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IABC turnaround turns outward – members now hold the key to visibility and impact

BY mikeklein

“We’ve righted our ship and gotten our house in order, and now we’re ready to help drive the larger conversation about what our profession can offer.”

That was the overriding message following interviews with IABC Chair Ginger Homan and Executive Director Stephanie Doute.

In a conversation following the 2019 IABC Leadership Institute, and marking the halfway point in IABC’s 2017-2020 strategy, Ginger declared the Association’s restructuring and stabilization efforts a success. She said that they place IABC in a position to carry its message outward, and that it will do so in a much different way than IABC has done in the past:

“It’s time for our members to own our agenda”

“The key will be for members to take ownership –not only to be advocates for IABC membership, but to be active and visible as IABC members on the issues we care about in our industry. We need members to step out front to promote professional standards and champion the value communicators offer to our enterprises and communities.”

Ginger noted that this approach represented a break from its historical approach to outreach.

“Rather than IABC wanting to be the leader and for staff to own the agenda, as we have done in the past, we want to provide the platform to help our members be thought leaders. We in turn will help amplify those members who want to take stands and be visible in the conversations around the agenda we are promoting together.”

Accelerating the Global Standard

One front which IABC wants its members to take the advocacy lead is in the promotion of the Global Standard – which, while developed under IABC’s leadership, is intended to provide a common framework for promoting professionalism in communication, and for enabling the spread of a world-wide certification program for senior and mid-level communication professionals.

“There’s a lot we need to be saying about the Global Standard, and IABC can’t do this on its own. We need members and particularly those who have already been certified to tell the story of the Global Standard and make the case. We need to explain what it is, how we arrived at it, and why it is of relevance to a much broader constituency than just IABC members.”

Stephanie added: “There is a real demand for standards in the world of professional communication and the Global Standard is a great platform for embedding consistent standards into our day-to-day practices and even the software we use. Indeed, as the Global Standard provides the context and content for Certification and the rubric for our Gold Quill awards program, a broader conversation about the Global Standard will make our CMP and SCMP certifications more relevant and drive acceptance beyond IABC’s membership.”

The interviews followed the 2019 Leadership Institute in Long Beach, California, which combined the event’s traditional focus on chapter growth and cohesion with added emphasis on encouraging IABC activists to mobilize members as thought leaders and peer influencers to promote the value of professional communication, above and beyond the promotion of IABC membership.

Transforming IABC’s Infrastructure

The moves follow intense effort to stabilize IABC’s finances, update its infrastructure, and develop more robust offerings for members and the broader communication professions.

Stephanie added: “We’ve been modernizing what we do and the way we do it. We are in the midst of a digital transformation that will allow us both to better engage members and to make IABC more inviting and relevant to non-members. We have a new and expanded content program coming to life this year. We launched The Hub as a private social network to give our members a safe and vibrant space to share their needs, problems and ideas with the broader IABC community. These programs add to the continuing strength of World Conference as a truly best-in-class conference, where top-tier speakers, forward-thinking breakouts, launches of new research deliver special experiences delegates are unlikely to forget.”

Getting ahead of the trends

One criticism of IABC that has resonated with its leadership has been that the Association is slow to acknowledge, much less shape, trends in the industry - trends such as internal-external convergence and employee experience - which are well within the interests of its membership.

“We’re launching two exciting task forces to get ahead of the trends,” said Stephanie, “looking at the big ideas shaping the profession on the one hand, creating tangible tools and templates for delivery and execution for members on the other. We want members to be aware, awake and confident as we move into a time of even faster change and instability in the business world. These will be in addition to the research studies we have partnered on and the Business Acumen module in the IABC Academy. The latter was developed by a firm comprised of Wharton Business School alumni that will give our members a tangible command of business basics and prepare them for more effective conversations with their business peers.”

Creating Connection

In 2017-2020, IABC has been pursuing a three-pronged strategy: to develop strategic communicators, advance the profession and “create connection.” Midway through the strategy period, the bulk of the association’s global efforts have been devoted to getting the platform and infrastructure set for growth and accelerating member influence in the profession. “Create Connection,” the third pillar, builds on IABC’s historic strengths as a community and support network for its active members.

“Sometimes, people don’t realize how fun it can be to be in IABC,” Ginger explains. “IABC is ultimately about inclusion, fun and giving back – which is what we mean by ‘create connection’. It’s not about telling people to ‘join IABC because it’s fun’ but to create experiences that are enlivening and enriching, especially at the local level where it’s easiest for people to connect face-to-face. We are seeing newer and younger members coming in at the local level, generationally transforming IABC from the outside in.”

Why it’s time to join – or re-join

As the only global membership association covering the full scope of business communication, IABC occupies a unique space alongside national communication associations, specialist associations and more informal on-line groups which have absorbed many lapsed IABC members over the last decade. IABC intends to combine its improved infrastructure and an increasingly visible membership to drive growth and, importantly, regain the trust and activism of former members.

Concludes Ginger, “It’s about being more relevant, and about being more collaborative, cooperative and inspiring. Combine that with the connections we create, and we are set to deliver a compelling proposition.  We’re at an inflection point. The sky is the limit and we’d like you to join us.”

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9 thoughts on “IABC turnaround turns outward – members now hold the key to visibility and impact”

  1. It may be too little, too late. For many of us, it’s a case of “We didn’t leave IABC — IABC left us.” It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.

  2. It is wonderful to read these words from Ginger and Stephanie, thanks Mike. As a frustrated Past Chair, where I agree with what Paul said, IABC left us, truely I believe they did! Shortly after the Global Standard was developed and the certification program and IABC academy was established, IABC turned in on itself. It became self indulgent and slightly arrogant in a re-brand and new strategy that ignored anything ‘Not invented here or now’. All good intentioned and about much needed healing but a little misguided strategically, not building alignment with the Global Standard including giving up its membership to the Global Alliance and lack of listening to members needs or future trends.

    However I am back on board and willing to be an activist for the current leadership. Personal conversations with past chair Sharon Hunter, Ginger Homan and Stephanie Doute has filled me with confidence, that, as you say Mike IABC has turned around and is starting to face outwards again, and you cannot just see it, but you can hear it in conversations with some long serving but lost members. The focus on the Global Standard and how relevant it is today in the move towards professional standards, education and more importantly relevancy of communication professionals with their organisations is simply music to my ears. It validates the work of not just some great IABC leaders, but members who were telling us career including professional standards and research was key to them back in 2010.

    It’s true IABC’s unique position as the only multidisciplinary global membership based Association is its strength and continues to be a major opportunity to influence our profession globally. The strategy is very sound and insipring when it talks about creating connection, advancing the profession and i’d like to say develop ‘Strategic Communication Professionals’ rather than ‘communicators’. Focussing on this strategy I feel will have payoffs, if we continue to look outwards, being relevant, inspiring, building on the past but continually be shaped by what is on the horizon, we have a great future for IABC ahead.

    I congratulate the leadership of IABC and thank you Mike for sharing this interview. Please keep the conversations going.

  3. Mike: Thank you so much for providing those who couldn’t attend Leadership Institute a window in which to view what’s ahead for IABC. I’m disappointed to hear that the wounds of past IABC experiences have left some folks jaded about our future prospects. Having met and watched people like Ginger and Stephanie at work, I firmly believe we’re headed in the right strategic direction. Onward!

  4. As an IABC lifer I never left IABC, and IABC certainly never left me. I agree that past leaders and leadership could have been more diplomatic in the way changes were communicated, and I also understand the resentment some lifers had. But having been on the inside, first as chapter leader and regional leader, and now on the international executive board of IABC I also see and appreciate the hard work that some people have done to get IABC back on track, both from a financial, content and programme perspective, and it is my opinion they deserve the credit for doing that.

    I sat for the SCMP exam last year, agreeing with Stephanie on the need for certification, and I see the respect I have gained within my company, my clients and my peers.

    IABC is my choice for a global network, it is my source for insights, and many of the people in IABC have become my friends. If you are not a member, see more here: http://www.iabc.com

  5. Agreed Michael, having sat my SCMP last year I was thrilled to be able to use the designation even though I had my ABC. We have to stay pace with change in our profession and keep looking at our Global Standard as the benchmark of excellence. Having certification does raise your credibility and respect in the organisations you work with and betters the profession as a whole. The Global Standard was not new even to me or my team, some of the greatest leaders were part of setting the standard for our profession years earlier, sadly some of them have felt pushed aside by IABC and we can’t ignore it as an association. However what a great opportunity we have coming up to recognise and celebrate peoples contributions with the big anniversary of 50 years of IABC next year.

  6. I wish these comments (too little, too late) didn’t ring true, but sadly they do, at least for me and where I stand after ~10 years of as a member. A lot of that time has been waiting/hoping to see the value. So it doesn’t seem much of a change that the organization is looking for its members to carry the organization forward. And there’s still the issue of the value for the cost of membership. At the world conference in 2010 there was a goal expressed to deliver enough value for the cost of membership that people would pay for it out of personal funds instead of their employer’s. Haven’t seen much change there and meanwhile, how many chapters have gone away? Sorry, but the Hub, and discounts on expensive programs not included in the cost of membership may not be enough any more. Certification and the professional development roadmap could help in time but the members and chapters may need more “air cover” (as sales people used to demand from marketing) than HQ apparently can provide. (Take a look at everything AMA and PRSA do to promote the value of their programs and organization to non-members and see how IABC measures up).

  7. I have every hope that THIS iteration of IABC will lead to a resurgence. When I first joined IABC the word was that it was for internal communicators and people working inside the enterprise, whereas PRSA was for agencies and media relations people. As IABC struggled on so many levels, I remained involved at the regional level even as I watched my local chapter’s demise. At some point, though, I tired of paying for an association that seemed to have so little interest in me or my contributions. Conversely, PRSA (especially the Employee Communications professional interest section) wholly embraced me and provided unparalleled development opportunities. Ideally, these two organizations would merge, creating a powerhouse professional association unique in the world thanks to global reach. I am a member of PRSA, SHRM, ATD and AMEC, and affiliated with the Institute for PR Measurement Commission and a board member of the International PR Research Conference. I don’t think my budget allows for joining IABC again (I was a member for 20 years) without some significant evidence of differential benefit. I wish you all good luck!

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