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.

 

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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.