Takeaways from an incredible IABC World Conference 2013

IABC World conference 2013This review of the 2013 IABC World Conference is by IABC Belgium member Jennifer Mackie; co-founder and community manager at International Young Woman Partnership and Account executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.



This year’s IABC World Conference in New York City was nothing short of incredible!

After an extremely positive first experience with the IABC this April in Brussels at EuroComm, I knew I had to go back for more and was thrilled when I was awarded a scholarship to attend the World Conference in New York.

For four days I was surrounded by talented and inspiring communicators and was able to pick and choose from a list of around 80 sessions with some of the biggest names in communications such as Richard Edelman, Shel Holtz and many more.

Summarizing my experience over four jam-packed days was no easy task. However there are important lessons on the way we communicate, which I thought I’d share with you.



Shel Holtz led a session on real-time marketing and presented examples of mistakes made in efforts to keep up to speed. He referred to a mistake by McDonald’s during the hype of the Ohio kidnapping when three women held in captivity for years were rescued by a man named Charles Ramsey.

Repeatedly in interviews, Ramsey said he had been eating McDonald’s when he heard screaming and found the women. Seeing an opportunity to draw attention to itself, McDonald’s announced it would give Ramsey a one-year’s supply of McDonald’s meals and recognized Ramsey for his heroic deed with the following tweet:


IABC on newsjacking


It turned out that McDonald’s spoke too soon. Shortly afterwards it was discovered that Charles Ramsey was not the actual hero. It was in fact Angel Cordero who made it to the scene first, but because he couldn’t speak English, Ramsey stole the spotlight.

To make matters worse, Ramsey had three domestic violence convictions against him that resulted in jail time. Ouch.

If McDonald’s hadn’t felt the pressure to respond quickly, they may have avoided this embarrassing mistake. In this case, McDonald’s may have been better off without responding at all.

As Shel explained, it important to respond with timely commentary but it’s also extremely important for that commentary to be accurate and relevant. There’s no need to hijack (‘newsjack‘) every story that comes along.

For more on this session, check out my interview with Shel Holtz.



Phil Weiss, Chief Hyperthinker at ZN Media began his session in a remarkable way. For approximately 1 minute he showed the beginning of a video and asked where it came from.

The audience responded with silence, not a single person could name the video. Phil explained it was the beginning of the Kony 2012  video designed to raise awareness about the horrific acts of Joseph Kony and to raise money for the charity Invisible Children.

The video was one of the most viral videos of all time with over 97 million views. By a show of hands, nearly everyone in the room acknowledged they had seen the film, some had shared it on social media and some had even donated to the charity. But one year later, no one could remember how it began.

The fact this video, which invoked such a strong reaction from millions of people, could not be remembered one year later illustrates just how short-lived fame can be on social media.

The lesson learnt?

With attention-spans shrinking, the impact of once-powerful campaigns is quickly overshadowed by the arrival of the next viral video.




Michael Ambjorn and Sharon Hunter led a session on alignment and the key factors needed to drive change. In this lively and interactive session, Michael introduced a memorable exercise that demonstrated the importance of following your instinct.

As we walked in, each seat had a quarter on it. Michael asked each person to think about a difficult decision in their lives. We imagined our situations and created two possible solutions; solution A and solution B. Each side of the coin was designated a solution, heads was A, tails was B.

We then tossed the coin in the air and Michael said not to look at it. He asked us to think about which side we wanted to appear. I nodded knowing full well I wanted the coin to land on heads. When we had decided, he told us to put the coin away and never look at it again.

“It doesn’t matter what the coin says!” Michael explained, “Follow your gut, you already know the answer.”

He was right, if I really thought about it, I already knew what I wanted so why waste time thinking about it?



Ann Wylie showed how comic strips are a great way to communicate stories in a visual way. Comics get people to pay attention to your message, understand it, remember it and act on it. But as she explained, there are tricks to making a good comic.

Look for the right story because it can make a big difference. Remember that comics don’t necessarily need to tell every step of a story from beginning to end. And they don’t need full sentences.

Ann showed us an example of one comic showing a family about to be attacked by a fire-breathing dragon, rescued by a superhero and then getting back home, unharmed. The comic does this in 4 panels and just 9 words.

Ann finished off by pointing us towards some useful resources that can be used to integrate comics into your writing:



Nancy Duarte, who’s book ‘Resonate‘ spent nearly a year on Amazon’s top 100 business book bestsellers list, led a session on the physics of communication. Nancy has developed a tool that analyses speeches and tracks their rhythms and flow.

Great storytellers throughout history share certain elements in the way they communicate. They often use tension and release, they oscillate between what is and what could be. They then close their speech by painting a picture of a new bliss.

To become a great communicator, we can look at the past and learn from great orators. We can look at speeches that have gone done in history as the greatest of all time; Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” or Mahatma Gandhi’s “Quiet India”.

We can learn from more recent examples, such as Steve Jobs’ speech when he launched the iPhone and revolutionized personal communications.

We can even learn from the way controversial figures communicate such as Margaret Thatcher’s in her “Iron Lady” speech – fascinating!

All in all this year’s world conference was, as I mentioned earlier, simply incredible.

Next year’s World Conference will be held in Toronto.

I hope to see you there!

Posted in EuroComm conference, IABC Global news, Marketing and branding, Social and digital media.