A future worth imagining: for professional communicators, the struggle for credibility, for gaining acceptance, never lets up
J. David Pincus
Thirty-five years pass in a sigh. We grew up together, IABC and I. I joined the association two years after its inception in 1970. As neophytes, we set out in search of a niche in a skeptical business world.
Typically, retrospectives reexamine the past in order to predict the future. I prefer envisioning the future through the lens of my imagination.
But before warming up my crystal ball, let me take a moment to offer some perspective. Who could deny that over the past 35 years the communication field has moved from the shadows into the light? It’s easy to overlook how far we’ve come, given how far we still must go. Communication, as a profession and as a field of study, is more sophisticated, more worldly, more influential and more accepted than ever before. We’ve traveled so far–continents, it seems–in only 35 years: from writers to communicators, from producers of publications to managers of multiple media, from myopic tacticians to big-picture strategists.
It has been hard-earned progress. Yet the truth is, we haven’t changed enough. For weeks, I’ve struggled to pinpoint the issue that is keeping communication from embracing its professional destiny. It hit me when I realized it’s the same issue that it’s always been: coming to terms with our identity. That is, clarifying how we see ourselves, so that others will see us clearly too. When we can’t define our role, we make it easier for others to do it for us. And such ambiguity breeds doubt in our credibility and accountability.
Now, to the future. Think ahead to 2040, IABC’s 70th anniversary …
A tense boardroom scene materializes–an organizational crisis is unfolding. It seems a citizens watchdog group is claiming, based on an unconfirmed medical report, that the company’s newest product has adverse health effects. Top executives are pelting the CEO with questions.
The CEO raises a hand. “Right now, this minute, what do we do to keep from imploding?”
Ten seconds pass before the vice president of organizational relationships breaks the silence. “First, we don’t react prematurely just to feed the media beast. We verify the facts ASAP, then we talk knowledgeably about what is and what isn’t true.”
That this inner-circle executive, whose background includes a degree in anthropology, an MBA, and stints in marketing and finance, sits to the CEO’s immediate right is no coincidence. “For now,” she says, “I suggest we discuss strategy options and implications to reputation, key audiences, market position and bottom line–if the report is true, and if it isn’t.”
Heads nod. “Sounds like a plan,” says the CEO.
Communication is one of those words that means something different to everybody. Today, most businesspeople perceive communication as information exchange (that is, writing and speaking), and little more. Just as most businesspeople fail to understand communication and its power, most communicators avoid business subjects like the plague.
These days, considerably more business-savvy communication executives occupy seats at the decision-making table. But don’t be fooled: They remain the exception. Without the requisite business intelligence, communicators are relegated to the waiting area outside the boardroom. And it’s not only us who suffer from weak business credentials; our organizations and clients do too.
Okay, blink four times fast. Back to the here and now. Are my imaginings feasible expectations? Guess we’ll find out come 2040. Which arrives, you realize, with your next sigh.
Until then, remember this: We are a profession blessed–and cursed–with unrealized promise. Promise that will remain just that until we transform it by remodeling our self-perceptions and upping our business IQ into a new reality of our own making. A future truly worth imagining.
J. David Pincus, Ph.D., is a former communications director and educator. He is currently working on a book about organizational relationships.
COPYRIGHT 2005 International Association of Business Communicators
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