A year in summary

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Tessa O’Neill’s speech at IABC UK Annual General Meeting of 30 June

As I acknowledged in my acceptance speech in June 2014, I knew this would be a year of transition and change. It almost felt like the best we might achieve in this term was to maintain an even keel until the real developments took place later this year.

But I was keen to push for innovation in our board to set some foundations for novel work that would, in line with our new brand offering, best represent IABC in the 21st century.

So our aim as a board was to create excitement around IABC, grow our network, encourage greater participation and demonstrate exceptional value of membership.

 

Our Board

The IABC board comprises expert communicators, with day jobs and most importantly with personal lives that should always take precedence over any volunteering activity.

So it’s often a challenge to give your all to something that can only be supported in your spare time – especially as there’s less and less of that nowadays!

But I have been hugely impressed this year by the dedication of all our board members and, particularly, by those who took their roles extremely seriously and delivered over and above what was expected. And special mention must go to Susan Walker, Dana Poole & Kira Scharwey for their exceptional work on events, digital marketing and membership respectively.

I’ve really enjoyed working with the team this year; it’s been a huge honour, and a steep and fulfilling learning curve. So I’d like to pause and ask all our board to stand up so we can give them a big round of applause.

Thank you! So on to our update…

Membership

Historically maintaining healthy membership has always been a challenge and increasingly so for all associations.

But, despite a slow start, overall membership has actually risen year-on-year by a not inconsiderable 70 percent. This is chiefly due to recent student sign-ups from Bournemouth University and London College of Communications (LCC).

And we are working with Bournemouth to maximise IABC’s engagement with student members (via a student representative and potential sub-committee of students who will promote IABC internally).

We also saw great success in increasing renewals during Member Month. Board members divided up the chapter’s list of lapsed members and personally contacted each of them. A bit of Nudge theory in practice!

Mentoring

The mentorship programme is becoming a USP for the chapter. It has been the main draw for greater student membership.

We currently have 12 mentors and as many mentees, with potentially 100 additional mentees joining the programme from LCC and Bournemouth over the next year.

 

We have introduced a time-limited “wave” approach to deal with the increased number of mentees. And we also hope to increase mentor numbers accordingly; offering web-based training to more experienced members.

We also signed up our first two regional mentors this year. A good way to engage established members outside the SouthEast who sometimes might feel like members-at-large.

Regional

While very much an exploratory year for Regional, it has not been without results.

We held our very first regional event – and webcast – with the South West Corporate Communicators (SWCC) in Bath in October 2014. It featured IABC’s very own Shel Holz as keynote and more than 20 people attended. Interest continues to grow.

Looking ahead, we are planning further events for 2015-16 in Bristol and Bournemouth.

We have also worked to engage members in Sheffield, South Wales, and Leeds over the coming months. So more opportunities to expand our organisation nationally.

We are in discussions with Leeds University about enrolling more than 50 students and promoting IABC to a further 200 students at the university, together with corporate members and communications professionals in the local area.

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Communicator or engineer – who’d be your best bet on a desert island?

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I’ve always been a little puzzled why we communicators go to great lengths to differentiate ourselves from one another. “I’m a PR professional” or “I’ve always worked in marcomms” or “Digital is the only option for me”. Why do we do this when we have so much in common and share so many practices and capabilities? Rather than focusing on what differentiates us, shouldn’t we be championing what unites us? A love of language and an ability to connect most effectively with a target audience.

It’s not the fault of any individual but of the communications community as a whole. The infinitesimal job titles given to communicators are actually limiting rather than expanding our potential remit. And it’s a large part of what stops communications from being seen as a profession.

Take engineers as an example. They may have different disciplines: mechanical, IT, technical etc. but they all have ‘engineer’ in their job title. And consequently, they are seen as expert, methodical problem solvers. The people you’d want to be stranded with on a desert island as you know they’d have built a shelter or a raft in a matter of days. The Wikipedia definition of an engineer is “a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical, societal and commercial problems.”

But what about communicators? It’s a much broader church and can encompass people who are naturally gifted at speaking and not just communications professionals per se. So wouldn’t it be great if the primary definition of a communicator was something along the lines of: “a professional practitioner, concerned with applying communications skills, theory and creativity to facilitate the most effective exchange and understanding of technical, societal and commercial information.”

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