Sold-out attendance. A-list speakers, And an exhibition hall filled with vendors and buzzing with activity throughout the session. These will be some of the enduring memories of an IABC World Conference in Vancouver that was a success by all of the eventâ€™s traditional measures.
The success of World Conference follows considerable effort to consolidate the IABCâ€™s finances and stabilize its membership base. Still, as it begins its every-three-years strategy rethink, the Association faces crucial challenges and questions as it looks to the future.
National, regional and specialist associations are competitive with IABC in its North American and Australasian core, and are thoroughly outgunning IABC outside the English-speaking world. And even in the core, the laments about the difficulty in generating and retaining members are increasingly loud and long.
At US $300 in most countries, IABC dues are not insignificant. One very hopeful sign is that they represent a decreasing share of IABC's overall revenues. Still, at these prices, there is a perceived pull in the Association to deliver value for money on an individual basis, placing substantial demands on both its headquarters and its volunteer leaders.
But this pull for "member value" runs counter to what is really going on in the larger world.
"People aren't joining things anymore"
That was an oft-heard lament from a number of attendees in Vancouver. Underneath that concern was a fear that the Association's tightly-knit community of leaders and advocates would prematurely fade away.
People are still joining things. Indeed, they are joining more than ever before.
But they, and particularly younger professionals, are joining movements, marches and megachurches.
This kind of joining isn't about getting value from one's dues money.
It's about being part of something bigger. It's about being part of a cause, making a difference and connecting with a community of fellow believers.
Indeed, there is one cause that nearly everyone in IABC already believes in.
"We are a profession. We are a profession that is simultaneously facing explosive demand for our talents and pressure to justify our value and impact. Our cause is to grow our professionalism and to demonstrate our value to a world that needs us."
As a cross-disciplinary and international association knit together with passionate personal as well as professional ties, IABC is uniquely positioned to champion this cause on a global basis. To lead the movement.
Moving from "association" to "movement" requires significant changes in membership, governance, operational and organizational structure.
At this key point, IABC needs to look seriously at the implications of a radical shift in strategy - whether it would drive growth and scale its impact, and how it would impact the quality of the relationships that drive the passion of many IABC leaders and members.
But IABC, and particularly it's leadership "family", has a world to win.
IABC has knowledge assets that are the envy of nearly every national and regional association, and can potentially use them to galvanize and connect the comms organizational world in service of a broader movement.
And in broadening its reach to communication professionals worldwide to the cause of the worth and value of professional communication, IABC's tight-knit community of leaders would be staring at a double-decked prize: generational sustainability combined with global scalability, creating connection with other like-minded folks who lead IABC in every corner of the world.
IABC cannot morph into the global movement for professional communication overnight.
Moving in this direction would require deft and sensitive management.
Most importantly, adjustments to the value proposition could require considerable forebearance - particularly if new-style "members" come in at lower dues levels to boost numbers and geographic spread.
Additionally, IABC needs to look deeply at its approach to collaboration with national associations and international groupings (ideally by returning to the Global Alliance), and embrace its members who are industry advocates more closely.
Most importantly, in my view, it needs to robustly challenge the assumptions at the root of its own dues structure, and find ways to broaden and share ownership of the GCCC certification program so that it can still take advantage of its significant global potential.
Indeed, IABC's global leadership is starting to show a willingness to do so.
Some may think it's not worth the risk. But it is certainly worth a conscious discussion.
The prize is substantial: A global profession of sustained professionalism and unquestioned worth.
Is IABC willing to take the leap? My hunch is that IABC members and leaders will find it a worthy challenge once an open and wide ranging discussion begins.
Let it begin now.