Face to Face

I’m writing this blog at the end of a very busy and successful few days with Canadian Chapters in Calgary,  Edmonton, Vancouver and Montreal.

If you didn’t know already, the first three of those constitute respectively the second, third and fourth largest in the Association.

I was going to come earlier in the year to Canada but the locals said there was too much snow.   (I remember too well all the snow when I was in Toronto in January, but apparently that’s nothing for Montreal – and one of the latter’s residents actually sent me an infographic to prove it).

Anyway, as always with these things, it was a hugely instructive visit and, per my last blog, I did a lot of listening.

With various groups we covered a range of subjects, including the Association’s ‘business brokerage’ proposal (which is nearing the end of its research phase) and Certification, which is offering its first level exam in June at the World Communications Conference in San Francisco.

So what struck me most of all from all these visits?

At the synagogue last week (if you’re interested, the Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, QC – the oldest congregation, and largest building, in the whole of Canada) the Rabbi in his sermon noted that when he recently hosted a convention of  visiting Rabbis, what interested them most was not the size or magnificence of the Sanctuary but a small yet salient technical detail relating to the Ner Tamid – the perpetual lamp which hangs in front of the holy Ark.

Similarly, what struck me most of all from my visits was not actually the (excellent, thank you) responses to the big subjects we were discussing.

It was the small, but salient detail that while we have been pumping out information for months over email and social media at the international level about Certification, ABCs, Gold Quill, changes to our brand etc….much of this has completely passed people by.

Why? Because we have sometimes been guilty of the device we often advise others against – the assumption “it’s in the newsletter, therefore I have communicated it“.

It was a powerful reminder for me that for all the other means of communication, you simply cannot beat face to face.

And, at each visit and each group, as we discussed the details in person, the response “but why didn’t you tell us this earlier?” was both genuine and heartfelt.

Now of course it’s impossible, in a global organisation, to have anywhere near as many face to face conversations as we’d like; but in a busy world, where many emails often stay unread and social media rarely has staying power, voice to voice at least – if not face to face – has never been more needed.

 

Half Of Communications Should Be Listening

Earlier in April I was in London at our Europe, Middle East & N Africa region conference. One of the topics, by incoming EMENA Region Chair Klavs Valskov, AB’s Katie Macaulay and HSBC’s Ulrike Felber, was especially good : on the value of listening and power of ‘employee voice’.

“No-one is as smart as everyone” said Katie, adding that social media is a behaviour, not a tool.

Through my year as International Chair I’ve tried to incorporate this kind of philosophy as much as possible, listening hard to others, and inviting challenge as part of developing ideas for the future.

Thus it was that last Thursday I chaired a focus group at Pfizer’s New York World Headquarters of senior communicators, brought together for us by NY IABC Chapter Chair Bob Libbey and Past IABC International Chair, Mark Schumann.

The group, mostly non-, or lapsed members, were united in the potential of IABC to make a global difference for and by communicators and to be a stronger voice for the profession in the business and wider world.

“But at the moment, IABC is just talking to itself” one retorted.  “Unless you sort your external communications out, no-one will hear you” (an ironic moment, because until it was dropped last year IABC was using the infamous tagline “Be Heard”).

It’s often said that to the outside world IABC is just a well-kept secret.

Some of our chapters are very happily introspective, yet the quality of members and their work  (just look at the brilliance of this year’s Gold Quill entries, with over 300 Award winners) means this is a huge untapped resource. The Association, business and society at large are all losing out.

So we’ve created a new international standing committee devoted to improving our external communications and to putting IABC more on the map much more effectively among three distinct audiences.

Those audiences are:

(1) communicators, globally, who are not traditional members of IABC but who will nevertheless attend events and speak well of us;

(2) industry media and stakeholders, with whom we can also present a campaigning platform for the profession and

(3) the wider business community, so it comes to recognise the value which effective communications, and IABC specifically, can add to their firm’s success.

Expect to hear more soon.

This, together with our new brand (to be publicly launched in June) and refresher media training for our Vice Chair, Chair and Past Chair, means we will in the future speak more powerfully for IABC, the industry and business.

Thank you for listening.

Mental Health : Being Prepared To Act

The awful events of the Germanwings plane crash last month in the French Alps brought to the fore an issue we don’t like to discuss too often : mental health.

After the initial shock of a pilot who had intentionally downed a plane, taking 149 others with him, the media began to raise poor mental health management as a culprit.

In Communications, as the pressure to deliver faster with less across a wider range of channels -often interactively – increases, mental health is a growing issue.  And while I say this as someone running  (therefore responsible for the welfare and wellness of) a large (100+) team, the pressures on those acting as independent consultants are equally as great at times.

Increasingly, we need to recognise the signs in our teams (and sometimes in ourselves!) and act to provide support (or sometimes not be afraid to seek it).

This is not an area IABC has yet ventured to campaign on, but it is one we might; as we increasingly raise our sights, and aim to attend to the wider issues facing the profession.

It is, reasonably, at least as important as for example sustainability or ethics : arguably, it is linked to both.

In extremis, but sadly not infrequently, substance abuse, adultery and health problems are the common results of an industry pushing too hard.

Incidents like the Germanwings crash don’t help; on the contrary, they can demonise the issue of mental health.  Yet on average 1 in 4 people will experience some mental health issue at some stage in their career.

Groups including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA) are trying to reframe the conversation to focus on the reality that most people with depression or other psychiatric diagnoses are almost never violent but that, instead, it is a silent denuder : of people and of course of productivity.

It has been reported (in PRWeek and other places) that Andreas Lubitz may have been afraid to tell his employer about what he was dealing with.

In an at-times intense profession like Communications, we should never let this be the case, and as managers – as well as an organisation representing  the profession globally – be prepared to act.

Jolly Good Fellows

Today, I want to talk about Fellows.

IABC’s Fellows are those honoured with the highest designation the Association can bestow.

They are, of rote, senior and time-served* members who have distinguished in their professional, work and volunteer lives and are also well ‘published’.

In the old days, ‘well published’ meant writing lots and having it made into books. Today it’s more about being sensibly prolific on social media and being happy to present at seminars and conferences etc – hopefully pro bono.

IABC doesn’t have enough Fellows.   Compared with most other Associations (communications and otherwise) we have a tiny percentage.

This was a subject I made recommendations on when I first joined IABC’s International Board, and will pick up again later this year, as Past Chair.

As part of this project we will also define the role of the Fellow more, and in a way which allows both Fellows and the Association to better benefit from each other’s time and expertise.

I had the honour of being with one of our more recently-appointed Fellows recently.

Elpi Cuna
Elpi Cuna, IABC Fellow

Elpi Cuna is the ‘father’ of the IABC Philippines Chapter. It was my privilege to sit next to him at the recent Philippine Quill awards, a glittering event organised by the local Chapter which attracted nearly 1000 paying guests and where I was invited as International Chair to present awards and give the keynote address.

Elpi started IABC Philippines in the Eighties. It was our first chapter outside North America and today is one of our most prolific, also hugely regarded and respected by the Philippine business community.

Although Elpi stepped back from day to day Chapter management some time ago, he (with other past Chapter Presidents and VPs) maintains a keen interest in Chapter activities and sits on a very active committee called the Board of Advisers.

I found this model very interesting and it’s exactly the sort of role we want to see for many of our Fellows.

There is currently a call out for IABC members to nominate an eminent member for Fellow. I have recently extended the deadline for this to Friday March 27th, so there’s still time for you to nominate.

Any member in good standing who meets the criteria above is eligible to be nominated.

The only restriction is that people who have been on the International Executive Board must wait three years before being nominated.

(This rule was established some years ago and, true to the rigorous ethics of the Association, is to prevent automatic succession simply for a ‘job well done’ on the Board).

I have appointed a diverse committee of six Fellows, this year headed by Paul Sanchez ABC, IABC Fellow, who will next month choose up to five individuals to go forward for this key honour in 2015.

Please consider whom you might want to nominate, and consult the IABC website for more information. That deadline again : Friday March 27th.

*Footnote : Please note that “time-served” is not the same as “life-expired” – a phrase I got caught out by with Canadian members once!)

Orlando Int’l Leadership Institute : Sunny Inside As Well As Outside

I was in New York recently, visiting the IABC New York Chapter.    While in the City, I noticed something I hadn’t before – that people no longer wait for the white man to light up, to cross the road.   It always used to be de rigueur to do so – but no longer.    Even on some of the busiest thoroughfares.

Perhaps because life now is busier than ever.  And the demands made on leaders at chapter level in IABC to attract, retain, and maintain members grows daily against a torrent of other things to occupy people’s lives.

So it was something of a relief to be able to get away for a couple of days at the end of last week to join with 175 IABC leaders for our Annual International Leadership Institute (ILI) which this year was held in Orlando, Florida.

It was both sunny outside, and sunny inside as we shared what I felt was a really special ILI.  Thank you especially to the IABC Council of Regions for putting the programme together, and to everyone who contributed – as a speaker or a listener

As communicators, we know listening is as important as talking.   It’s something we’ve tried to do more with members and leaders throughout this year on the International Executive Board (IEB) and I felt we had a good ‘open mic’ session for the last hour of our IEB meeting on Thursday.

In the general sessions at ILI, we gave IABC leaders an update on progress of the ‘new branding’ work, including a sneak peek on the new logo and typeface.  We did this despite the date being Friday 13th!  The response around the room and on Twitter seemed very good.  And I want to recognise at this point Arcas Advertising, for their significant pro-bono work to get us this far.

The logo will be formally launched from April onwards, though it will probably take the best part of a year for us to diffuse it over all our applications, as we want to introduce it at minimum cost.   But you can expect the new look to be very evident at June’s World Conference.

More important than the visual logo and type though, is our exposition of what the logo will stand for : the strategic IABC themes of community and camaraderie, of being a global communication practice, of recognising and realising the opportunities for IABC members to interact more with business and of building greater reputation : of IABC in the profession, and of the profession in the wider world.

Also at ILI, I shared with leaders how by the end of 2014 we’d got a grip on the Association’s finances; how we had significantly benefited operationally from the arrival of Carlos Fulcher our nearly-new Executive Director; how we had launched the much-anticipated new website; and how we are doing important, but back office, stuff to make sure our governance and policies are up to date.

I also explained that we now have a very clear business plan for 2015 with clear priorities, which focuses principally on retaining members, on building IABC reputation (for example, though work of the new International Communications Committee which will be headed by Shannon Frederick ABC) and of raising revenue from new sources –  all of it designed ultimately to flow back to a better experience for members at the chapter level.

I have encouraged everyone who attended ILI to go back to chapters and regions and to explain : not simply what they learned, not simply what they discovered, but especially what they now feel about the Association and our direction of growth in so many directions.

Why IABC World Conference Has To Be A Commercial As Well As A Programming Success

We’re well into delivery now for the signature event on IABC’s calendar – our World Conference, which this year is in San Francisco from June 14th to 17th.

As a two-time past World Conference Chair I’ve taken a special interest in this year’s event, whose theme is Changing the Landscape: Informing the Future.

…But I didn’t want that to be just a fancy PR slogan.  So I asked this year’s Conference Chair, Preston Lewis, and his Committee to give us something properly different.

Which they have.  And so this year we have an unparalleled set of speakers and uprated content, providing innovative thinking and significant professional development at all levels.  More at wc.iabc.com.

…But I didn’t want this year’s changes to be just about the content.  I also want the 2015 World Conference to be an outstanding commercial success.

Why? Because the money we generate from Conference each year generates funding to plough back into IABC, including subsidising member programmes and learning opportunities.

Such as?  The free member webinars we run through the year; the creation of our new Certification Programme (to be launched at Conference); and the investment of some US$70,000 we’ve put into training for chapter leaders at February’s International Leadership Institute.

So this is where you could come in.  As an Association, IABC has always been greater than the sum of its parts.  And given many of our ‘day jobs’ in the profession, I want to know if YOU have contacts which will help US make this year’s conference the one with the most sponsors, exhibitors and financial supporters.

We’re on the lookout for all sorts of companies and other for-profit organisations who can realise the synergies between THEIR products and OUR Association

Here are some resources to get you going:

All About World Conference – A description of the event, and what is special and unique this year.

News and Previews – Interviews with speakers, newest additions to the programme and all the latest happenings.

Sponsorship overview –A high-level outline about IABC and the programme.

Be a sponsor! – The options available to sponsors.  We will customize packages for them.

Be an exhibitor! – Why being an exhibitor will be better than ever this year.

We have made lots of sponsorship spots available! I want every one filled in the next three months. But  IABC can’t do that without a worldwide leader effort.

So please, get you great creative brains going.  Open up your App marked  “contacts” and match up the possibilities of being a business partner with IABC.

Feed thoughts, leads, ideas and contacts (however mad – sometimes those are the best ones!) to Marie Coppola (mcoppola@iabc.com).   Marie will sort all your queries as well.

Thank you for your support. I know that together we’ll produce outstanding commercial results to match the great programming one!

Keeping Competence Up

Communications as a global profession is the subject of a huge amount of change, and keeping up with all of this makes the difference between excellence or mediocrity.

In some cases, that’s also the difference between being in a job and not.

Keeping up with Professional Development is of course a bread and butter activity for IABC members and the Association does it well. But we also have to keep our offerings up to date.

For the last few months, IABC has been working on updating our offering.  These fruits will come to light over the next few months as new learning products roll off the production line from the IABC Academy (we are putting a committee together for this) and the first exam for the Global Communications Management Professional is offered at IABC World Conference in June.

But meanwhile, last week I took part in a roundtable of ‘seasoned practitioners’ (ie those who have been around for a bit) at Ketchum PR’s office in London.

It was a distinguished group, including Anne Gregory, the Chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management (of which IABC is one of the largest members).

The session was hosted by Stephen Weddington, past president of the CIPR and part of the #FuturePR network that Gemma Griffiths and Charlotte Winslet of the CIPR’s Social Media Group have created.

We explored the value and opportunity for developing a competency framework for public relations.  And our conclusion, after some discussion, was that comptency frameworks absolutely were needed.

This is all a work in progress, but I’m grateful to Stephen for starting this important conversation.    If you would like to get involved, please email me.

Meanwhile, continuing on the subject of competence, I want to wish a happy first birthday today to The ICSpace.   

The ICSpace is a pro-bono resource for Internal Communication professionals across the UK government, which one of my teams pulled together in late 2013 and which we launched across the UK Government last year.

Each chapter has top tips, basic tools, case studies and best practice examples to help people doing internal communications do it more effectively.

The venture is entirely non-commercial and UK Government receives no revenue from people using it.   However, it is available to all, so I thought I’d share it for common benefit.

And finally, a plug for the biennial EuroComm – the IABC Europe, Middle East and North Africa Region’s Conference, which runs from April 12th to April 14th in London (which happens to be my home City).

The theme this year Power to the People – how the shift towards power is happening in practice, and communicators can drive this.

Lots of good speakers including one of my forebears, Dr Barbara Gibson.  Early bird discounts now on!

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 through..it’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 chair@iabc.com 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.

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