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June 26, 2013

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And this is why I can now say with certainty, I will never rejoin IABC. They've lost me, and I suspect I'm not the only one. What a display of arrogance. It just makes me sad.

Good grief. I have never looked back from my resignation from the International Board after its other big crisis. A comment posted on Facebook about being with the "cool kids" at this year's conference made me cringe. And the saddest part is that the profession is in decline. There is a need for visionary and courageous leadership; not more lip service. You'd think itn today's world of abundance and options that IABC would lead by example when it comes to listening. What a wasted opportunity.

As much as I hate to say it, Murray fully captures the spirit of what went on. Indeed, if anything he pulls punches.

Two incidents that illustrate the stance of our leadership -- and I don't know whether it is a stance born of arrogance or deep fear and defensiveness -- are these:

First, fairly early during the AGM, someone posed a question, lightly answered, to Chairman Kerby Myers. Immediately, Claire Watson, acting not as a staff member, but as a delegate, called a point of order reminding Myers that mere members may not address the chair at an AGM.

Technically, she was correct, though this "rule" has been ignored for years in all but essential procedural points. However, the tone and sharpness of the response, bordering on hectoring, at a time when the entire room had questions, sent an early signal that leadership is prepared to entertain only the questions it is prepared to entertain -- all others will be shut down. (Incidentally, in the rush to suddenly and selectively enforce Robert's Rules, neither Watson nor Chairman Myers bothered to ascertain whether the questioner was credentialed or not.)

Second, Secretary/Treasurer Jeff Bishop's report was so superficial (because, he said, communicators don't "get" numbers) as to be useless. The Treasurer of a girl scout cookie drive would have more financial data to impart, but delegates were treated to a fast, topline rush of basic numbers, out of context, with the buried lede: IABC lost $130K+ last year (they don't call it a loss, anymore, by the way, but a "reduction in assets", which is, as any accountant will tell you, a very different thing).

When asked how the 2012 results compared to previous years, Bishop -- who has been Treasurer two years and thus should know the numbers like his own bank account -- fumbled with his tablet a few minutes, offered up some numbers, again out of context, and retreated.

What baffles me about the report is that Bishop does know the numbers. I spoke with him at length a couple of evenings before and found him to be a fount of information and as knowledgeable about IABC finances as any Treasurer should be. So I am at a loss as to whether the brevity and superficiality of his official report was the result of stage fright or a collective decision that members should be given as little explanation as possible for the operating loss. Whichever, we deserved far better from an officer who is elected independently and who needed not take instruction from Myers, McCasland, Cropley & Co.

And that pretty much set the tone: questions not entertained, or entertained and deflected, and real information doled out like coins from a miser. (And some of you may believe I am simply deaf; I urge you to listen to the full tapes).

McCasland must do better than this. IABC simply cannot endure a third year of stonewalling and spin when so much needs to be done, when the association is hemorrhaging money,and when so many people with long standing stakes in IABC are asking questions that need to be asked and answered. It just can't. And telling critics they will not be answered, and comparing them to humping dogs in a park, does not work, either.

Allan has articulated the problem well. IABC members deserve better (as do non-members or former members, inasmuch as IABC in many ways represents our profession more broadly and should set a better example).

As a past member of the IEB myself, I understand the pressure these volunteers are under. However, I also know that's the responsibility you accept when you're honored with a position at that level of any organization. So, I don't buy Meyers' defensive "I've given a lot of my time" plea. Yes, that's what comes with being elected the chairman of a global organization representing your profession, especially when your organization is in the midst of a crisis (and it IS a crisis, no matter how much McCasland denies it).

I was on the board, and on the search committee, when IABC called David Paulus as Executive Director back in the '90s (ultimately another mistake), so I know of what I speak. Missteps will happen and your feet will be held to the fire by members, and that is as it should be. The correct response is not to whine about how much time you're giving, to shut down dialogue and to liken your critics to humping dogs. The correct response is to contritely acknowledge mistakes, to learn from them, and to chart a path forward that takes into account what your critics are saying.

NOTE: Several people have reported having problems commenting on Writing Boots; I'm looking into it, but meanwhile, here's a comment from Shel Holtz.

***

I'll be chewing over the conference for the next couple days, then will weigh in with some more thought-out observations. I'll also figure out where to share them--LinkedIn, my blog, the podcast, or other channels.

In the meantime, I want to make three quick points:

1. David's post is accurate both in accuracy and tone, although I had to skip the town hall so I can't speak directly to that particular event.

2. IABC's treatment of David is appalling. It would be considered unprofessional and unacceptable for a corporate media relations professional to treat a reporter covering his or her company like this. Isn't IABC a communications association? It's getting frustrating, the number of times I have to say, "We should be setting the gold standard, not be creating case studies of what not to do."

3. Unlike some comments here, I have chosen not to abandon IABC. I've been a member for 36 years, and there have been plenty of missteps and crises that have led people to quit, and every time we have managed to rebound. IABC is still home to many dedicated, passionate members who will step in to right the ship. Among the fellows (disclosure: I am one), there are many who are determined to have a voice in ensuring IABC resume a strategic, member-focused, professional path. The Fellows are not alone. Like all of these amazing people, I choose to remain optimistic and work from within the organization to bring the organization back and make it better than it ever was. To those who opt for pessimism, I say: We'll welcome you with open arms once we're there.

What Shel said. I was at the meeting but left in frustration after the point of order reminding the questioner that she wasn't qualified to ask her question. It made me, as a member (32 years), feel insulted and marginalized. And shocked to see it all come to this. David, I appreciate your coverage of this, as gruff as it may be. Keep up the good work.

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Writing Boots readers will enjoy David Murray's memoir of his parents, who were real-life advertising Mad Men. Learn who these people really were, and how they raised us all.