The chair of IABC's Europe, Middle East and North Africa region believes I have been writing about IABC this year because the story is "sexy."
In a comment on Neville Hobson's blog—Hobson is the former chair of the same region who has declared a permanent break from IABC—Neil Griffiths says the proper story to be written about IABC is "far less sexy and headline worthy"; it's about "the ongoing commitment of the volunteers who are running the chapters and regions, bringing the best of IABC to the many members around the world."
It's bracing to have Europe, Middle East and North Africa against you, all at once. Now I know how Eisenhower felt in 1942! It's also confusing to be accused of journalistic sex mongering by IABC brass while my mystified family, friends and colleagues wonder why I waste my time with this weird conflict. "I've been trying to read those posts," they say, kindly.
But I don't disagree with Griffths one little bit about the real story of IABC. In fact, I think that the least sexy aspects of this unsexy association are what makes it continually relevant. And as I discovered this week, I've thought that for a pretty long time.
I stumbled across a story I wrote in early 2002—in the immediate wake of the last crisis to rock IABC. After a year of covering the association's scandalous squandering of its reserves, I spent a day at IABC headquarters in the quiet aftermath.
In the story I published in the Journal of Employee Communication Management, titled, "IABC rises from the ashes of a tough year," the new executive director Julie Freeman and the many staffers I quoted talked about the plain old, non-sexy purpose of IABC: To help members find jobs. Here's a key passage in the piece:
Perhaps more than anyone else at IABC, Daniel Settle and Frank Rezutto will determine whether communicators decide to save their money by quitting IABC, or try to save their careers by participating in it.
Settle and Rezutto are the men who answer the phone when you call the association. They're both enthusiastic and sincere—well-suited for their jobs.
Settle is in charge of member services, while Rezutto is in charge of member retention. Rezutto takes the calls from communicators who want to cancel their membership. It's part of his job to ask why they're canceling. Sometimes, they're reluctant to say.
"People don't want to reveal that they've lost their jobs," Rezutto told me. So they give him other reasons. But he can usually tell. And in these cases, Rezutto doesn't try to talk them out of canceling their memberships. Instead, he tries to subtly steer them to the job board on the IABC home page—a job board that can be accessed by members and nonmembers alike.
Settle explains why they treat callers so carefully: "We see how important each person is," he says.
What makes members so important? Pretty simple:
IABC needs its members to survive as an organization.
And the fact is, communicators need IABC, whether they know it or not.
The job market is terrible. Good people are out of work and have been for months. An online newsletter devoted to helping communicators get jobs has gone from zero to 1,000 subscribers in the last year alone. But IABC's phones are not ringing off the hooks.
At least one career expert thinks they should be. Career strategist Marilyn Moats Kennedy, interviewed in JECM's January/February 2002 issue, had this to say about the importance of joining associations:
"I hear people all the time telling me that the professional organization meetings never have any interesting speakers, the food is bad. I want to smack them. If you don't know that you're there for professional development and this is the most important source of it, then you are a numb-nut and you deserve to be unemployed! You should be greeting every person who comes through like you're the ersatz welcoming committee because that's called networking. Those things just drive me crazy; I can't even be sane about it."
Of course, Settle and Rezutto would never put it that way. But they are anxious to have communicators understand how helpful IABC membership can be.
I asked them—and their boss, [membership director] Lee Anne Snedeker—what they would say to all communicators if they had a chance. They took turns. Settle said, "Call us. We'd love to have you. We'd love to talk to you."
So, as professionals' need to network only grows during these tough economic times, IABC's relevance—as the biggest network for corporate communicators—rises.
By focusing on growing and nurturing its membership, IABC is taking matters into its own hands.
What has changed in the decade plus since I wrote that? The ability for communicators to network via social media in general, and LinkedIn in particular. Maybe IABC leaders fear that online tools have obviated the need for in-person networking that their chapters and regions offer. Maybe IABC leaders underestimate the need for people to belong to more than a LinkedIn list, but to an institution and a tribe—with a history and a culture and leaders to look up to.
Maybe that would explain their frequent claim that IABC must find a way to be "relevant" in the modern world. One really has to worry about someone who is leading an institution he or she doesn't think is relevant. And IABC is relevant, as Neil Griffiths says. It needs only to remain relevant. And to do so, all the International Executive Board really has to do is to keep up technologically with the Joneses, be careful and kind toward members, support the life-giving chapters who generate new members, and maintain a friendly culture by setting a good example of leadership and communication.
Unfortunately, that's been more than the IEB has been able to handle over the past year or two, while it thrashes around talking about strategy "pillars," and credulity-straining ideas like "Career Road Maps."
IABC has returned to its roots before, and there's reason to hope that this IEB—with the moral and ethical guidance of longtime IABC members, and the management expertise of its just-hired interim executive director—can do it again.
Neil Griffiths: Can I get an amen?