Turning Point – International Association of Business Communicators

Turning Point – International Association of Business Communicators – Interview

Gloria Gordon

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES PIZZO, IABC CHAIRMAN IABC’s chairman speaks candidly about the association’s present and future.

This has been an interesting year, certainly a tumultuous one — looking back on what we’ve learned, how do you see IABC building for the future?

The Chinese character for “crisis” is partly made of the character for “opportunity.” IABC has reached a turning point – it has an opportunity to learn from the events of the past year. Noble goals must be built on a solid foundation of basic value and service: knowledge and networking for members, and support for chapters. Chapters are IABC — people are its lifeblood and its revenue base. Members need and want the insight and skills to interact with the larger community: the profession and the business world.

IABC’s “investors” are its most valuable asset. Members have stuck by the side of the association through a challenging year. And their expectations for the future are huge.

Is their association prepared to accept change? Today, the association must commit itself to a healthy self-evaluation. Is IABC delivering tangible value for dues to each and every member, regardless of geographic location? Is it responsive to their needs, to those of the profession and the organizations for whom they work? Is it bottom-up driven? Is it fiscally prudent? Is it service oriented, and is it a marketing-driven organization, committed to doing business globally in local currency? Is it prepared to be open and transparent — a role model for the type of communication it upholds as “Excellence”? Is it an advocate, championing the value and benefit of communication outside of the profession to the world’s business leaders and media? And most critically, is it a North American organization or a truly global one?

These issues have persisted for too long. IABC’s members are its shareholders; its market share will go up or down on the basis of its ability to deliver value to the marketplace.

What have you done to put IABC back on the right track? The continuation of fairly normal operations without severe interruption has been an accomplishment. Early indicators suggested there could be service interruptions as a result of the financial issues that forced the association’s executive board to take strong and unpleasant financial actions. This short-term strategy served the association through very lean cash flow months and protected its viability. Now we must re-engineer IABC, its operational style, its financial controls and policies, and its governance.

Of all the decisions made as a volunteer; for me, personally, the highlight was recruiting Lou Williams, ABC, APR, IABC Fellow, to work with the executive board as the association’s interim president. As a past chairperson of IABC and its Research Foundation, a communicator who served as the association s probono public relations counselor for several years, and an entrepreneur/businessperson, he possesses the right mix of insight and skills to help fix IABC. And he has been well received by members and leaders — helping the organization’s communication soar to new heights.

Other notable achievements included getting a transition team into place, led by Brad Whitworth, ABC, IABC Fellow, as well as a search team for a new president headed by Al Wann, ABC, APR, IABC Fellow, and Marie Raperto of The Cantor Concern (who donated an executive search probono. We’ve been lucky to have recruited a long list of IABC leaders, past and present, to help in various areas. IABC loyalists — all passionate people — have made their support felt.

Finally, I am proud to have worked with a very courageous executive board this term to transform IABC into a financially sound and open and transparent organization — one committed to becoming international in more than brand alone. The team held together and served IABC members well.

As for actions taken, task forces on currency exchange issues and governance will look at some longstanding issues. The executive board has been steadfast in its commitment to regional development. And our goal is to adopt a tougher reserves policy in June.

In your travels, what are you hearing from members?

Many don’t understand the value of membership…for them the only tangible sign is their subscription to Communication World. IABC must hone its brand and develop a strategy for it. It must — finally and unequivocally — commit to a world-class marketing and communication program. It must demonstrate leadership and be able to extol benefits to members as well as the benefits of communication to the larger business world. IABC must assert itself in new spheres of influence.

There’s value in belonging to an international association. It’s in our brand definition — it’s our unique selling proposition — but frankly, IABC has work to do to live up to that promise in its decision-making and in the depth and breadth of its programs, products and services.

North Americans need only look to the Gold Quill Awards: some of the most innovative and creative communication work is happening outside of North America. Slovenia, for one, is a hotbed of excellence. The entire membership can benefit from access to such case studies in today’s global business environment.

Outside the USA, the most commonly articulated concern is currency exchange — everything has to be paid in U.S. dollars. Our leaders in Canada first raised the issue. IABC must become market sensitive.

Think about it. You’re working in New Zealand, where international membership is NZ $525 in local currency (+ NZ $40 local dues), and every conference or workshop sponsored by the association is in North America. Almost every product has a North American author or case study. And you get e-mails touting those as “benefits” from a “global” association.

IABC needs to have an open call for submissions so it can identify and expose members to speakers, authors, topics and case studies from around the globe. We have processes to cull that data, but we have to do a better job at marketing them and getting them top of mind. We need our members and leaders to help the executive board and staff to identify best practices globally — that information must flow upward.

Finally, we need to use technology to deliver knowledge without requiring members to travel or have products shipped. From long-distance learning to downloadable content, IABC has to overcome the barriers associated with access to knowledge — and find a way to make it a revenue stream.

What does IABC need to do to make its goals attainable?

By the time you read this, IABC will have surveyed its members. The next logical step is to develop a brand new business plan — one that factors in all the changes in direction and circumstance that have taken place — and then add measurable goals and attach timelines to the entire document. And publish it. We’re going to have to be transparent in examining every aspect of IABC without being defensive, turf-oriented, or mired in the ways things “have always been done.” It will be a challenge — hard decisions will have to be made. But we simply cannot afford to do anything less.

Our volunteer leaders are up for the task, and we have confidence that the next staff leader will have the requisite business and financial acumen to show the executive board ways to reach the association’s goals.

Yet in several respects, IABC will have to backtrack.. to focus on core issues like finance. Somehow the organization disconnected from the fact that chapters are its revenue stream. We must support our leaders in the field with basic templates to help them assume their roles more easily — and to combat time famine.

We must also support our staff. There are excellent people remaining in San Francisco who are committed to building what incoming Chair John Clemons, ABC, APR, terms “the New IABC.” Interim President Lou Williams has developed a good rapport with the staff of around 30 people. By opening his door to input, he has helped them share their vision and suggest improvements.

With these areas covered (membership input, a new plan, and staff support) IABC can look at the future. And it is doing that: the association is implementing a whole new series of seminars starting this fall and has created a new Seminars & Conferences division to serve members better and to regain leadership in the ways it does best: educate and inform. IABC’s international conference is a fine example where it all comes together: international speakers, content and participation. But that’s a once-a-year event; we must get that power into our other programs, products and services on an ongoing basis. And I’m happy to share that there are some innovative plans on the drawing board to do this — and globally!

How do we ensure that we provide IABC’s services globally?

The plan that became IABC’s financial challenge — TalkingBusinessNow.com — had broad implications for the delivery of content globally that were never implemented. Now we are looking to merge selected aspects of that functionality with www.iabc.com under the valuable IABC brand.

The original plan was to deliver content in real time to people all around the world, and to create discussion forums and news feeds around issues of interest to communicators, as well as to provide access to research and manuals, among other things (all downloadable at a reduced price from the hardcover edition — because of shipping and currency problems associated with delivery outside of North America).

That need still exists — as does the need to develop long-distance learning opportunities.

Finally, IABC has to take a hard look at its ability to deliver service and content around the world, and determine if there are service and delivery gaps in its effort to be global.

The organization has to come to terms with whether these issues are financial or brand-related. IABC’s brand definition is “international,” and often that is touted as the association’s unique selling point. Plainly and simply — and Lou Williams helped me crystallize this thought — it’s time for IABC to forge a new international strategy.

Here’s an example of an improvement already under way: IABC is looking at innovative ways to package services and seminars for delivery around the world, such as a “Best-of-the-Best” learning seminar based on winning Gold Quill case studies, critiqued by the best-of-the-best communication leaders. I’ve received many excellent suggestions and observed best practices that we need to tap into and deliver to more than a local audience; we can become truly global by finding new ways of sharing our knowledge.

Do you think alliances, affiliations or an outright merger might be to IABC’s advantage, and if so, how could one proceed successfully?

Financial reality dictates that IABC examine itself to determine where efficiencies can be gained. In selected cases, this may mean looking at pairing with other groups to enhance our marketing reach and lower expenses, including risk.

IABC was previously engaged with other communication organizations, both international and national societies, to look at new ways we could work together. When the financial situation came up, we had to let our participation go because we had to focus on the immediate problem.

As a result of that initial involvement, today many feel that, as in the business world, our competitors are in actuality our collaborators. IABC cannot self-fund everything members desire. But this is easier said than done — it’s fraught with emotional, political and strongly held positions.

What does the association need to do to move forward, particularly in governance, such as restructuring the executive board and association management?

Frankly, open governance up to the views of the average member and whittle away the top-down hierarchal structure. And remain transparent. IABC is in the process of change, and we need to be careful not to backslide into old, comfortable positions.

An international task force is looking into this matter. Ideologically, some people ask whether IABC serves members or the profession. Personally, I struggle to separate the two: IABC members are a major part of this vast profession called communication, and our Research Foundation clearly serves both.

A delicate matter going forward will be the executive board’s relationship with staff. We need to support the staff, yet maintain a level of accountability for performance.

If we can manage all these areas — the changes within IABC as well as in the spheres of organizational communication and business — then I am confident the next executive board and its capable leadership will be able to take us up to the next level and transform the association into the new IABC.

COPYRIGHT 2001 International Association of Business Communicators

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