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.

Goodbye IABC and good luck

IABCLast week, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) held its international conference in New York. By all accounts I’ve read, some 1,400 members went and took part.

I’ve heard, too, that the professional development, networking and social events over the three days of the conference were as compelling and enjoyable as they ever have been at IABC conferences.

A different picture emerges, however, when it comes to the business of IABC itself.

You may know that I was an active member of IABC for 23 years, until I let my membership lapse in November 2012. I was dismayed by what was happening to IABC under Chris Sorek, the executive director hired in mid 2012 and who resigned earlier this month. I was no less dismayed by the lack of effective communication during a period of controversial change and what looked like arrogance and ignorance from some of the volunteer leaders on the International Executive Board  if the gossipy discussion threads in IABC’s private LinkedIn groups are any indicator.

I’ve remained a lapsed member since then  – you can read my previous posts about this to get a sense of why. And I described myself thus, ie, I wasn’t calling myself a ‘former member,’ leaving the door open just a crack so I could look for the point to tip me back in again.

Seeing the antics at the AGM on June 26 changed that. In particular, reading David Murray’s account made me realize that this is now a professional association in dysfunction – with a genuine and immediate risk of becoming completely irrelevant to the profession of organizational communication – and one that I don’t recognize now at all. The behaviour of some of IABC’s volunteer leaders and some staff towards a vocal critic was disgraceful. And see the comments to David’s post.

This is not the IABC I believed in for so many years, for which I devoted days and weeks of my time in a wide range of volunteerism and leadership roles. This is not the IABC I would advocate for as the absolute best and most influential voice to speak on behalf of the communication profession, and one whose professional development and accreditation programmes were the best in the world.

I am deeply saddened by all of this. I see no salvation for the IABC I knew. And maybe that’s okay for the folks in charge now who – to quote David Murray – “want to run IABC their way, I guess there’s no stopping them from having it.”

And one final point, one that shows that maybe there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

Yesterday, IABC announced on its Facebook page – but no announcement on its public website – that they’ve hired an interim Executive Director to run the association from July 1 while the Board searches for a permanent replacement for Chris Sorek.

The interim role will be held by Ann Lazurus, whose best credential for the job is described in IABC’s statement as “Lazarus specializes in working as an interim executive for nonprofits in transition.” Even better is this from a more detailed announcement on the IABC Austin Chapter’s website:

[…] The organization’s executive board believes her extensive change management experience during this time of transition will prove to be a tremendous asset. The hope she will help in stabilizing the organization while keeping it focused on building value for members and enhancing its value in the challenging marketplace.

Big hope there and very attractive-looking qualities. I wish Ann Lazarus all the best in this role.

But for me, I’m done with IABC and so I now describe myself as “a former member.” I’ll keep my many happy memories of times past.

Related posts:

Because it’s a good cause

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Like most business bloggers, I’m pretty immune to unsolicited requests to publish guest posts and other content especially from people who clearly have undisclosed motives (take a look at what Paul Sutton has to say on that topic).

Now and again, though, something feels right and clearly is worth doing. This is one of those instances – an email I received from Jason Hulbert, press officer at the charity Meningitis UK, asking if I’d publish a letter from their founder, Steve Dayman.

“We just want to thank our volunteers and hope they know they are appreciated,” said Jason’s note.

My pleasure, Jason:

Dear editor,

It has been a busy June with the nation’s eyes focussed on the Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympic Torch touring the country, Euro 2012 and around the corner is Wimbledon.

For many, Volunteers’ Week (June 1-7), which celebrates the vital roles volunteers’ play across the country, went unnoticed.

Through your media, Meningitis UK wishes to thank everyone who volunteers and supports us, whether they help in our Bristol office, in your area, or take part in fundraising events.

They are unsung heroes and never want recognition, but they are the backbone of our charity, keep us stable and – without doubt – deserve our eternal praise. We just want them to know they are valued and we cherish all they do for Meningitis UK.

For more information on Meningitis UK, please visit www.meningitisuk.org.

Yours faithfully,

Steve Dayman
Founder
Meningitis UK

I’ve added the links.

The greeting “Dear editor” leads me to think my name is on a media mailing list at the charity. That’s fine although I wonder how many mainstream media will go ahead and publish the letter. And how many bloggers, for that matter.

Still, you can but ask.

More links:

And especially:

  • Search 4 a Vaccine Campaign
    Our Search 4 a Vaccine Campaign, launched in 2007, aims to raise £7 million to help fund cutting-edge research to develop a vaccine against Meningitis B which causes almost 90% of cases in the UK and for which there is still no vaccine.
    Our scientists believe that with enough support, this can be achieved within the next few years. The Search 4 a Vaccine Campaign was launched on the ‘fourth day of the fourth month’ to highlight the devastating fact that ‘Meningitis can kill in under 4 hours’.
    The campaign also aims to raise public awareness of the common symptoms and need to act quickly which, until a vaccine is found, can mean the difference between life and death.

If you write a blog, please consider publishing Steve Dayman’s letter. Or just share this post via one of the socialshare buttons here. I think what they’re doing is worth supporting, don’t you?

FIR Interview: John Clemons, Interim Executive Director, IABC

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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.

Get this podcast:

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.

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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.)

Introducing Bright One ambassadors

A new website went live about an hour ago, one that showcases the talents and thinking of a group of committed people who are going to do some amazing communication things in the third sector otherwise known as the voluntary sector.

It’s about Bright One Communications, a volunteer-run communications agency for the third sector founded a year ago by London-based practitioner Ben Matthews.

What’s special to me today about Bright One, on their first anniversary, is that they’ve announced four ambassadors, people who have committed to support the agency’s activities by talking about them and doing what they can to help it succeed.

[…] The four ambassadors come from some of the PR industry’s most prestigious agencies and will become the face of Bright One’s presence within the industry. The ambassador’s role includes championing Bright One’s cause in the industry, passing on any suitable projects or any opportunities they hear about and promoting Bright One within their own organizations and in the industry itself. In alphabetical order, the ambassadors are: Andrew Bloch (MD of Frank PR), Neville Hobson (consultant, co-host of the ‘For Immediate Release’ business podcast series and blogger at NevilleHobson.com), Robert Phillips (CEO of Edelman UK) and Kristin Syltevik (MD of Hotwire PR).

I’m thrilled and feel very honoured to have been asked to be one of those four ambassadors. I believe very much in what Ben and his Bright One colleagues want to achieve and will support that however I can.

Get to know Bright One.