I knew this day was coming

As soon as I said yes, well over a year ago, to become Mike’s number two I knew that the day when I would have to step up as President of IABC UK would come round soon enough. And on Wednesday evening, with brilliant blue skies and the beautiful London skyline providing a wonderful backdrop for our AGM, I became President of the UK chapter of the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators).

The beauty of getting involved with a professional association such as IABC is that there is built in continuity. You sign up for a three year term, a year as President-elect, a year as President and then a year as Past President. The continuity has come from a succession of great teams. For the year just finished it is right to pay tribute to Kira Scharwey who has completed her three year term and to Mike Pounsford, who has been an inspirational president, leading from the front and giving me a great base to build on.

And we have an exciting year ahead. We have a great Board (names below). Several new faces adding to the majority of last year’s team. These are people who come from a range of roles across the communications sector, and who are passionate about communications and how we can help improve the profession.

I want us to continue focusing on delivering value to our members, something we’ve tried hard to do over the past year, for example not charging members to attend events. We need to keep challenging ourselves to improve our offering thereby encouraging comms professionals to take out a membership because they value what they get for it. That doesn’t just mean the events we run either, but access to so much more, including mentoring (either providing or receiving), recognised certification, a new corporate membership offer, a fantastic wealth of resources and seminars, as well as the Gold Quill awards process and probably a bunch of other things I’ve not mentioned.

This year I judged for Gold Quill for the first time. If you don’t know about them then I can only recommend you find out. I was so impressed by the way Gold Quill sets out what excellence looks like in communications, not just as an award but simply for structuring a communications project.

What really differentiates IABC is the global nature of the organisation. Whether through the connections you make, the events you can attend such as Euro Comm, this year an excellent experience in Copenhagen or World Conference, where just a couple of weeks ago over 1,300 communicators from 30 countries met in Montreal. All reports were it was a great event and next year I want to join them in Vancouver.

Another way we can display our international credentials is through our own activities. Earlier this year we worked with the IABC San Francisco chapter to hold a live ‘Conversation Across the Ocean’ where we had a panel eight hours apart but chatting as if we were in the same room; examining the cultural differences that communicators face. Feedback from the event was brilliant and we know there is interest from other US and Canada chapters to follow up.

Events are our ‘bread and butter’. Over the past year we have run a range of different events targeting and attracting people from across the communications spectrum. We ran one event, a hugely interactive opportunity to learn about improvisation in storytelling, in London and also in Leeds, with the latter attracting over 150 people.

Our relationships with Leeds University, and the London Communications College are flourishing. This year we will think about how we can do more for students, not just so they get a good experience this year, but also to provide skills students can take with them in their careers. We have two student board members this year. One of them Alexa Cifre has already blogged about how she has developed her networking skills at last night’s AGM.

Another key area of focus for this year will be our own communications (which may either be a strange or obvious thing to say for a comms sector organisation). We need to improve our proactivity around social media and website particularly and have plans in place to do that.

One other really important thing that I’m keen we focus on is listening. It’s a subject that I am very passionate about. My belief is listening forms a key part of the communicators’ armoury. As someone said to me recently, for communicators the output of listening is getting and sharing valuable insights, but the outcome is increased influence. Yet I believe, that in many big companies especially, listening is under threat. This may be because teams, shrinking in size but expected to do more are focused on huge tasked-based in trays, or the difficulties of getting around an organisation in an era of strict travel policies or maybe simply a lack of confidence or capability.

I think this is important and we need to do something about it. I want IABC to be involved in this, but it is probably bigger than something we can do ourselves and I’ve had conversations with colleagues from across the industry including some of the other sector groups, such as IOIC and CIPR Inside, to see where we can work together for the benefit of the profession as a whole.

Sometimes we do need to temper our enthusiasm and ambitions though and remember that everyone involved on the Board of IABC UK is a volunteer. For me personally, I’ve just started an exciting new job at Johnson Matthey. Leading a volunteer board means you won’t always get to deliver all the exciting things you might like to. Sometimes real life will get in the way. All the best laid plans etc. I say this because whilst our ambition is big, it is important to have a degree of pragmatism. Hopefully both the quality, and quantity of people we’ve got this year will mean we can cover when someone has to deal with other priorities.

Ultimately though it comes down to what members (and non-members) think. Are we offering value, are we providing something that helps them develop or do their job better? I hope so!

My ask of communication professionals reading this is please get involved, come to an event, tell us what you want and where we can provide you with something that is worthwhile. IABC (and the other comms organisations) can only prosper if you help us provide what you need.

If I’ve learnt anything this year it is the truth of the old saying “the more you put into something, the more you get out”. I’ve had a great year getting more involved with IABC, you can too and I’m excited about 2018/19, which looks set to be a memorable year for IABC UK.

I look forward to seeing you at an event soon.

IABC UK Board 2018/19

Howard Krais (President). Sarah Parker (President-elect), Mike Pounsford (Past President), Ann-Marie Blake, Suzanne Brooks, Claudia Damato, Gay Flashman, Georgia Halston, Sarah Harrison, Lauren MacDonald, Casilda Malagon, Una O’Sullivan, Alexandra Cifre, Kira Scharwey, Mathilde Schneider and Daniel Schraibman

IABC UK Summer Drinks & AGM

Wednesday 27th June, 6-8pm at The Madano Partnership

We would like to invite you to join us for the IABC UK Chapter AGM, where we’ll give a rundown of the past year’s activities and share our plans for the year ahead. 

This is a great evening to meet up with fellow IABC members and friends – fingers crossed for fine weather so that we can enjoy the spectacular City views from Madano’s roof terrace.

We hope to see you there.

Please register here.

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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Michael Ambjorn – IABC AGM Speech

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Michael Ambjorn’s speech as new Chair of IABC 2015-16

Things have been interesting recently. That’s what happens when you hit a mid-life crisis. Things go a bit haywire. IABC has been in a full-blown mid-life crisis. So, should we go off and get ourselves a Porsche?

Luckily, that’s not on the cards. It is easy to lose confidence. As the hardnosed will tell us: never waste a crisis. And as an old British bulldog once said: ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going’. Make something of it. Use it to take stock, prioritise. Fix. Set things up again for the future. Stronger. Better. Aligned and with a clear direction.

That’s hard though when you’re knocked for six. A famous boxer once said: ‘Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face’. We had a triple blow: a global recession, a changing market, an out-dated infrastructure.

‘We’ve been fixing to get ready’ as the Texans might say, and today I want to talk about where we are on that journey – and where we can go next if you want to.

Now before we dive into that, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing up here on the stage. Who’s this fast-talking espresso-addict? Well, for starters, correlation does not necessarily mean causation and I hate to admit that I’ve been fast-talking long before I learnt how to make a decent espresso – nevertheless, a couple of extra shots certainly does not make it better. So if I get carried away, please do signal me to slow down.

I’ve got something to say. It is about the future of our profession. It is about the future of our association. It is about our future. It is about you. And me. Those who have heard me speak before will have heard me say: that the intersect between the two are the sweet spot of action. That’s where the interesting things happen. That’s where the good stories come from. You are in this room right now because you’re a leader.

You can make a difference to the person next to you, to a fellow leader, to the association and ultimately the profession – and society. You are uniquely positioned to impact the world. If you want to. If you will give me your ears for a few minutes, I will propose a way for how we can do it together.

Before that I want to tell you a story. It is a personal story – it starts in the battleship-grey headquarters of a large corporation. I’ve worked at a few; I’ve also run a small foundation; headed up a 260 year old Fellowship focused on social change – and these days I help boards and teams establish, align and execute purpose-driven comms and engagement strategy.

This corporate. Imagine you’re at this HQ building. You have a brief moment between conference calls. That’s when you get the call. That’s when a well-established industry leader calls you and says: ‘you’re it.’

I need you to do one more thing.’ Don’t worry about the fact that you’re at that time commuting every three weeks to Chicago, from London. Leading a team spanning four continents. Standing there you’re told: Don’t worry about that. Don’t worry about that at all. Because you need to run something. Something for the association. Something that will advance the profession. It won’t be easy. But you will enjoy it. And be better for it.

Standing there in that battleship-grey headquarter building with low ceilings – too far from daylight really; and coffee really unworthy of consumption although always served with a smile – that’s when you, against logic, common sense or indeed sanity, take something more on. Whilst the details might be different, I am sure many of you have had the same experience. You get tapped. You step up. You deliver.

That was my first. It wasn’t my last. Why do we do it? I can tell you why I do it:

  • I believe that in today’s world, communication can be a force for good.
  • I believe that we have a unique way of connecting people for this purpose – a certain je ne sais quois – which I haven’t seen in any other organisation that spans the world like this organisation does.

And I know: that with thousands of members worldwide, across diverse industries, sectors and disciplines, this is a community alive with knowledge. Alive with experience. Alive with ideas. All of which are freely exchanged. A community I love being part of – and people I can’t do without.

A community that has a real and tangible impact. It is a force for good – through the Global Standard for the Communication Profession, our Code of Ethics, our educational offerings, our mentoring, our leadership development. I could go on. Most of all though, for me: it is about the connection – and the connections – that it enables. Because it is in that intersect the magic happens. The sweet spot of action.

Let’s be clear – the ask that was made, the ask to step up, was based on social capital – it was based on a connection. A connection who could vividly paint the possibility of experience ahead. I’ve seen it in action. Again and again. I can’t count the amount of times when I have been up against it with a tough comms challenge – or a question from a mentee, perhaps outside my own field of comms strategy and facilitation, that I could not answer and have received emergency assistance from many a generous colleague in this organisation – and vice versa.

You know who you are. Thank you. I will always endeavour to do the same for you. Because there’s a u in endeavour.

Now let’s take stock. The smoke has not entirely cleared. Some will in fact say that we’re on a burning platform. One only we can fix. What’s happening?

These days I pay my own way for membership, yet when I joined, membership was an employer-provided benefit. For me; for many. The CFOs of the world removed that budget line. It isn’t coming back. Meanwhile on the interwebs indirect competitors are eating our audience for breakfast:  $20 for a copy of Harvard Business Review? Why pay, you can read five articles a month for free… $50 bucks for an event? Curate your own crowd using Meetup.com – there are thousands of if not hundreds of thousands of groups out there.

Competition is fierce.How many of you have used Uber or AirBnB? We’re not the only ones being disrupted. I know times have been hard. It hasn’t been a bed of roses. This I know. But you are nothing if not resilient. Now, it is not surprising that the field is busier than ever – Google tells me that there are:  2,500,000 searches for a communications strategy every month,  140,000 of those are looking for comms skills,  120,000 are looking for a coms conference…and if our membership grew at the rate of our LinkedIn group – now well past the 40,000 mark, we’d have fourfold the resources we have now.
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