One of the funny aspects of life as a long-term contractor in a big company is that I am on the hook for paying my own conference fees. So, the decisions to attend both the IABC World Conference in Toronto and the EACD’s European Communications Summit required a bit of consideration.
Although some consider IABC and EACD to be “rival” associations, in that they compete for an increasingly scarce dues-paying capacity among target members, I am a proud and satisfied member of both. They have two very different cultures, structures and styles, and I think they complement each other quite well. (And, in all fairness, I have been treated very well by the editorial arms of both organisations).
That much being said, IABC is my professional family. It’s a non-profit, member-led organisation, with all of the baggage and joys that entails. Association politics was, until recently, very much a contact sport, although following its Toronto conference, IABC is emerging with newfound confidence and a new philosophy that is looking at the broader welfare of professional communicators and laying the groundwork for an overhaul of its business and educational models that should drive rapid growth in the coming years.
Most importantly, IABC is inclusive. While the home of many internal communicators, IABC covers the range of PR pros, Corporate Comms folks, Digital dynamos and Corporate Responsibility types, and, is well balanced between in-house professionals, consultants and independents. Indeed, it is the ongoing conversations between those seeking opportunities and those seeking support that gives IABC much of its enduring value.
EACD, on the other hand, is a different type of resource. Connected with for-profit Helios Media, EACD focuses exclusively on the needs of Europe’s in-house communicators, with independents and consultants offered associate status and limited access to events and resources, which tend to feature strong corporate professionals and a limited number of top-shelf consultants and experts.
Lavish Brunch vs. Formal Banquet
The difference between the two conferences could best be described as a difference between a lavish but informal Sunday brunch (IABC) and a formal but very well catered banquet (EACD). Both are worth the money, time and travel. IABC has a stronger sense of community coming from intense volunteer input; EACD is a thoroughly professional operation offering access to a fairly elite group of in-house pros.
In terms of membership, IABC has struggled in Europe as the EACD has grown. But that does not make them competitors. They offer two fundamentally different experiences, and I benefit massively from both.
From EACD I am learning better how in-house colleagues think, and what their priorities and standards are. From IABC, I get access to a global network of friends that crosses geographical, philosophical and commercial lines.
Rather than trying to compete with EACD in Europe, IABC should strengthen its appeal to the consultants and independents outside EACD’s remit, while encouraging its in-house members to show the IABC flag as part of their EACD involvement. And, EACD’s success in Europe could offer interesting lessons as IABC prepares its own global plans for growth in the coming years.