How high is the reboot bar for IABC?

Every time I hear about IABC these days, I suffer a continuing feeling of sadness.

The news this past week about the professional association for communicators does little to change that feeling where that news is all about financial loss (again), leadership issues, and an unclear future.

On June 4, long-time IABC commentator David Murray – often seen by IABC’s leadership as its nemesis by asking questions the leadership don’t like being asked, never mind answering – published a guest post by former IABC Executive Director Julie Freeman on the state of IABC’s financial affairs as revealed in its 2013 financial statement that Murray says was leaked to him a month ago.

Freeman took the helm at IABC in 2001 in the wake of a previous financial crisis. She left IABC in 2011.

And IABC critic Jack O’Dwyer posted a stark report on June 5:

International Association of Business Communicators lost $529,073 in 2013 as revenues dipped $692,486. A loan of $250,000 was taken to fund a new website.

[...] Revenues declined 10.8% to $5,666,483 from $6,350,927 in 2012. Net assets declined 43.7% to $680,013 from $1,209,086. Its deferred dues account, representing services owed to members over the course of the dues year, was $1,499,364 or about half of dues income of $2,917,858.

Julie Freeman’s post summarizes the key financial metrics in the financial statement and continues by setting out eleven specific questions she says IABC members ought to be asking at the association’s AGM on Tuesday June 10 during the 2014 IABC World Conference taking place in Toronto, Canada:

    1. Where did revenues fall short of budget and why?
    2. What were IABC’s major expenditures in 2013? How did these expenses serve members?
    3. General and administrative expenses increased 56% in 2013. What was the reason for this huge increase in expenses in this area?
    4. Board expenses increased 25%. Faced with declining revenues, how can the Board justify this increase?
    5. At the end of 2013, IABC’s cash and cash equivalents were $42,172, a decline of $495,117 from 2012. Does IABC have sufficient cash to make its debt payments and pay ordinary operating expenses in 2014? How will it do so?
    6. The Consolidated Statements of Financial Position (the Balance Sheet) includes Intangible Assets of $552,067. What does that include? How was that determination made?
    7. Several years ago the IEB approved establishment of an operating reserve and a special project reserve. How much should be in each of those funds? How much is currently there?
    8. What is the contract dispute related to the website development? How can members be assured that new web developer will not have the same issues? When can members expect a new website?
    9. What impact will the association’s current financial position have on its ability to recruit a qualified Executive Director? What is the status of that search?
    10. What is the current IABC membership? How does that compare to prior years?
    11. What is IABC’s current financial situation? What is the IEB doing to ensure that IABC will finish 2014 with a positive net? And will it keep members updated about finances before June 2015?

In my view, these are reasonable questions under the circumstance, ones I would expect members to receive credible answers on without obfuscation, fudge or dodging, and in a spirit of genuine openness and transparency.

Will that happen? Well, we’ll see on Tuesday although incoming IABC chair Russell Grossman offers a sense of optimism about this and what the new Executive Board will be doing in the nature of his response to Freeman’s guest post on David Murray’s blog in a comment to it, even if that response contains a few thinly-veiled barbs directed at Julie Freeman.

A key comment in that response:

[...] IABC’s International Executive Board is focused on creating alternate business models as part of our 2014 – 2017 Strategy (which has been open to member consultation during the last year) and our new Executive Director, when onboarded, will also be required to focus on short-term revenue generation as a primary objective, to help us make up the difference on lower income from membership dues and conference income.

Finally, the one thing we continue to need to get better at is, ironically, communication.

Our member communication is now much better than it was – and thanks to our hard working staff for that. The journey continues however – there is way more to go – and I personally am committed to further and rapid improvement.

Ah, yes, a search for a new Executive Director – the role Freeman had – in the wake of the awful debacle surrounding Chris Sorek whose short-lived tenure ended when he quit that role in May 2013. The good news is that one has been found and hired – Carlos Fulcher’s appointment will be announced at the Toronto conference.

Given that I’m not an IABC member, you may wonder why I’m writing this post.

I used to be an IABC member. Indeed, I was a member for 23 years – an accredited member (ABC) for 19 of those years – until November 2012, and served the association and the profession in a wide range of volunteerism roles during this time.

You don’t just dismiss a 23-year association, a belonging, with a group of people whose values you believed in and whose professionalism and friendships you admired, no matter what’s currently going on. I still care enough to devote some time and thought to writing this post which, if nothing else, will serve as a personal bookmark on my website along with the other things I’ve written about IABC over the past decade.

Organizations can (and do) go through crises – just read the business pages on any day. I recall the part I played for IABC in a crisis in Europe when I took on a rebuilding role as Director of the then Europe/Africa Region in 2002, a role I fulfilled until 2004. It’s the kind of task that requires you to have a  pretty thick skin, frankly, a clear belief in the heart of something (IABC in this case), and clear vision if you work with similar believers as I did at that time (notably, IABC members like Barbara Gibson, Marcus Ferrar and Allan Jenkins; and staff leaders like Julie Freeman and the team at the San Francisco headquarters).

So I trust that the AGM on Tuesday also serves the higher essential purpose of uniting voices – unlike last year’s  town hall meeting, although I believe the circumstance aren’t exactly the same today – perhaps taking a literal embrace of the slogan of this year’s conference:

  • Engage
  • Transform
  • Ignite

I hope that reboot bar I mentioned isn’t set too high.

Making politics interesting again #EP2014

Houses of Parliament, London

If Nigel Farage has achieved one other thing apart from his seismic shifting of the political landscape in the UK following elections for the European Parliament across the European Union on May 22, it’s making politics more interesting again.

And not just in the UK, either.

Unquestionably overshadowing the election for local government councillors that also took place in many constituencies in England and Northern Ireland last week, Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) – firmly to the right-of-centre in political terms – has consistently banged the drum of anti-EU sentiment that is broadly strong in the UK, especially on populist issues such as reducing immigration and its related topic, open borders to any citizen of an EU member state – and closing them.

It’s been touching a chord for many months now, one that translated into votes when it came to the ballot box last Thursday as became readily clear as the election results started to be announced across the EU late on May 25.

UK European election results 2014

In the UK, UKIP out-performed every other party with its share of the vote, and how many MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) they’d be sending to Brussels/Strasbourg.

The big losers are the Liberal Democrats (LD in the chart above), who were just about wiped out in the EU with only one candidate voted in, losing nine others elected in the last European Parliament election in 2009.

So a period of soul-searching begins for the main parties in the UK, less than a year before the general election in May 2015.

“What to do about UKIP?” is the question political experts and pundits alike are currently saying is no doubt on the lips of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

If it is, it’s the wrong question.

The right question must be, “How can we re-engage with our citizens that leads them to believe that voting in an election is a compelling act for them?” Here’s the pointer in this map posted by the AFP news agency showing the percentage of non-voters in each EU member state.

The non voters

While the UK is at 64 percent, it gets worse the further east you travel in Europe – over 77 percent of voters in Poland didn’t vote, for example. The figure was 79 percent in Slovenia and 80 percent in the Czech Republic. And a whopping 87 percent in Slovakia. (I wonder what pro-EU Ukrainians think about the EU and their country’s fractures when they see apathy like this.)

Looking at the UK again, here’s ampp3d’s more dramatic perspective on voter apathy.

Did note vote

It seems clear to me what politicians of every flavour need to do – whether in the UK or in any other of the 28 member states of the European Union – and that is to give voters two things:

  1. Reasons why they should care
  2. Reasons why they should vote

Certainly in the UK, it should be a very interesting 335+/- days between now and the forthcoming general election.

  • If you’re wondering what the EU election results mean for communications and public affairs, you can find out and add your own voice in a tweetchat on this topic organized by the CIPR, taking place on June 4 at midday UK time. Follow the hashtag #CIPRCHAT.

[The attractive Houses of Parliament postcard-type image at the top of the page is by Jenny Scott and is used under a Creative Commons license.]

How serious are PRs about being genuinely professional?

So many embargoed press releases...

A simple, musing, rhetorical, tweet on Monday evening about PRs who send out press releases under embargo prompted a wide-ranging conversation on Twitter among a handful of people about professional behaviour, education and training, and being prepared for the PR workplace.

Sending out press releases under embargo isn’t an unusual practice. On the contrary, it can be a worthwhile activity for a PR professional, agency or client-side, when you want to enable journalists and others you believe can help tell your story be as prepared as possible and be ready to go live at an agreed future time.

What prompted my tweet was the sense of despair I feel all too often these days upon receiving press releases under embargo from PRs I don’t know or with whom I have no actual relationship.

And relationship is key, in my view. I’ve always regarded making any public announcement under embargo part of a process of trust-building, where both parties to an embargo have, beforehand, mutually agreed to respect the terms of it.

That requires some kind of prior personal connection, either physical or virtual, between two parties that is the building block for a relationship of some kind.

What I see nowadays, though, has nothing to do with relationship (nor, hence, trust-building or even respect) when I get press releases embargoed for days forward from people I don’t know and with whom I’ve not agreed any terms of any embargo.

They just send out the press releases anyway, usually mail-merged in bulk to distribution lists built from Vocus or Cision subscription databases – in spite of clear guidance from those two respected firms that you’re not supposed to do that – and with little or no thought to understanding whether the press release contains information that is at least relevant to the receiver.

Relevance is a highly significant aspect of this. The worst case is when I get an embargoed press release from a PR I don’t know, and it’s totally irrelevant to me.

Remember An Inconvenient PR Truth’s push against irrelevant press releases a few years ago? Go on, remind yourself.

An Inconvenient PR Truth from RealWire on Vimeo.

I’ve written about this topic a lot over the years, filed under the ‘Spam’ category.

So, to my near-rhetorical question: “Why should I respect embargoes?”

I do, actually, but in a passive sense – there’s no way I will write or say anything about a company or its product or service, embargo or no embargo, on information I get sent this way. Ever. I just delete the email and any attachments that come with it, and move on.

So musing on Twitter provoked some others to share their thoughts on the topic. Quite a few like minds, thank goodness, starting with Barbara Nixon and David Kamerer in the US:

And leading to a lengthy discussion involving Gabrielle Laine-Peters, Chris Owen and Paula Stei in the UK:

Gabrielle captured the scores of tweets into a Storify curation so please review that for the full conversation flow, or see the curation embedded at the end of this post.

There are three aspects from the conversation that have been rattling around my head since yesterday:

  1. The practice of sending out press releases under embargo as I’ve described here is anachronistic at best, unprofessional at worst, especially at a time when authenticity and relationships are two watchwords for creating the climate of trust that every PR professional surely ought to be striving to do (read the Edelman Trust Barometer 2014 to see why).
  2. That leads to focusing on the word ‘professional’ and how PRs clearly wish to be perceived as such by others, according to the latest ‘State of the Profession’ survey from the CIPR, published last week, saying, “Whilst nine out of ten respondents wish to be acknowledged as ‘professional’, results indicate a practice which seemingly struggles to embrace its desired professional ambitions.”
  3. To that end, CIPR President Stephen Waddington issued a challenge to CIPR members (one that every PR should pay heed to, CIPR member or otherwise): “How serious are you about putting this ambition [to be considered a professional] into practice?

It would be an easy matter to stay in exasperation mode and dismiss all of this as so much snow in Hell.

Even Stephen thinks it may take quite a while to see change.

Yet perhaps now, there’s a chance that some people in, or about to become part of, the public relations profession care enough that they themselves will be the architects of change.

Consider Paula Stei’s comments in the Twitter conversation yesterday. She’s a third-year PR student at university, who has a clear view on what feels right or not, and questions some behaviours. Maybe Paula and others in her generation can be the drivers of change. I’m certainly optimistic that I wouldn’t get an embargoed press release from Paula if we didn’t know each other.

From little acorns do mighty oak trees grow, as an old saying has it. The meaning is clear – great things may come from small beginnings. Behaviour change in how you do press releases is a good example of a small beginning that can lead to bigger things.

Maybe it’s changing a small thing such as this that can get you on the road to being perceived as a professional.

  • Related: In this week’s FIR podcast episode 744, my co-host Shel Holtz and I discuss the CIPR survey and Stephen Waddington’s challenge, looking at other options that professional associations may consider for the big-picture of professionalism, including attaining accreditation or passing an examination as a condition and requirement for a member to be able to practice public relations. That discussion starts about 16 minutes and 50 seconds into the show.

And for the Twitter conversation that prompted this post, here’s the Storify curation of tweets by Gabrielle Laine-Peters:

Renault pushes envelopes with the Kwid

Renault Kwid

Since the 1950s, concept cars have been ways that car manufacturers have showcased their ideas, talents and creativity about a new model of car, new styling and new technology.

They’re typically shown with great fanfare at motor shows to gauge media and public reaction to new or radical designs that may or may not make it into mass production.

Here’s one from French carmaker Renault that certainly showcases some terrific – perhaps radical – thinking about new technology, capturing the attention of the mainstream media over the past week.

This is the Renault Kwid, a crossover vehicle that Renault presented at the Auto Expo 2014 in New Delhi, India, aimed primarily at the Indian market.

What makes it especially interesting – indeed, it’s what has largely driven the close media attention this past week – isn’t so much its design and styling, but more to do with a little gadget that might come with the vehicle.

Most media reports call the gadget a drone. More accurately, it’s a quadcopter. Check out the video.

Says Renault in its press release:

[...] Taking off from the rotating rear portion of the KWID CONCEPT’s roof, the Flying Companion can be operated in one of two modes – the automatic mode using a pre-programmed flying sequence and GPS location as well as the manual mode, which enables the companion to be controlled using a tablet inside the vehicle. The Flying Companion can be used for a variety of purposes, including scouting traffic, taking landscape pictures and detecting obstacles on the road ahead.

Much of the media reporting I’ve seen talks mainly about the quadcopter as a means to spot traffic jams. My first thought was how handy it would be to spot where to park your Kwid in crowded cities!

The Renault Kwid also represents a pragmatic international view of car design and car use, as another video Renault posted to YouTube shows with interviews with some in Renault’s design team comprising employees from around the world with their views shaped and influenced by their cultures and outlooks.

Says Renault:

Renault Designers around the world cooperated to conceive a vehicle made for local markets and designed to meet the latters’ needs. The interior of the vehicle was designed by François Grenier (Technocentre Design, France) based on original drawings by Mishu Batra (Renault Design India) and the exterior by Anton Shamenkov (of Russian origins, Technocentre Design, France) based on original drawings by Jean Semeriva (Studio Design Brazil). The colors and materials of the vehicle were worked upon by Neha Lad (Indian trainee, Technocentre Design) and developed by Chie Yanagisawa (Japanese designer, Technocentre Design). Axel Breun (Technocentre Design) was the overall Project Manager.

As a concept, the vehicle is pretty neat. It also comes with much more technology innovation including some serious eco-credentials.

I could see this idea of a crossover + quadcopter in action, although that view is more of an emotional desire than a practical perspective.

Will it make it to actual production ? Time will tell. But it’s imaginative.

Making the #CIPRSM redundant

#CIPRSM

One of the great things about a professional association is that it can be a powerful force for change in taking a leading and proactive stand in helping those in the profession – association members or not – understand and more likely embrace the change if that’s a goal.

I see that as a great position the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is now in with regard to social media and where it fits into the broader organisational communication landscape.

Social media has been at the forefront of the CIPR’s professional development agenda for some years, especially since the formation of the Social Media Panel (#CIPRSM) in 2010.

The Panel brought structure, focus and strong and effective advocacy and leadership to a topic that was becoming increasingly important to CIPR members and, indeed, to the CIPR itself. Not only that, it has been a driving force behind the creation of best practice guidelines on how to engage with Wikipedia, and the publication  of two books about social media and PR (Share This and Share This Too) among other achievements.

Today, the CIPR announced new leadership for the Social Media Panel in 2014 and a significant shift in strategic focus over the next two years “that will change the remit of the panel under the leadership of new Co-Chairs” with Gem Griffiths and Dan Tyte taking over from current Chair Stephen Waddington as those Co-Chairs.

The shift in focus is most interesting. In Gem Griffith’s words:

Our ambition is to make #CIPRSM redundant within two years by integrating digital and social media into all aspects of training, education and policy at the CIPR.

We’ll know we’ve done a good job when the panel stops advising solely on social media sites and digital platforms and shifts its focus to discussing and advising on innovative trends – social, technical or otherwise – that will impact and shape the future of the public relations profession.

The timing couldn’t be better to firmly and confidently take social media to the next level in the PR context and en route to that shift in focus Gem mentions aimed at shaping the future of the public relations profession.

Read the CIPR’s full announcement for details: CIPR Social Media Panel sets out ambitious strategy for 2014 under new leadership.

The sorry state of trust according to Edelman’s 2014 Trust Barometer

14-point trust gap

A key finding in the 2014 Trust Barometer published today by Edelman PR shows that, once again, public trust in governments around the world trails far behind trust in business.

Moreover, the ‘trust gap’ has increased markedly in the 2014 findings compared to 2013 – now a 14-point gap – and, indeed, overall compared to five years ago when the financial crisis was starting to bite.

While this gap illustrates a global average, where people’s trust in governments varies within each of the 27 countries in which Edelman conducted its research for the 2014 survey, it’s small comfort as the gap is driven by a decline of trust in government and not an increase in trust in business, Edelman says, with the gap at 20 points or greater in nearly half of the countries surveyed.

A few other highlights from the 2014 report’s findings:

  • Business is now expected to play a much bigger role around the debate and design of regulation as 79 percent of those surveyed believe government should not be working alone when setting policy.
  • A majority of respondents (84 percent) believe that business can pursue its self-interest while doing good work for society.
  • There is call for more regulation in several industries including financial services (53 percent), energy (51 percent) and food and beverage (48 percent). Regionally, the study found that 66 percent want more regulation of the financial services industry in Germany, 73 percent of people in the UK want more regulation of the energy business, while in China, 84 percent desire stronger regulation of the food industry.
  • Trust in CEOs has plateaued, and while they have recovered from a low of 31 percent in 2009 to 43 percent this year they still rank seventh out of eight, sitting only above government official (36 percent), as most credible spokesperson (and Edelman believes that CEOs must become “chief engagement officers” in order to educate the public about the economic, societal, political and environmental context in which their business operates).
  • Academics (67 percent) and technical experts (66 percent), a “person like yourself” (62 percent) and employees (52 percent) continue to be far more trusted. CEOs can build trust in themselves and their companies by communicating clearly and transparently (82 percent), telling the truth regardless of how unpopular it is (81 percent) and engaging regularly with employees (80 percent).
  • Globally, family-owned (71 percent) and small- and medium-sized businesses (68 percent) are more trusted than big business (61 percent).

Companies

  • Companies headquartered in BRIC nations continue to suffer a trust deficit compared to western-based companies. Globally, respondents rated companies based in Germany, a market known for efficiency and productivity, highest (80 percent) followed closely by Sweden (79 percent) and Switzerland (79 percent), both of which are known to have strong policies aimed at protecting the environment and employees and communities. Companies based in Mexico (34 percent), India (35 percent) and China (36 percent) were trusted least and have seen no improvement over the past five years.
  • Technology (79 percent) and automotive (70 percent) were once again the most trusted industry sectors, while banks (51 percent) were least trusted with dramatically low trust levels in Western Europe – Spain (16 percent), Italy (23 percent), UK (32 percent), Germany (33 percent) and France (38 percent).

This is the 14th annual report from Edelman that examines the state of trust in major economies. During the years, it has become a credible and trusted source of valuable insight into the intangible thing called “trust” that, increasingly, has tangible impact on business and government performance.

Retrospect

Note from the retrospect, above, the milestone findings in 2006, 2009 and 2012 – the effects of which we see markedly today.

One other finding in the 2014 report caught my attention – the power of search.

According to Edelman, there was a consistent answer to these questions:

When looking for general news and information, how much would you trust each type of source for general news and information?

On a typical day, what is the first source that you go to for general information about business?

What is the first source you go to for breaking news about business?

Which of the following sources do you turn to MOST often to confirm/ validate information on breaking news about business?

The answer? Not the mainstream (or social) media, but online search.

The power of search

People clearly prefer their own “natural search” methods rather than the pre-packaged (and untrusted) alternatives.

Edelman will be formally launching the 2014 Trust Barometer during a presentation and meeting in London on Tuesday January 21, 2014, at 8:30am GMT. You can see it live.

  • Shel and I will be discussing the 2014 Trust Barometer in this week’s episode 739 of The Hobson and Holtz Report podcast, recording today and publishing later today UK time.

Additional reading: