Category Archives: Thoughts Of The Chair

Those We Can Learn From

I want to dedicate this fortnight’s blog to Kate Gross.

Until very recently, Kate was a senior Civil Servant in the UK Government.  She was a stellar performer.

In Kate Grossher twenties, she advised both UK prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Kate was responsible for preparing the Prime Ministers for all their appearances in Parliament. Most of her time was spent on the weekly Prime Ministers’ Questions, which every prime minister in history has dreaded.

Aged 30, Kate went on to become CEO of the Africa Governance Initiative, where she advised governments of Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone on how to shape a better future for their people.

Kate was one of today’s most influential development leaders under 40. She and her peers have inspired change that transcends borders.

Kate died on Christmas Day of colon cancer, aged 36.

The reason I want to dedicate this blog to Kate, for whom I had the highest admiration, and who leaves behind  five year old twin sons Oscar and Issac and husband Billy, is that in addition to being all the above, she was also an exemplary communicator.

Kate had a connection with people and a way with words – spoken and written – that made her a natural counsellor and a born leader.

If you want to understand some of Kate’s talent for communication, read her blog which detailed her illness in an informative, evocative way but without self pity – and with plenty of ironic humour for which we Brits are probably famous.

Her piece in The Times, published in mid-December ( you will need to be a subscriber) is also worth reading.   And her book, Late Fragments, is published in early January.

Kate began to write as a gift to herself; a reminder that she could create even as her body began to self-destruct.

I can’t yet think about reading the book myself.  Things are too raw.  But I know it’s not a conventional cancer memoir; nor is it filled with medical jargon or misery. Instead, it aspires for Kate to give hope and purpose to the lives of her readers, even as her own life drew to its close.

I mourn Kate’s passing, reflecting on a tragic loss of what could have been.

But I also celebrate the fact that she was someone I was proud to learn from and who inspired me to be better at what I do.

Kate’s natural talent for explaining the complex in a simple way, and for leading without any pretences, was an opportunity for communicators to practise what I call ‘good grace’.

For, however good we all may be as communications practitioners – and even more, how much we think we are – the fact that communication is a central business discipline means there is always someone, somewhere in business we, too, can learn from.

Kate, rest in peace. I was privileged to know you.

Half way’s been a good 2014

As we come to the end of 2014, we’re also half way through the IABC Board year.

So this seems a sensible time to take stock on where we are as an Association and where we’re headed.

First off, is to note that we’re in a much better position this December than we were last.

Two things have contributed to this.   Firstly, the arrival of a permanent Executive Director in the shape of Carlos Fulcher MBA, CAE, for which special thanks should go to last year’s International Chair, Robin McCasland, and Barbara Puffer ABC MC, the Chair of the Search Committee, who were jointly responsible for delivering him.

Carlos started with us in July and has proved instantly effective, responding definitively to the challenge to stabilise our finances and bringing important new and fresh thinking to the IABC Headquarters.

The second contributor has been a focus on a clear set of priorities.  For the last six months we have concentrated on just three imperatives : raising unbudgeted revenue, launching a new website and refreshing the Association’s policies and governance.

All three have progressed well.  A summit of Senior Staff and the IABC Executive Committee in July targeted raising $190,000 of fresh income in five months.

In fact, we have raised some $230,000 from new initiatives such as advertising, and creating targeted webinars which have proved very popular with both members and non members alike.

Increasingly, we are interested in raising additional revenue to support member activities from those practitioners who are not members of the Association who are still nevertheless clients for our work and our products.

Our website launched, on target, on 10th December.   There is more work to be done behind the scenes and you may have noticed that some pages, especially those linked to personalisation, still link back to content on the old website.   This will change however over the next few months.

Then, earlier this month, I brought our Executive Committee and the senior staff at IABC Headquarters in San Francisco together for a planning summit.  Here’s my update video from the day.

This is the second time we have done this – the last was in July – and we spent the day talking about how to ensure IABC remains as relevant to the communication profession – and its members in the second half of the decade as it has in the first.

Watch out in 2015 for news of a number of new initiatives which flow from that day!

Finally, I want to thank all those members in Australia who hosted me during my recent visit of chapters there.

There is a strong presence of IABC in Australia, and in both Canberra and Melbourne, I was hugely impressed with the reach IABC has into business and Government.

I spent a couple of fairly intensive days in each city, visiting corporate and prospective corporate members, promoting IABC.

I am always struck on these occasions by how hard our IABC leaders work for the profession and the Association, all of whom have another job to cope with.   In today’s difficult business environment, this is really appreciated.

May I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year which brings us only health, happiness and prosperity.

Applying For IABC International Leadership……

Hello everyone,

We are now at the point, halfway through the Board year, where IABC is looking for people to apply for next year’s international leadership of the Association.

IABC is led by an International Board of twelve Directors, of which five constitute the ‘Executive Committee’.   Both are headed by a Chair (currently yours truly), supported by a Vice Chair, a Past Chair and a Treasurer.

Further support comes from IABC’s HQ staff, headed by the Executive Director.  The Executive Director reports to the Chair.

Each Director term is a three year commitment, and one third of the Directors move off each year.

Applications are received in December, assessed in February, appointed in February/March and start their term in June (officially, July but let’s not get hung up over that).  Any member whose dues are up to date can apply.

So, we’re now looking for four Director roles on the International Executive Board, (three plus a Treasurer) and the next Vice Chair (with automatic succession to Chair in 2016-17).

Next year’s chair, Michael Ambjorn, was selected last February – but YOU could be his successor in 2016.

So what’s on offer here, for you and IABC?

Well, for the Association we’re looking for people who have time, capability and collaborative behaviour : in equal priority.

‘Capability’ means having (the right) motivation, energy, competence, vision and other general leadership qualities.  And a sense of humour.

On offer for you, if you have the above, the role offers a significant opportunity to be on a Board of an international non-profit organisation with a turnover of some $6,000,000, employing over twenty staff, with a reach into seventy countries and the potential to really make a difference to communication and business practice worldwide.

This is quite a responsibility, and members of the Board all take it as such.

While any IABC member in good standing with their membership dues can apply, the roles are not honorary ones – you have to be prepared to work.  After you’ve completed the application form, the assessment process isn’t light either.   We use ‘competency based’ assessment to assess….well…. your competence, basically.

If you’re applying for Vice Chair we will interview you, in person or over Skype.  Others need simply provide a 2 minute video. (In my day it was a one minute video : we have become more lenient :-))

The ‘we’ here is a College drawn from the heads of each of the eight IABC regions (each selected in their own right by members in regions) and members drawn from the International Executive Board.

This might sound a bit like a Masonic process – secretive and clubby, like, so we elect our own.

Actually, it’s nothing like that at all.   When I joined the International Board in 2011, I only knew one person already on there.

(IABC is talking about changing this whole process so all members get to vote on the selections.   This will not come in for 2015, however.)

So, really, ANYONE can stand for any of these positions if you have the qualities I’ve described.  You don’t have to have been a Chapter or Region President either (I haven’t been).  But you do need to be prepared to put the work in.

Having said all of this, if you’re good (and very many of our members are) you should be able to stand up to the process effectively.

You should also have a good understanding and experience in Communication Practice. This is actually quite important.   You will, after all, represent the profession in a leadership role and IABC Board directors are often called upon to represent the Association both within IABC and externally.

You should be able to talk authoritatively about, for example,  communication trends and contribute (and sometimes present) in your own area of expertise : be that media relations, public affairs, investor relations, employee engagement etc.

The one role which is quite specific is the Treasurer one.  You do need a degree of grip of numbers, balance sheets, basic accounting  practices and financial discipline etc for this.

And you need a degree of mettle for this role, since the Treasurer is often the person to look after the finances when the Board’s passion for progress needs to meet pecuniary parsimony.

OK, so you might be thinking….”well, I have the capability and am a collaborative person, but I don’t have the time”.

Well, guess what, I didn’t think I had the time to do this job either! But in practice you apply a combination of making the time, sharing the tasks out among the Board, and counting the things you achieve each day, not the things you don’t!

So for example, I am focusing especially this year as Chair on increasing the Association’s external communication, brand value and reputation; on making sure we deliver a great World Conference in June – both professionally and in revenue terms; and on examining how IABC can change its business model to be more profitable in a changing world.

My colleague, Mr Vice Chair Ambjorn, is meanwhile leading work with the Council of Regions and taking special interest in our chapter and regional network as well as in our governance processes.

Other members of the Board similarly focus on areas of their expertise, interest and connections.

We all then come together regularly to share those qualities and move the Association forward.

I cannot also stress too highly that having respect for each other’s views and expertise, but still moving forward very much together, is a value we all hold dear.

Do NOT think of applying if you want lots of power and status (it really doesn’t work like that!); if you just think it will look good on your cv; or if you fancy single handedly changing the Association.  (You won’t).

You need to apply by the December 15th.  That’s a month away.  There’s a form on the IABC website here.

If anyone would like a confidential conversation with about this – very happy to. Please contact me at and we’ll arrange a time to talk.

Finally, to end on a recap of my recent travels, I’d like to thank the good IABC people of Slovenia and Ireland, whom I visited recently.   Here are a couple of update videos from my trips to Slovenia and Ireland.

It’s IABC Regional Conference Season

It’s IABC regional conference season and IABC is abuzz across the world with leaders organising some really excellent events for between 50 and 300 people.

Given communication is our business, and that often comes along with ‘organising events’, you might think this was a natural thing to do.  But it still takes enormous time, effort and dedication to do it properly.

Indeed, getting these things 95% right may be relatively easy but it’s the last 5% which actually matters : to deliver a conference which our members and visitors rightly expect (many of these conferences have many ‘potential’ members attending).

And that last 5% is the hard bit.

So really well done to the folks in IABC Heritage Region, IABC Southern Region and IABC Africa who all put on some great conferences in the last few weeks.

I was in Provdence, RI, for the Heritage Conference.   Vice Chair, Michael Ambjorn, went to Cape Town and Past Chair, Adrian Cropley ABC, was in Austin, Texas.

I have just published the second part of my video update, filmed in Providence.  See this at

This year’s Heritage Conference in Providence was a good example of where we can use second-tier cities very effectively for conferences.   IABC simply doesn’t need to use expensive places like San Francisco and New York to stage professional, career enhancing and cost effective events.

The conference venue in these second-tier cities is cheaper to hire, the hotels are cheaper, the food is cheaper; yet many second-tier cities are excellently connected.

Although our Association is tied to San Francisco for World Conference this year, and New Orleans next, we believe it perfectly possibly to go for places like Atlanta, Denver, Regina and Edmonton after that : and still have a very successful convention – but without the price tag – for both members and the Association.

This is one of the ways in which IABC is seeking to further contain costs in the future, without detriment to members.

Focus On Europe : this week in Amsterdam, Slovenia, Dublin

This coming week sees further regional activity in Amsterdam on 2nd and 3rd November where the Europe and Middle East Region has its Leadership Institute, hosted by our Dutch Chapter and held at the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam — the Amsterdam public library.   Vice Chair Ambjorn is attending this event.

I myself am in Portoroz, Solvenia later this week (4th and 5th November) where I shall be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of our prolific Slovenian Chapter, and speaking at the 18th Slovenian Public Relations Conference.

I shall also be visiting IABC Ireland on Thursday (6th November) in Dublin, Eire.

Applying For IABC International Leadership

Finally, we are reaching the point in the year where IABC seeks people to apply for next year’s international leadership.   Next year’s chair, Michael Ambjorn, was selected last February – but YOU could be his successor in 2016.

Over the next six weeks, you‘ll see ‘encouragement’ to apply for directorships on the International Executive Board.

The roles are not honorary ones – you have to be prepared to work – and the interview process isn’t light either.   We use ‘competency based’ interviewing to assess….well…. your competence, basically.

But having said that, if you’re good (and very many of our members are) you should be able to stand up to the process effectively.

You need to apply by the middle of December.    More about all of this in my next blog.



A Makeover For The IABC Brand

First, apologies for missing a fortnight’s post.

My favourite daughter did get married OK in mid September, but only after we’d needed to change the entire venue for both the ceremony and the after-party for 300 guests at six days’ notice.  This blew me out a bit.

The full story will be available as a new year blockbuster from Amazon, priced £9.99 ($15 in US and Canada, $16.50 in Australia and New Zealand).

Meanwhile, your International Board have been making good progress pursuing our goals to right the Association financially and grow it into new areas; this while keeping the Chapter network, and being a member-based Association, at the heart of what we do.

This is the essence of the 2014-2017 strategy which is at the centre of the Board’s work.  More about this in the “Quarterly Update” which we’re bringing back to a screen near you later in October.

The Quarterly Update (QU) will talk about six priorities the Board is pursuing between now and the end of the year.    All these are going well……and more about these in QU. Something to look forward to  ;-).

Rebranding IABC

But I do here want to talk about just one of these priorities, which is the quest to rebrand IABC – including the look.

My predecessor Robin McCasland set this initiative in motion during her term, and over the past year, a ‘Brand Task Force’ led by Torontonian Priya Bates ABC has overseen an extensive research project to gather insights on perception of the IABC brand.

This has drawn together key external stakeholders, members, competitors and others who come into contact with us and with the profession worldwide.

The next stage is to give the logo and other treatments a makeover.

I can’t actually remember when the IABC logo was not the one we currently have, and this work will certainly help to bring something which looks like it was born in the Seventies into the modern era.

We’re a bit light on the old cash at the moment.  Now we’re working on a separate plan for that, which is doing well, but meanwhile we’re after a great creative agency which will help us design a new logo.

In return we’ll give the agency recognition and worldwide exposure.  The work needs to be done from the end of this month to next February, when we want to run the design past leaders at the Leadership Institute.

If you, or someone you know, would like to refer a vendor to this, or if you represent an agency and would like to submit a proposal, go here for more information. Deadline is 15 October 2014.

Finally, three more things.

New Chair’s Update Video

Vice Chair Ambjorn and I have just done our fourth update video, shot late at night on a rather windy street in the City of London.  Please do view that and feel free to leave a comment.

*Update*  New Gold Quill Vice Chair  

Congratulations to Monika Lancucki ABC (@Niska7 ) whom I’ve appointed the Gold Quill Vice Chair with automatic succession to the 2015-16 GQ Chair. Nominations were invited for this position and I have appointed Monika following a competition run under the auspices of Gold Quill Past Chair, Amanda Hamilton-Attwell ABC.

…..And Regional Conference season is upon us.    The Africa, Southern and Heritage Region conferences are all over the same period from 15 – 21 October so your trusty International leadership is fanning out to cover them all.

I’ll be at the Heritage Region Conference on Sunday 19th and Monday 20th October and look forward to seeing all your Heritage folks there.

Thanks for reading.

The Best Laid Pins…….

As many of you may know, although the Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) programme ended in 2013, there remain around 1200 ABCs globally, accredited in the forty years that the programme ran.

IABC is committed to ensuring that we celebrate and maintain the recognition of our Accredited members (a community I’m proud to be a member of myself) for as long as there are ABCs.

A brand new Certification programme is in prep and will be launched formally next year.  It’s running late, but there are lots of details to get right and we were too optimistic in the original plans.

So anyway, last week IABC mailed out around a thousand new ABC pin badges to our Accredited Business Communicators.   I added a jolly accompanying note with the pin badge, and off they all went in the mail.

Unfortunately, however, insufficient thought was given to “the journey of the pin” as it made its way through the mail.

Oh dear.

……So firstly, thank you to everyone who has emailed me to say your envelope arrived without its pin but with a pin-badge sized hole at the bottom of the envelope.

I think I’ve managed to now reply personally to everyone – and many of you were very kind in suggesting this is exactly the sort of PR nightmare that befalls the industry from time to time. Pretty much everyone was understanding about it all.

New pin-badges have been, or are being, mailed out.   Meanwhile, if you have received a letter with a hole in it, and haven’t let us know, please do email me.

Dying throes

Last week wasn’t a good one either for our aged IT-system, which is in the throes of being replaced.

The part which runs our membership database fell over completely, and those of you who run Chapters will have noticed the bit called ‘MMA’ wasn’t feeling well for a couple of days.

I want to thank the staff at IABC Headquarters who worked hard to rectify the situation in record time.  That’s much appreciated.

We’re confident the new membership database system, which is in the advance stages of build at the moment, will be up and running by the end of the year.

Finally, my daughter @GabyGrossman gets married next week.

I’ve waited 27 years for this day.  The table plan is laid; the Rabbi is primed; the groom has been given his instructions; the venue (just off Trafalgar Square in London Town) is set.

I just now need the weather to be good for the pictures……

To Worliday Or Not?

In the northern hemisphere, August is vacation time and in common with the ritual of humanity at this moment I’ve been taking a few days away from the day job – first in Berlin with my youngest son and now in Cardiff with the First Lady.

The big question : what should I do about all the email?

Some of you may have seen the news : staff at Daimler were told earlier this month that all emails they receive while away from the office would be destroyed, with the sender instead being told to contact a colleague.

Interesting thought, but it would concern me if I was the sender. What if my email was important?

I was reminded by FT columnist Lucy Kellaway about the concept of a ‘worliday’ – where you do light work when away, with the result that you can allegedly take longer breaks from the office than you would be able to take otherwise.

Kellaway reminded readers that in her view there is never any excuse for emailing while on holiday; or rather, there are lots of excuses, but all are bad ones.

Like the idea you’re indispensable : but in the unlikely event you are, that’s a reason for leaving a contact number not for checking your emails.

So the dilemma was – and many of us face this – should I leave at least some of my five communicating devices (two laptops, two phones and an iPad) at home? Clearly the iPad wasn’t being separated from me, but the others stood a chance.

However, the additional dilemma then was: even having left my work emails behind, what about the IABC ones?

This was more difficult. The International Board agenda remains very full and we certainly haven’t taken the summer off. Leaders at IABC (at whatever level we are) neither get paid nor are given vacation time.

Should I put the out of office on the IABC email as well and hand everything over to the trusty Vice Chair?

But Mr Ambjorn is also carrying a heavy workload at this time, helping steer the Council of Regions and working with the Global Communications Certification Council on their operational plan for delivery at the end of the month.

In the end I’ve taken just the one laptop with me here, on a rather cloudy day in Cardiff, Wales where I’ve justified this by arguing it’s given my wife some recreation time away from me on vacation.

But am I right? What do you do on vacation with your connectivity?

Pushing The B In IABC

One of the challenges of leading a global organisation, let alone of communicators, is how to connect with members in a meaningful way.

After a bit of deliberation I’ve started a regular blog to supplement my tweeting. My intention is to blog fortnightly and to publish every other Monday. Let’s see.

Comments welcome (of course). Incidentally, not enough of you are following me on Twitter yet @RussellAtIABC.

No-one has the time these days to read long pieces of prose so I promise to keep the thing short.

So…..since becoming Chair in June, I’ve been considering how best to use the year.   IABC runs a ‘continuity’ leadership process at its International Level; in many other places also. You get elected, in a slightly long-winded process, to a three year commitment: as Vice Chair, Chair and Past Chair.

I call this ‘a year learning, a year doing and a year teaching’. It advocates continuity and collaboration – because you influence the visions of those you follow, and vice versa – and we get genuine synchronisation from year to year.

So in June 2013, I started to look at IABC’s forward strategy to run from this year to 2017.   I formed a group to look at ideas, and in total we involved about 60 people in the process. Next year’s Chair, Michael Ambjorn, also got heavily involved.

We met online, in person and over the phone. Gradually those ideas became concrete and they were signed off by the Board last month.

We’ve come up with a model which basically says that while IABC needs to continue developing value for members by offering relevant knowledge and learning, it must also branch out : to offer services to business, and to increase its impact in both business and the communications profession.

This recognises two things. Firstly, after the Global Financial Crisis especially, communications is even more of a force for competitive advantage in business and organisations generally.

And secondly, as IABC is the only global communications association with ‘business’ in its name, we should make that work more for us.

If we get it right, this will bring a new, strong, steady and sustainable source of income to IABC which we can then use to subsidise member activity and deliver greater member value.

We’re about to start market research on the detail of this idea. If you would like to know more, and especially if you’re commercially minded and could contribute to the development of this idea, please email me at

Video, Update 3

Last week, the IABC Executive Committee and IABC senior staff met at IABC Headquarters in San Francisco to discuss strategy, priorities and focus areas for the remainder of 2014 and into 2015 and beyond. It was an extremely productive session and was a great opportunity for both the executive committee and IABC staff to work with our new Executive Director, Carlos Fulcher.

Carlos and I got together to share what the workshop entailed and some of what we have planned for the future.

IABC Chair’s Update No 3 – July 2014 from Russell Grossman ABC on Vimeo.

AGM speech transcript

My AGM speech is available on the IABC website. This was presented at the IABC AGM, held on Tuesday 10 June at the World Conference in Toronto.

At the AGM, the IABC Executive Board (IEB) is officially sworn in, with the board transition taking place on 1 July.