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:

Being inclusive about PR ethics

changingalightbulbOne of the great things about the Ethics Awareness Month initiative from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is that it helps focus clear attention on a core issue in the profession that, in many people’s minds, needs that attention.

It doesn’t matter a bit that the PRSA’s initiative happens to be organized by the professional body that represents practitioners in the USA. To give full credit to them (as well as recognize some good common sense at work), it’s very open – anyone with a point of view and some good ideas on ethics can contribute no matter where they are and whether they’re a member of the PRSA (or any other body) or not.

One feature of the initiative is the weekly tweet chat anyone can participate in around the hashtag #prethics. I took part in the first one on September 6 organized jointly by PRSA and the CIPR in the UK. It was a great discussion.

I wrote about it and the copy of my post that was syndicated in the CIPR’s The Conversation blog attracted some discussion in the comments.

Discussion on this topic is terrific, just what we need to have wherever it takes place. I hope the exchanges of views to my post contribute to some measurable course of action on this topic.

Yet it seems to me that there’s a risk of slipping into a cul-de-sac over territorial rights, being side-tracked by a debate about which professional body should lead the charge on the ethics debate.

That’s the least relevant matter, in my view. I don’t care who leads any charge as long as this important issue is on the agenda and that a clear course of action emerges. Heck, I’m not a PRSA member nor a CIPR one yet I find the debate wholly relevant to my practice as a communicator and I engage in discussion with peers who are members of these associations as well as others like CPRS in Canada. PR is just one part of my professional communication activity, one reason why the IABC is my professional association of choice for more than 20 years.

What I’d like to see is our lightbulb moment on ethics in the profession – where anyone, anywhere, is part of the discussion – not a discussion about how many PR organizations does it take to change the lightbulb.

If you have an opinion, why not chime in? Here, there or anywhere you feel like. Just connect your comments to the #prethics hashtag.

Related post:

So what will you do for ethics in PR?

The subject of ethics in public relations often provokes strong opinions from people, especially when questionable practices fall under the critical spotlight – as Scott Adams so cannily grasped in this Dilbert cartoon in August.

Ethics in PR issues from the past few years that readily come to my mind range from Edelman’s shattered pedestal over not one but two Wal-Mart kerfuffles in 2006; the anti-astroturfing campaign by Trevor Cook and Paull Young in that same year; ongoing PR spam (very much a matter of ethical behaviours, in my view); Burson Marsteller’s Facebook dirty tricks fiasco this year; and of course the News of The World phone hacking scandal that came to a dramatic head in July and the subsequent role of PR.

While such unsavoury events always provoke much debate, opinion-sharing and hand-wringing about ethics by many inside the industry as well as outside – especially in the mainstream media – not a lot actually happens, really, to credibly address such things in a way that’s scalable. So as fast as one crisis fades from public memory, another one comes along to outrage or entertain, depending on your point of view.

I believe that individual responsibility is the best way to address behaviours and practices within and by the profession where believing in and abiding by codes of conduct/ethical behaviour is fundamental. Yet that can only have a chance of working when it’s part of a framework, something that people are willing to sign up for, as it were, and where leadership by example is the essential ingredient.

I also believe that the industry’s professional associations occupy a critical role in this regard and could make a huge difference in one key area (in particular) – leading by example in education and awareness-raising about ethical behaviours.

I’d accept without question that bodies such as the PRSA in the US, the CIPR in the UK and the IABC from a global perspective already do a great deal through professional development and other activities for members. Yet I think it needs more, something that gives it a firmer push onto everyone’s agenda.

That was the prominent thought in my mind as I participated in a tweetchat (an online discussion via Twitter) on Tuesday jointly hosted by Rosanna Fiske and Jane Wilson, respectively Chair and CEO of PRSA and CIPR.

During the course of an hour, a wide- and far-ranging discussion and exchange of views about ethics and behaviours took place with some excellent views, ideas and suggestions ebbing and flowing in the discussion.

ethicstweetchat

I think we had a good indicator of leadership by the fact that the PRSA and the CIPR collaborated in leading discussion this way on the topic of ethics, as the PRSA noted in its post-event report:

[...] We’d be remiss if we did not address the importance of this Tweet chat and of enhancing ethical standards in PR. It is something that both of our organizations firmly believe in and will continue to pursue for years to come. Simply put: Ethics form the backbone of PRSA and the CIPR. Our respective ethics codes — PRSA’s Code of Ethics and the CIPR’s Code of Conduct — are well established as the profession’s global standards for ethical conduct.

If anyone ever had any doubt about the significant role and value that ethics plays in PR professionals’ levels, Tuesday’s Tweet chat stopped that idle chatter cold in its tracks. We were impressed with the level of commitment and interest among the commenters to better understand and uphold ethical standards. From @thefishareloose Tweeting that “socialmedia and access to Internet is making it harder for people to hide a lie which should help show why #prethics is so important” to @brandjack commenting that “ethical behavior is what gets results” for clients and organizations, the chat demonstrated the level of recognition and respect that ethics now has in public relations.

September is PRSA’s Ethics Awareness Month. Why don’t we all make September our own ethics awareness month by asking ourselves: What am I going to do?

Here’s a start: before the end of this month, read your respective professional association’s code of conduct:

(If you’re not a member of any of these bodies, read the codes anyway.)

Tell your colleagues and/or your clients you’re doing this and will uphold the code’s values. Ask them to do the same. Ask your boss to do it. If you’re the boss, well, you know what to do.

Individual responsibility. And a framework. Sounds good to me.