When I asked, "Why aren't IABC Richmond's chapter meetings any fun anymore?" (after Robert Holland asked the same question on his blog) the conversation lasted a week.
Nobody cares about IABC that much. They do care about their profession that much, and IABC is an important embodiment of the profession. So talks about IABC often become talks about the soul of the industry.
To wit: So when veteran communicator and industry observer Judy Gombita commented in the IABC Richmond discussion that she thinks "IABC is suffering from an identity problem, in terms of who are its target members and how, organizationally, IABC wants to be perceived," it wasn't surprising that another veteran, consultant Sean Williams, agreed that "IABC has been trying to rebrand the profession, away from the smarmy 'PR' stuff to defensible 'communication.' The only problem is that when most people here 'communication' they think of telephone systems and Internet connectivity."
Here are the considerations IABC is dealing with—and we're dealing with:
1. PRSA has always been the PR association and IABC has always been the employee communication association. It's like that, and that's the way it is. Except, neither association wants it to be like that, because they want to have members from the other group. And since there are more PR types in the world than employee communication specialists, IABC tries harder—always has, as has my former employer Ragan Communications, Gombita points out—to make forays out of employee communication geekdom and position itself as serving PR too.
But these forays aren't very successful. At Ragan, I once oversaw a launch of a newsletter called PR Intelligence Report that we called "The Public Relations Newsletter of Record," right out of the gate. The pub lasted only a few years. Ragan remains and probably always will remain a big deal in employee communication and small potatoes in PR.
Why? Because Larry Ragan founded Ragan (after becoming an important figure in IABC's predecessor organization, the musty-sounding International Council of Industrial Editors).
And Larry cut his teeth as an employee communication guy at Ford Motor Company and felt very deeply about the employee publication he put out, and much less deeply about the press releases he wrote later in his career. (A preference he passed on to his young protege, David Murray, chairman of the E2E Communication Awards, the only awards program solely devoted to employee communication.)
By the same token, Jack O'Dwyer loves PR, but employee communication bores him silly.
To each his own market niche.
2. A deeper consideration: PR people and employee communication people don't get along real well. Generally, PR people think of employee communication as a training ground for juniors or a ghetto for dew-eyed corporate do-gooders and pipsqueak moralists. And we employee communication nerds see PR people as publicists and campaign-oriented spinmeisters. Unfair in many cases, but not all.
It's the rare PR agency, for instance, that runs an effective employee communication practice; and employee communication outfits generally don't do PR.
And inside organizations, many employee communication people would much prefer to report to HR than PR, just because HR has a process orientation that fits better than the PR approach, which sometimes treats employees as just another constituency to be strategically messaged at. (Watch the lips of an employee communicator curl as a PR person says, "employee marketing.")
Again, you might call them prejudices but they're strongly enough held to make PR people and employee communication people want to choose an association where the other bastards aren't.
It's a battle for the soul of the profession!
Nah, it's just two different (and legitimate) intellectual and philosophical orientations contained in one rather loosely defined "profession" and served well enough by two associations with different cultures.
IABC and PRSA can pretend all they want that they each serve the same population. And each association will continue to troll for stray members or ex-members of the other.
But nobody who's been familiar with both organizations could ever imagine a merger between them. Nor never recommend such a merger, either.
So what's the "identity problem"? I don't think there is one.