When I stepped into the role of IABC chair a little more than seven months ago, I accepted a responsibility from a series of past chairs. That responsibility was to continue advancing the organization down a strategic path to help IABC realize its vision of being the preferred community and resource for communication professionals working in diverse industries and disciplines across the globe.
Such a strategic goal is ambitious and complex, and one of the most important underlying elements is the need to be relevant to communication professionals at varying stages in their career, including:
- Entry-level practitioners beginning to hone their craft.
- Communication professionals starting to take on more strategic assignments.
- Experienced professionals overseeing a team of practitioners and providing strategic advice to business leaders.
To truly be relevant and valued by our members and the broader communication profession, the association must answer the needs of today's communication professionals and anticipate the requirements of tomorrow's peers. We must accomplish this in the face of increasingly competitive marketplace pressures ranging from volumes of free content accessible via any search engine, numerous online networking options, and assorted professional development providers.
Two quick measures of our success in the marketplace—member retention and interest in one of our signature programs, the Gold Quill Awards—looked shaky. While we were attracting a decent number of new members, our attrition rate was hovering near 25 percent, resulting in modest membership growth. As for the Gold Quill Awards, which in its early days attracted thousands of entries a year, the 2012 program dropped to its lowest point ever—just over 650 entries.
Like the canary in a coal mine, these measures were sending a clear signal that something was wrong. Something had to be done.
We turned to our members and non-members to help us answer the question: “What would make IABC the professional organization of choice for communication professionals?”
In charting this course, IABC's international executive board (IEB) was in no way starting from scratch. We were building on the excellent work and leadership of every past board. In addition, we drew on the work of countless IABC members who have dedicated significant time and talent over the decades to build IABC into a leading association for communication professionals.
Input gained through member research in 2009-10 indicated that both members and non-members have clear and consistent needs and expectations of professional organizations. They told us:
- They want to be kept up to date on the latest developments in the communication profession. This drives a strong focus on content, which was a key reason IABC members provided for joining a professional association.
- They want to advance their careers. When looking at the value provided by professional organizations, communication professionals are looking for content, connections, and tools and resources to help them build a successful career.
- They want to be part of a community of like-minded professionals. They want their professional network to serve as a support system when they need professional advice.
- They want to achieve and be recognized for excellence. Communication professionals want to showcase their work, and have it evaluated in a valid and reliable way by leaders in the profession.
- They need their professional organization to validate that they are competent to perform the work required at each stage in their career.
This input served as a very clear directive to the IEB; something that could not be ignored.
Under the leadership of Mark Schumann, ABC, the 2009-10 chair, IABC set the stage to reinvent itself. Our vision was to be the professional association of choice for communication professionals across the globe—an organization that is relevant and meets member needs. The board developed a blueprint informing future boards of the clear mandate for change.
Shelley Bird, ABC, 2010-11 chair, took the blueprint, refined the focus, and set the stage for change, both strategically and operationally.
In 2011-12, IABC Chair Adrian Cropley, ABC, led the development of a business strategy to address three critical areas identified in the blueprint. Three key strategic pillars emerged: career, content and business, outlined in IABC's one-page strategic plan. Several project teams were engaged to develop processes and products that meet the needs of members and the broader communication profession within these pillars.
Since assuming the position of chair in June 2012, I have witnessed the outcomes of this work. It is truly amazing to see what has been accomplished, and exciting to envision what the future holds for IABC.
Embracing this work done by many individuals within several committees and work groups, we have synchronized efforts across the three strategic pillars. Finally, we are excited to be able to share the strategy with you and benefit from your feedback.
Over the past seven months, I have had a number of opportunities to visit with members around the world and to share our strategic vision and direction. These visits have confirmed that we are on the right track, that there continues to be a strong alignment between our strategy and the needs of our members.
At the upcoming Leadership Institute, there will be a town hall session. This is your opportunity to learn more and discuss all aspects of the strategic plan, share your ideas, and have your questions answered. I look forward to fully sharing the details and discussing the first of a series of quarterly updates on this plan.
In summary, the key accomplishments that have come to fruition over the past several months include:
- Definitions of the global standard, including principles for the profession and the role of the communication professional.
- Definition of career milestones and the need for an updated competency framework.
- Identification of four content themes that will drive IABC's content development going forward.
- Reinforcement of the strategic focus of research.
- Introduction of the process and preliminary research findings for planned changes to the accreditation/certification process and status.
- Revitalization of the Gold Quill Awards program and awards evaluator training and designation that will boost the value of the program and the quality of evaluation provided to entrants.
- Opportunities for regions and chapters to align their awards program with the Gold Quill Awards in order to create efficiencies; reduce the amount of volunteer time needed to manage a local program; take advantage of the international designated evaluator pool; and use Gold Quill tools, criteria and online entry process.
- Identification of the need for IABC curriculum to support all of this work.
Since his arrival in July 2012, Chris Sorek, IABC's new executive director, has been seeking to enhance member services, and in turn, increase our value to members. The new business strategy is aimed at making IABC members “heroes,” celebrating the work they have done and how they have helped to make a difference to the organizations they work for and with. He is also looking at ways to improve engagement with long-serving volunteers who have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they can share with members around the world. Some of this has already become evident in the creation of a global network of awards evaluators who can also be tapped as mentors, reviewers and online community moderators.
To help us better engage with each other, Chris is also leading a new digital strategy that will result in a more personalized approach to communication within IABC. This will lead to greater dialogue between members, greater sharing of ideas, and a more global IABC community. The digital strategy has also led to the development of a more dynamic and engaging content delivery approach, including an all-digital Communication World that will be published monthly. Equally important, the strategy also aims to build awareness of our members' work and the global IABC brand while improving the association's ability to deliver professional development programs such as the Gold Quill Awards.
Unquestionably, the staff and volunteer time devoted to all of these initiatives is staggering. At the same time, local chapters and regional initiatives continue to deliver value-added services that have blazed the trail in many ways. The value of this combined knowledge, expertise and effort is beyond measure. For this selfless contribution to IABC and our profession, and for each and every volunteer hour, our board is grateful beyond words.
I look forward to your participation in the dialogue and welcome your questions and ideas. I hope to have your support as we embark on this exciting new phase of IABC's evolution. Together, we can achieve these ambitious objectives and ensure that IABC is the professional association of choice for communication professionals around the globe now and for years to come.
IABC International Executive Board