IABC Drops the Ball Again, Then Goes Into Defensive Mode

For three years in the mid-1990s, I served on the International Executive Board of IABC. In 1993 and 2003, I served as the president of my local chapter. I was an Accredited Business Communicator until I gave up my membership in favor of PRSA (non-members have to pay a fee to maintain accreditation). I’ve served on committees and task forces at all three levels of the association and I happily sang its praises to anyone who would listen until IABC lost its way several years ago.

So I don’t take any pleasure in what is happening to IABC these days. Late last year, it bungled the communication of a major layoff of headquarters staff. And just yesterday, it dropped the ball again in its announcement that Chris Sorek, president of the association for the last 11 months, has resigned.

As a non-member, I no longer have a vested interest in what happens to IABC. But as someone who gave heart and soul to help ensure its success for many years, it breaks my heart to see one of the world’s largest associations for people in my chosen profession become a laughingstock. Actually, there’s nothing funny about what’s going on.

The main points I’ll make about this latest tragedy of errors are these:

  1. IABC’s staff and volunteer leaders need to update their view of how communication happens in the world. Claiming it wanted to inform chapter leaders first, IABC delayed its own announcement of Sorek’s resignation and the news apparently broke on David Murray’s Writing Boots blog. (David used to cover IABC when he worked for The Ragan Report in the ’90s, including during my term on the International Executive Board, so I know his journalistic prowess and it does not surprise me that he broke the news.) Then, IABC finally posted the announcement on a LinkedIn discussion group because it said its technology “would not allow” it to be posted on its own website. Believing that you can keep news like this secret in the age of social media is naïve at best and irresponsible at worst. Instead, IABC leaders — both staff and volunteers — should have sent an alert to volunteer leaders and followed it very closely with official announcements using all the platforms available, including its own website. (There is simply no excuse for not being able to use its own website to post such an announcement.) Then, all hands should have been on deck to respond to the initial flurry of interest by bloggers like Murray and industry journalists like those at Ragan.com. Talking points are fine to ensure consistency, but the point here is that leaders should have been armed and ready to talk as soon as the news broke instead of appearing disconnected and aloof.
  2. IABC spokespersons should give up their defensiveness, acknowledge that the association is in rough shape right now with respect to its leadership, its technology and its communication processes, and stop trying to control and spin the message. Again, this is 2013. The rules (if there are any) have changed. Claire Watson, ABC, who has been hired to speak for the association, defensively engaged in one LinkedIn conversation that included her questioning Murray’s ethics and those of volunteer leaders and her eventual pronouncement, “End of conversation.” That’s not the way to engage media or members and it certainly sends the wrong message about how IABC might handle things going forward.

I sincerely hope IABC uses these crises as opportunities to look deep within and to rethink not only its strategy for growing and sustaining the association, but also how it communicates and engages with members — who, after all, own IABC.



IABC Has Lost Its Way

The mess in which IABC finds itself as a result of the bungled communication around the layoff of half its staff is so sad that to say much about it here would just be piling on. I can’t improve on the justified criticism laid out by other leading communicators including Shel Holtz, David Murray and even industry icon Roger D’Aprix, who lamented, “”I have literally spent a career fighting the sort of Friday afternoon massacre carried out by new IABC executive director Chris Sorek.”

I’ll just say that today’s IABC is not the organization I loved and to which I gladly volunteered years of my professional life as an accredited member, chapter president, district director and executive board member. IABC has losts its way, in a big way, and I only hope it can find its way back. The key to its comeback, I believe, will be a renewed focus on its lifeblood — members and volunteer leaders at the local level.

I allowed my membership to lapse, thus giving up my accreditation, a year ago out of frustration with how far IABC has strayed. Here’s hoping they figure out how to attract people like me back to their membership.


Missing the Passion

It’s been more than a month since I last posted anything to this blog. A colleague was so concerned by my virtual absence that she e-mailed me to ask if everything was OK. I assured her that it is, that I’ve been busy with client work lately. But I also confessed that I haven’t been inspired to write much since my mother’s death two months ago.

I’m sure it’s a normal part of the grieving process, but the passion simply is difficult to find right now. And passion is a critical component of the writing life, and most any life, really.

My friend and professional colleague Wendy Martin recently began writing a blog about living a healthful lifestyle. The blog is one result of her having won a contest in which, as part of her winning essay, she committed to blogging about her “year of wellness.” In a recent conversation, she said she might be “wasting way too much time” on the blog. I assured her that writing the blog is not a waste of time. It’s the perfect intersection of her passion (living a healthful lifestyle that includes lots of outdoor physical activity) and her talent (the ability to write well with humor and clarity).

I’m envious of all my friends who are living out their passions and using their skills to do so.

Steve Crescenzo, a fellow consultant and top-rated speaker in our profession, is downright fiery when it comes to creative communication. Anybody who has attended one of his seminars can attest to that. He keeps an exhausting travel schedule, creates comedy out of corporate communications (which is not easy to do, I assure you), and constantly comes up with new and innovative ways to present information.

My best friend and mentor Les Potter discovered a few years ago — after a long career in corporate communications and consulting — that his real passion is teaching. Today he is a senior instructor at the Towson University School of Mass Communication and Communication Studies while also working toward his doctorate. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of learning from Les knows his passion for communication strategy and how to do it well.

David Murray writes passionately about writing — especially employee communication and speechwriting — on his Writing Boots blog. While I don’t always agree with his posts, he always makes me think. I admire the strength of his convictions and the care with which he constructs his blog posts.

These people have discovered where their passions and their talents meet. That is an enviable place to be.

Honestly, I feel that I’m still looking for that place. I believe I’m a good communicator, a competent writer, and writing is something I enjoy doing. Now I’m looking for where my skill intersects with my passion — whatever it is.

The death of my mom at once sapped my desire to write — at least for a while — and caused me to wonder what I’m really passionate about. Life is too short to spend it on something that doesn’t stoke the fire in our bellies.

Confessions of a Low-Tech Guy

This may come as a surprise to some and as a disappointment to others, but I’m a pretty low-tech guy. My phone is not, and never has been, smart. I don’t text-message daily. I don’t even own an iPod.

It’s not that I’m afraid of technology or intimidated by it. Through my professional association, I was using social media a decade before it was called social media (IABC/Hyperspace, anyone?). I understand how to use technology for more effective communication and I’m confident I could help any client figure out what tools are right for their unique situation.

I have a Facebook page, which I mostly use to keep up with friends, and I have a Twitter account, which I use exclusively for business purposes. And, of course, I engage with readers of this blog.

It’s simply that I choose not to be any more tethered to technology than I already am. I see no compelling reason to be. My business is doing well after 10 years and my life is full. I choose to connect with the people in my life in more meaningful ways than I believe technology allows. I believe nothing really replaces face-to-face interaction when it comes to quality of communication. I enjoy using Facebook to keep up with more than 200 of my friends, but if Facebook went away tomorrow, I’d find other ways to stay in touch with those to whom I am closest.

I read about a study (through a colleague’s tweet) that found college students are “addicted” to the instantaneous information and connections that social media provide. Participants reported on how they felt when they gave up all media for 24 hours. “University of Maryland researchers conclude that most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world,” according to a story on LiveScience.com.

“Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort,” one student reported. “When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable.”

In a separate but somewhat related blog comment today, my friend David Murray laments: “I am not made ‘uncomfortable’ by change. I am made sad and deeply worried by a society that’s increasingly connected by electrical cords alone.”

I’ve written before that I believe social media are robbing the next generation of social skills. We’re losing the ability to be truly present with the people around us — not distracted by media, not constantly texting others, but to be there in the moment.

But what is disturbing about this study is how despondent the students felt when they were connected to no one but themselves. I am an extrovert — I draw energy from being around other people — but even I value my alone time. We need time to think, to reflect, to face ourselves in an honest internal conversation. We need meditation, free time for our minds to wander and to create new thoughts.

We need time to disconnect.

Behold, the Power of the Internet

Something simple yet interesting happened last week that proves, once again, the power of the Internet as a communication/networking/marketing tool.

I noticed a spike in the number of visitors to this blog last week. A big spike. This caught my eye because I had not posted a new entry in the 24 hours prior to the spike.

Then I noticed that most of the visitors were coming to this blog from “Writing Boots,” the wonderfully written blog of my friend David Murray. So I e-mailed David to find out what gives.

Turns out that marketing guru Seth Godin had linked from his blog to David’s. As a result, instead of the usual hundreds of visitors to “Writing Boots,” David saw his numbers swell to 10,000 last Friday.

And since David is kind enough to include my blog on his blogroll, I enjoyed an increase in visitors as well.

It’s a crazy, mixed up, highly networked world we live in.

What Employee Communicators Do

It’s often difficult to tell people what I do, especially when I try to explain the employee communications part of what I do. Most people understand (or think they understand) public relations, but trying to tell them about employee communications is like trying to describe air.

My friend David Murray, who writes the excellent blog “Writing Boots,” recently came up with just about the best description of employee communicators I’ve seen in a while:

They’re a small band of people who help get management’s point of view across to employees, and employees’ perspective across to management. They’re the only people in the organization dedicated to that, and they’re particularly good at it, because they know how to communicate.

Of course, there’s more to the job than that, but that’s it in a nutshell. If anyone has a better, more concise explanation of what an employee communicator does, I’d like to hear it.