapter, Director of the then-called Europe/Africa Region and a member of the International Executive Board and Executive Committee.

In total, 23 years of continuous dues-paying membership. Since then, I have been a lapsed member. (As I’ve heard not a word from anyone in IABC about that, perhaps to ask why I didn’t renew after so many years, I guess no one has even noticed.)

If you’re an IABC member, you’ll now be aware of the changes proposed by the Executive Board to the association’s professional development programme, IABC accreditation, through member emails last month. You’ll know about the restructuring that took place in November 2012 that saw half of the employees at the San Francisco headquarters being let go – made redundant, laid off – some immediately, others over the following months. You’ll know that the membership CW magazine is becoming a digital-only publication. And you’ll know about the confusion surrounding proposals for speaking sessions and exhibitor stands at the 2013 international conference.

Such news oozed out into LinkedIn and Facebook via individual IABC members who had heard about the changes being implemented and those proposed; there was no formal organized communication that suggested a plan had been devised to effectively communicate such news to members.

Indeed, formal communication from the association’s leadership – that’s the volunteer-comprised Executive Board and the employed CEO – about these matters has been, in a word, ineffective if not simply bad. The only public communication was in early December when an official statement (undated) was posted on the IABC website. Other than a video of CEO Chris Sorek and current IABC Chair Kerby Mayers, recorded in November prior to the HQ restructuring, there has been no other public communication, certainly none I can find on the website.

Ragan had a good assessment of things in a post in December. That same month, David Murray posted a candid assessment of a Q&A webinar for members he listened to. Jack O’Dwyer has been commenting frequently about these troubles and other matters. And in the meantime, the comments keep coming in to that LinkedIn group discussion – over 250 from members in multiple threads as I write these words. I participated in the LinkedIn conversation in its early stages but haven’t since I let my membership lapse.

The issue, the kerfuffle, that has prompted the wide-ranging and, at times, lively LinkedIn conversation isn’t about the changes to Accreditation or the layoffs at HQ or any other matter related to IABC and structural changes. No, it’s more fundamental than that.

It’s about communication or, rather, lack of it.

For me – and, it seems, for others in that discussion – it’s about a sense of disbelief bordering on anger that the current leadership of a professional body I have believed in for over two decades can behave either so arrogantly or so cluelessly (I can’t decide which, or which is worse) over issues that are so clearly of huge concern to all members yet appear to be inconsequential to those current leaders. That’s illustrated by the complete lack of engaging communication in a place of semi-open discussion (you have to be a LinkedIn member to see it and an IABC member to join it) that was followed, eventually, by lame communication in that same place.

What has prompted this post, this micro-essay of getting something off my chest, was a comment yesterday to one of the LinkedIn discussion threads by Roger D’Aprix. I first met Roger twenty years ago – we both were working for the Mercer consulting firm at the time, he in the US me in the UK – and he has been a big influence on my thinking and beliefs about organizational communication. If you’ve not yet read Roger’s seminal work Communicating for Change: Connecting the Workplace and the Marketplace, I strongly recommend it.

What Roger said in his comment as a reply to another member’s comment (I don’t wish to say other names as it is not a fully-public discussion) struck me as getting right to the heart of the matter:

[…] Change communication must take place in stages as any good change agent understands. First, the audience must be prepared for the change with a solid business case for making the change. Second, it should be told exactly how the new strategy addresses the compelling forces that dictate the change. And third, it must have an opportunity to engage by raising questions and objections that might affect the strategy. The final –and most important stage–should be modifications in the strategy to match the legitimate concerns of the audience.

It’s a powerful reminder of an effective approach to such communication at a time like this, one that you would expect those in a leadership role in a professional body representing professional communicators to readily and clearly understand.

But there’s more. Roger adds further comment about the Board’s lack of grasp, perhaps even understanding, and how it looks like their communication has been selective, between themselves and only a few other members, and then springing the changes on the membership. Roger says:

[…] I can’t think of a worse change strategy or one that’s more destined for failure. It’s a bit like throwing the change elements into a pond and then jumping in after them while trying to assemble the change strategy, hold your breath and tread water all at the same time.

Is it too late? I don’t think so. People are already showing signs of sympathy. But as this unfolds you better be aware of how to implement change in the proper sequence with the willingness to accommodate and admit error.

I pray that Roger’s concluding remarks are on the button.

For me, though, I have lost my respect for IABC and I don’t know if I can get it back.

[Update Feb 4:] I just spotted a page on the IABC website that I didn’t see when I wrote this post on February 3 (is that a testament to my poor search methodology or IABC’s hard-to-find-info website, I wonder). The undated page, in the public area of the website and with no attribution as to who wrote the content, is entitled “Additional End of Year Q and A now available” and introduces its content with this summary:

What follows are answers to questions that have come up since we conducted the end of year question and answer webinar with IABC’s International Executive Board Chair Kerby Meyers and Executive Director Chris Sorek on 19 December 2012.

Among the questions answered are about the Accreditation programme, IABC Research Foundation, the IABC business plan, membership growth, organizational and operational objectives, and more – all the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a member communication (which may have been done since December but, as a lapsed member since November, I haven’t seen).

It’s all good (although check how David Murray saw things, as I mentioned earlier), adding some formal words from someone in the leadership area to fill the vaccuum that’s currently being dripped into in the conversation among members in that LinkedIn group.

But is it good enough? It seems to me that information is coming in dribs and drabs as a reaction to the calls and critiques by members in the LinkedIn discussion. From glancing through the latest comments on LinkedIn, I see comment from some Board members there. Are those the “official views” of the current leadership, on behalf of IABC, or simply opinion expressed by those members? Hard to tell. And where’s the proactivity?

It’s always easy to be critical, and I’m trying very hard to see more than just a glimmer of the hope that Roger D’Aprix talked about. But based on what I do see, I can only conclude that if this is a communication strategy – for crisis, change or any other reason – then I’m a banana (to borrow the core of another quote).

[Update May 12:] New post: An opportunity for IABC to care.

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IABC raises more awareness of PR and Wikipedia

wikipedialensYesterday, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) published its latest edition of CW Bulletin, the monthly online supplement to CW, the association’s printed monthly magazine for members.

Each edition of CW Bulletin presents articles, case studies and additional resources on timely topics in communication.

The September edition is no different, with its focus on the issue of Wikipedia and public relations:

[...] the complexity of connecting with this online collaborative community poses challenges. The debate about whether, and to what extent, PR professionals should edit their organization’s or client’s Wikipedia entries brings up ethical questions about transparency and conflict of interest. This issue of CW Bulletin looks at the situation from a variety of viewpoints: examining ethical concerns, offering guidance on how to effectively engage with the Wikipedia community, and looking at how to overcome the chasm between the PR profession and the Wikipedia community.

Almost all of this edition covers this topic. I’ve written the anchor piece and there are op-eds from Phil Gomes, founder of the CREWE community on Facebook and David Gerard, a volunteer Wikipedia editor, and many others.

The full content line-up is this:

  • Bold Steps in Connecting PR and Wikipedia by Neville Hobson, ABC: While Wikipedia is described as something anyone can edit, the reality of doing that is a challenge for many communicators. Two initiatives this year are addressing that challenge.
  • A Lesson in PR Ethics and Wikipedia by Mark Estes, ABC: Shouldn’t conflict of interest and other ethical considerations prevent PR pros from writing about clients and client companies for a venue such as Wikipedia? And other burning questions.
  • Ethical Wikipedia Strategies for Brands by David King: Examining a safe and ethical way to make improvements to content that is valuable both for the organization and Wikipedia.
  • To Edit or Not to Edit: PR firms and Wikipedia by Austin Buckley: Some best practices for Wikipedia use, as well as some general guidelines for working with the site’s editors to ensure your clients’ pages are as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
  • How Corporate Representatives Can Work Better with Wikipedia by David Gerard: Those who put in the effort to participate and engage with the Wikipedia community properly will find editors who are willing to spend their time helping them.
  • Public Relations and Wikipedia: The unnecessary impasse by Phil Gomes: Fostering an environment in which a group with access and motivation to pursue accuracy is actively discouraged from participating is not only a flawed strategy in the long term, but ultimately quite contrary to the public interests that Wikipedia professes to serve.

While CW Bulletin is aimed at IABC’s worldwide membership – over 14,000 communication professionals in 90 countries – it’s openly accessible on the IABC website for anyone to read.

.In June, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) published the first version of Wikipedia Best Practice Guidance for Public Relations Professionals, a document that sets out a formal picture on how the CIPR believes public relations practitioners should behave when it comes to content on Wikipedia.

At publication, the CIPR’s initiative was supported by the Canadian Public Relations Society, the Public Relations Consultants Association in the UK, and the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

Last month, IABC publicly stated its support for the CIPR’s work in announcing the formation of a volunteer taskforce, chaired by Shel Holtz (my podcasting partner), with this objective:

[...] The task force, chaired by Shel Holtz, ABC, IABC Fellow will investigate the growing concern related to news reports of inappropriate editing of Wikipedia entries by individuals and public relations firms. The task force will support efforts to educate and share information through articles and professional development to shed light on this multi-layered topic.

I’m a member of this taskforce (and, for the sake of clarity in this post, a long-time and active IABC member).

Providing information to communication practitioners to help them become aware of all the issues surrounding this broad topic is essential. One controversial issue raised by the CIPR – that practitioners should not directly edit content in Wikipedia that is about their clients, their employer, related brands and issues, or competing organizations and associated brands when there is a conflict of interest – deserves considered, 360-degree debate.

What’s your opinion? If you’re an IABC member, log in to Memberspeak on the IABC website and join the conversation. Or in any other place where you want your voice heard.

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FIR Interview: IABC Executive Director Chris Sorek

IABC-small(blue)The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) welcomed Chris Sorek as its new executive director effective July 1. (Read the press release.) Sorek’s appointment follows a lengthy search to replace Julie Freeman, ABC, APR, who left the post after 10 years at the helm.

Founded in 1970, IABC provides a professional network of about 15,000 business communication professionals in over 80 countries. Members hold positions in a wide variety of communication positions ranging from public relations and employee communications to public affairs and community relations, employing strategic planning and management skills along with capabilities including writing, editing, photography, video production, and digital communication management.

In this FIR interview, co-hosts Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz talk with Sorek about what he has heard from IABC members, how he envisions the staff and board working together, the key areas of focus for the organization at the outset of his term, his views on membership growth outside of North America and a host of other topics.

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About our Conversation Partner

chrissorekChristopher Sorek has a master’s degree in international marketing and communications and has worked on public information and humanitarian issues in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He started his career as a journalist and editor for newspapers and magazines in the United States. He then turned to internal communication and political action committee activities for a large regional bank before moving to Unisys’s international public relations team. He was asked to join Ogilvy & Mather in 1987, where he headed offices in Taiwan and Singapore and helped develop the agency’s Asia-Pacific network before joining Cohn & Wolfe in New York to lead and manage global corporate clients.

In 2001, Sorek joined the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva as head of communications. He returned to the private sector to work for SAP AG in Germany, De Beers, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development before joining Drinkaware as chief executive in 2008.

Connect with Chris on Twitter: @chrissorek.

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Share your comments or questions about this podcast, or suggestions for future interviews, in the FIR FriendFeed Room. You can also email us at fircomments@gmail.com; call the Comment Line at +1 206 338 7960 (North America), +44 20 3239 9082 (Europe), or Skype: fircomments; comment at Twitter: twitter.com/FIR. You can email your comments, questions and suggestions as MP3 file attachments, if you wish (max. 3 minutes / 5Mb attachment, please!). We’ll be happy to see how we can include your audio contribution in a show.

To receive all For Immediate Release podcasts including the weekly Hobson & Holtz Report, subscribe to the full RSS feed.

This FIR Interview is brought to you with Lawrence Ragan Communications, serving communicators worldwide for 35 years. Information: www.ragan.com.

Podsafe music – On A Podcast Instrumental Mix (MP3, 5Mb) by Cruisebox.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)

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FIR Interview: John Clemons, Interim Executive Director, IABC

iabclogobanner

Leading a professional association that represents about 15,000 business communication professionals in over 80 countries is a challenging opportunity for a visionary leader.

It’s a challenge that John Clemons, ABC, APR, has grasped with alacrity following his appointment as  Interim Executive Director of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in early January as the association leadership pursues its search for a new permanent leader.

In this FIR Interview, Clemons discusses his new role with co-hosts Neville Hobson, ABC and Shel Holtz, ABC – both long-time IABC members – starting with his reasons for accepting it on an interim basis. In a wide-ranging discussion, Clemons outlined his vision as interim leader, explaining what he intends to accomplish. He paid tribute to the leadership tenure of IABC President Julie Freeman, ABC, APR, who retired at the end of 2011 after a decade in the role.

And he spoke of present issues and challenges confronting the profession and IABC at a time of continuing change and evolution in society and in business that he intends to address, including the effects and potential of social media, the importance of diversity, the international aspects of IABC, and more.

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About our Conversation Partner

johnclemonsJohn G. Clemons, ABC, APR, is a senior executive and consultant with an  award-winning record of success in corporate and organizational communications. He has special expertise providing strategic counsel and support for top executives and corporate officers of Fortune 500 companies.

His most recent position was corporate director of community relations at Raytheon Company in Dulles, Virginia, where he was responsible for the development and execution of a community involvement strategy for the greater Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia region, as well as corporate outreach initiatives. Clemons’ career has also included leading all areas of professional communications for several Fortune 500 companies, as well as newspaper journalism and magazine writing and editing.

Clemons has a strong history of leadership with IABC. He served as the association’s chairman 2001-2002 and has served on the international executive board for more than six years. He has also been a member of IABC’s multiculturalism committee, the 1996 international conference planning committee, a trustee for the IABC Research Foundation 1997-1998, judged the EXCEL award, and been a member of the Communication World advisory panel. He has contributed to several IABC publications and is a frequent speaker at IABC conferences at the international and local levels.

Connect with John on Twitter: @jgclemons.

FIR on Friendfeed
Share your comments or questions about this podcast, or suggestions for future interviews, in the FIR FriendFeed Room. You can also email us at fircomments@gmail.com; call the Comment Line at +1 206 222 2803 (North America), +44 20 3239 9082 (Europe), or Skype: fircomments; comment at Twitter: twitter.com/FIR. You can email your comments, questions and suggestions as MP3 file attachments, if you wish (max. 3 minutes / 5Mb attachment, please!). We’ll be happy to see how we can include your audio contribution in a show.

To receive all For Immediate Release podcasts including the weekly Hobson & Holtz Report, subscribe to the full RSS feed.

This FIR Interview is brought to you with Lawrence Ragan Communications, serving communicators worldwide for 35 years. Information: www.ragan.com.

Podsafe music – On A Podcast Instrumental Mix (MP3, 5Mb) by Cruisebox.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)

A good time for IABC accreditation

abcmonthIf you’re an IABC member and you’re thinking about becoming accredited – adding those letters ‘ABC‘ to your professional title – why not take advantage of Accreditation Month 2011, on from October 1 until mid November?

Accreditation is IABCs globally-recognized professional credential program. Anyone who applies during Accreditation Month will receive a certificate to use in the IABC Knowledge Centre and be entered in a drawing for special prizes selected to enhance the path to accreditation.

The Accreditation website offers rich resources to help you from applying right through to the process itself including eligibility requirements, sample exams and a readiness quiz.

  • Accreditation tweetchat: ask your questions in real time on Wednesday October 12 in the one-hour tweetchat starting at 5pm UK time. Connect with the hashtag #IABCaccreditation.

Listen to a 25-minute interview I did with Jennifer Wah, chair of IABC’s Accreditation Committee, published yesterday. Jennifer talks at length about accreditation, the benefits and what help members can count on to successfully become an Accredited Business Communicator.

(Disclosure: I’m a long-standing IABC member, and co-host and produce the Cafe2Go podcast as unpaid volunteerism activity.)