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June 27, 2012

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I've never been to a world conference; but I was a member of IABC (and my local chapter) for two years. That was four years ago.

I found that the monthly seminars were not really focused on business communicators ... the subjects were more geared towards individual/freelance practitioners. It was hard for me to convince my CEO to a monthly meeting where the topic was "landing your next big fish."

Ultimately, I got very little out of it. It was semi-worthwhile networking (but, apparently not really. When I was laid off and out of work for a year, those contacts were mostly useless ... I basically wanted *their* jobs!).

I do look at the annual conference agenda each year, and I've found that even the course listings have gotten less interesting/useful to me, and that's odd, given the power that business communications seems to have taken on in the past decade or so.

Well, Chris, you ID an age-old problem at IABC's chapter level: Experienced people not wanting to go because all they get is resumes and business cards from people who want a piece.

As for the World Conference ... the people I know who go to the conference every year go for each other, and don't spend a lot of time in those sessions.

It will be interesting to see if Sorek, Meyers, et al are brave enough to dig into the real problem of IABC, which is that it has let its chapters languish in favor of creating products and programs to make more bucks for the enterprise.

Having a financially sound central organization is fine -- can't do much good otherwise -- but chapters are where IABC really lives, even in this hyperconnected world. It was the lack of support for my struggling home chapter in its time of need that led me to jump the IABC ship after more than 20 years.

I guess hiring motivational speakers for the International Conference is IABC's attempt to pump up the troops and help them forget the problems back on the homefront.

It's Kerby. ;-)

(Fixed! Thanks!)

David, I hope IABC is paying attention to your post. I think your mention of Ragan not being at the conference is worth building on. Ragan and Melcrum both used to have booths in the Exhibit Hall, which is a money-maker for IABC's conference. Neither has had one for several years due to dropping traffic. A number of big consulting firms that used to participate have also been noticeably absent from the Exhibit Hall in recent years.

IABC keeps talking about not enough money for conference, then makes decisions that are guaranteed to reduce the number of exhibitors buying booths each year because of continuing low traffic.

E.g., this year they placed the Exhibit Hall on the basement floor with no other IABC events that would generate walk-by traffic. They had no signage pointing down the escalator to show where the Hall was hidden--even after requests from exhibitors to do so before the Hall even opened. The sandwich boxed lunch that was supposed to draw people in cost $60. The cocktail reception that was supposed to draw people in did not offer a single drink ticket--which the hotel bartender said was very unusual for a conference. By my two measures of traffic to our booth (the number of Snickers bars we give away and the number of business cards we collect), we saw less than 1/3 the traffic of previous years, which were already down from 6 years earlier, even though attendance at the conference itself was high. There was talk among vendors about asking for some money back.

I have two friends who sponsored content tracks at the conference, which cost them a lot of money. Never once was any presentation in their tracks introduced with a mention of the track's sponsor--including the presentations they did themselves!

If IABC wants to continue getting vendor/sponsor funding for conference to keep costs manageable for attendees, they really need to put someone in charge of vendor/sponsor relations to try to figure out why they keep losing this source of revenue. Most of the vendors/sponsors are also long-term members like me. We should also "Be Heard" to maintain this source of funding for the organization's financial success.

Thanks, Angela. I'm mostly concerned that nobody's COVERING IABC ... but you raise a good point.

That exhibit hall was indeed well-disguised as a hotel dungeon.

I didn't have trouble finding the place, but it was so claustrophobic, and nervous attendees feel TRAPPED down there with the salespeople, who themselves feel like banished trolls.

Depressing, all around. And not productive.

Not sure IABC could have found a better exhibit hall, but ... $60 dollar boxed lunch? NO free drinks?

That's nuts.

(And I guess the nuts weren't free either?)

I have attended IABC Conferences (and others) since 1978. I can't think of a time I didn't receive what I felt was my own or my employer's "money's worth." But I've always had to work at that. I have always gotten more from the networking than the session-sitting but I've learned plenty from both. I don't need to be spoon-fed. I feel it's my responsibility to seek out relevance for me and then, if I can't find it, speak up and do something about it. So, I'm not quite on the same page with the others on that side of conferences not having value, or the veiled and not-so-veiled IABC bashing. That's okay. Our profession is full of different-thinking people. Makes us an interesting tribe.

But that exhibitor issue! Phew!!! I saw it the MINUTE I walked in. In addition to what has already been said, I think it was also a mistake to leave the free internet cafe in a hallway on another floor, too, instead of inside the exhibit hall, drawing members in.

Maybe the shear size and logistical nightmare of an international conference is why Region conferences have become so popular. The Heritage Region Conference Oct. 14-16 in Pittsburgh has really big name speakers...a little shorter...super generous sponsor/exhibitors...and early bird member pricing is only $399. Yes, I'm shamelessly promoting, I guess. But it's another level of IABC and a solution you might give a try.

I'm not giving up on IABC. I'll be back but I always pick and choose what I register for at conference, carefully, to suit my needs and interests.

Has IABC figured out how to make name tags with letters big enough to read first name, last name, company, city from across a circular lunch table?

Was that Bulldog Reporter guy there?

Did the outgoing Chair make a great speech about lessons learned, interviews with world financial media, stories told, etc?

BAK

Great comments from Angela Sinickas,and all of you, thank you.

We definitely are paying attention to David’s post over at IABC. This is our first year of managing exhibits and sponsorship for the World Conference without the expertise of former IABC staff Chris Corrigan. And we miss her!

Having taken over sponsorship and exhibits in late March of this year, I agree with some of Angela’s comments and – since I’m definitely paying attention – I’ll be sharing feedback with the conference team.

While the hotel controlled the exhibit space and the contract for that space was signed many years ago, we were stuck with a challenging space for the exhibit hall. Additional coffee breaks and a special section on healthy lifestyle helped to draw attendees to the exhibit hall but it was still hard to find and additional signs should have been considered.

We will be debriefing on what went well and what needs improvement and I will be sending a note to all sponsors and exhibitors asking for their feedback. I expect to use that feedback to show a difference in the exhibit hall management and traffic for 2013.

You’re right Angela, as a member and as an exhibitor you should, not only Be Heard, you should also see evidence of change in those areas that are fixable in the future.

I would like to thank you all for this discussion, and I am posting this comment both here and on David’s blog. David touched on some very good points in his journal, points that have been echoed by others at the conference.

First let me say that there was a journalist at the conference giving daily reports from the Austin and Texas perspective – me – doing daily photos and stories for BeHeardAustin.com, the communication news that is the home for the Austin chapter of IABC. Like David, I also had individual sit downs with Chris, Kerby, Adrian and Robin which will post as during the month of July on the site, accompanied by video.

I agree that David is ‘spot on’ with his assessment of the leadership team at IABC. They realize that there are problems that need to be fixed, especially in digital communications. As Adrian Cropley said during his interview, IABC Austin is leading the way in the future of digital communications with BeHeardAustin.com.

First impressions are important if IABC is to continue to attract members. In one article first time IABC World Conference attendee Vivian Jackson from Washington, DC feels IABC dropped the ball. Working for the World Bank in DC she constantly works with senior level speakers and thought leaders.

“Although the conference has been interesting I think there is ample opportunity for IABC to step up their game in terms of current technology and coming technology as well as examining the bigger picture,” she explained in the hallways of the Sheraton. “I think that it has been too focused on minute things and issues of yesterday instead of issues of tomorrow.”

In addition I would like to use a quote from both Angela and Barbara from their postings in a conference wrap-up story to be posted Friday. I think both have some great feedback on an issue that I failed to see.

IABC takes in more than $2 million dollars in fees and sponsorships from the conference if my math is correct. It is important that they hear this feedback to continue to grow the organization and the world conference.

Just remember we could all be members of PRSA that hates any sort of criticism of the organization – trust me I know first hand – at least IABC knows the importance of open communication.

I personally appreciate all of the feedback expressed here, and I can assure you the board feels the same way and is working with staff to implement IABC's strategy.

Constructive criticism is healthy. Emphasis on CONSTRUCTIVE. We welcome the feedback.

Everyone I'm associated with in IABC is working hard to transform the association. If I didn't care personally and I didn't think it was worth the effort, I wouldn't have applied to rejoin the board.

I've read and heard a few disparaging comments here and there from people who appear to have profited from their IABC ties over the years. That's not uncommon in any association.

However, the changes under way within IABC will also impact the people I just referenced who have enjoyed those business gains. Some of those folks will need to improve their offerings as well. I know they care deeply about IABC and will do what's best for our members. We all want fresh, leading-edge content, communication technology and outstanding member service.

I've not seen much detailed reporting on the actual transformation taking place within the association. IABC is making fundamental changes in how it delivers customer service, education, professional development, accreditation, awards programs and more. IABC is looking differently at how it can build mutually beneficial relationships and provide lasting value to its financial and in-kind sponsors.

It's not easy, and the changes won't happen overnight. Still, we've gained positive momentum and those of us involved heavily are pleased with the progress made thus far.

I feel certain that David, Ed and other reporters at world conference asked Kerby and Adrian about details of the specific IABC priorities, yes? I'm looking forward to reading the articles about what they learned. I'm definitely looking forward to reading member feedback on those articles.

Such feedback will continue to energize Chris Sorek, the staff, Kerby Meyers and the entire board as they continue their work in this new term. I'm pleased to be among the volunteer leaders who are "getting "sh-- done," as Kerby put it so eloquently.

Board members and IABC leaders are volunteers. We're all members and most of us will still be members when we're no longer serving IABC.

We want improvements to our association, too. That's why we've volunteered to step up.

I hope those of you who care sincerely about IABC, and who have the best interests of our members at heart, will join us in shaping and implementing our priorities. If you're not able to work on the priorities directly, I hope you will continue offering constructive feedback and ideas as the transformation continues.

Thank you again for the feedback and ongoing dialogue.

I have just posted the BeHeadAustin.com IABC World Conference wrap-up story that includes comments from this discussion, plus views from Austin attendees. An in-depth interview and video with Chris will be posted within the next week. Keep the dialog flowing.

http://beheardaustin.com/9579/iabc-communicates-ciabc-world-conference-wrap-up-iabc-communicates-chicago-style-hicago-style/

Robin wrote: "I feel certain that David, Ed and other reporters at world conference asked Kerby and Adrian about details of the specific IABC priorities, yes? I'm looking forward to reading the articles about what they learned."

Robin, there is a 25-page strategic plan that Kerby said has also been boiled down to a one-pager. The plan has three pillars. Content, career and business--labels don't make immediate intuitive sense. The plan seems very much designed for internal use rather than the intuition of members. Which is fine, if its execution winds up working well for members. (See outgoing chairman and former president Julie Freeman chewing over the plan here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyayecPJQtA

I had less than an hour with Kerby and Chris, and spent most of the time trying to feel them out as leaders. The next time I interview them, either halfway through the year or at the conference next summer, I'll ask for those documents in advance, and ask Kerby and Chris to show what they achieved against the strategy and what it means to Joe Member, and long-term future of IABC.

Anyone who has questions or criticisms or ideas for IABC leaders can write to me throughout the year at writingboots at IABC dot com, and I'll keep your questions in a file so I can put the relevant ones to IABC leaders next year.

Deal?

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