You know the feeling. You bump into Uncle Larry at the big Christmas gathering. You haven’t seen him since the summer, so you ask him how everything’s going, expecting him to lightly run through the usual highlights and ask you how you’ve been. But instead, he gives you a curt, “Fine.”
So you ask a little more. Kids? “Fine.” Wife? “Fine.” Work? “Fine.” He grabs a beer out of the cooler and heads into the other room, where the football game is on.
You’re sorry you asked. You figure something must be wrong—Larry’s usually a pretty happy guy who likes as much as the next fellow to boast about the good things in his life—and you’re not sure you want to know what it is.
That’s kind what it was like when I asked the chair of the International Association of Business Communicators for an update on how the association is doing halfway through her term (and six months removed from the most tumultuous year in the association’s history).
It actually took a little while even to get the Uncle Larry treatment from Robin McCasland.
When I first wrote to McCasland, she was on a speaking tour at IABC chapters in Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. Though she has written only two thin posts in six months on her Robin’s Nest blog, she tweeted loquaciously from the road. (Like Uncle Larry used to do!)
“The Robin has landed in Manila. And now my arms are REALLY TIRED! (Rimshot.)”
“Hong Kong airport is shopping on steroids. That is all …”
“Is it wrong that I intentionally got in the line for the cutest Aussie customs dude?”
She also recorded a video interview in Melbourne with Deakin University communication prof Ross Monaghan, in which she declared that “going around the world has completely changed my perspective on what it means to be a professional in communication in this day and age.”
The trip had completely changed her perspective on the meaning of our work? Gadzooks, how?! She didn’t say, and Monaghan didn’t ask.
So I asked by email—and told her I’d like to schedule an interview with her and interim paid executive director Ann Lazarus to discuss how far the association has come in its rebuilding effort.
So I asked again, and didn’t hear back.
So I looped in IABC communication director Aaron Heinrich, who gave me the Uncle Larry treatment.
“Unfortunately, neither Ann nor Robin are available but I’ve addressed your questions below.”
Q. Where's the new website? I understood that a fair amount of money was spent on a website overhaul last year, yet I see the old site, long acknowledged as moribund by IABC staffers, is still in operation.
A. The new website will launch within the next few weeks. We’re taking our time to be sure there are absolutely no access, operation or navigation issues.
Q. Where's membership at the moment, and what's the current rate of renewal? I see you guys made a special offer last month to bring in new members; was that in response to difficulties?
A. We’re switching over to a new system so I can’t provide renewal rate information. However, we met our goal of having 1000 people take advantage of the November member month promotion. We conduct member month promotions twice a year as a way to attract new members.
Q. Some members have expressed concern to me over bringing in prominent members Claire Watson and Melissa Dark to work on staff. Questions arise about who is paying for their visas. Is there no one in the U.S. who can do these jobs? And more importantly, isn't it potentially problematic to have popular and well-connected members on staff? If they are ineffective in their jobs or if they have an alternative agenda, don't board politics potentially get real complicated, real quick?
A. We hire candidates who best fit the needs of the organization and the requirements of the position. As an international organization, we need to consider all candidates, not just those in the U.S.
Q. When will you begin the search for the new ED? What kind of background are you looking for, and how has the hiring process changed? An insider told me the board felt very much “locked into choosing” [previous executive director] Chris Sorek.
A. Applications for ED are being reviewed now by a designated committee. A slate of candidates will be presented to the IEB at the Leadership Institute in February.
Q. And finally, Robin, why have you communicated so little beyond your travel tweets to the general membership? A loyal member tells me “I mean, hey, shouldn't she, as ‘communicator in chief’ be communicating with members more than once in the past five months (per her blog) and telling us what's going on? Right now, it appears she's on a grand tour of the Pacific Rim, but how many of our 13,000 (?) members follow her on Twitter? How about some sort of status report?”
A. We communicate the status of all ongoing and one-off topics through a variety of channels – Weekly Digest, Leader Letter, social media and dedicated member-only emails. That way it doesn’t fall on any one person to communicate the status of the association.
I did learn from Heinrich that IABC has filled most of the job vacancies created by last year’s layoffs and resignations that resulted from the tumult.
Heinrich also sent me some documents about the association’s new accreditation program, which represents the most dramatic programmatic change in the association in many years. A strategy document told me that the old IABC “Accredited Business Communicator” is dead and that “The Certified Communication Professional (SM) and the Certified Strategic Communication Professional (SM) will be new professional credentials available to communication professionals around the globe.”
The new accreditation process hasn’t been created yet, but IABC is hoping to launch a pilot program at the 2014 World Conference in Toronto.
And what will become of the “ABC” designation that a thousand IABC members still hold? “As we adopt ISO certification standards we will be integrating the past and the present through continued recognition, communication, and engagement as senior subject matter experts. Each of you should be proud of your accomplishment and use your designation on business cards, signatures and resumes.”
Better to be quiet than to gild the lily, Larry. Everybody knows that next to the new ISO-certified CCP (SM) and CSCP (SM)—assuming all that really comes to fruition—the old ABC will look like a Bobcat Badge at an Eagle Scout convention.
I forwarded Uncle Larry’s variously unsatisfying responses to some of IABC’s longest-serving and most respected members, as well as some connected IABC watchers, with the melodramatic claim, “There is no difference between IABC and other organizations that don't purport to believe in the power of communication. I don't blame those other organizations for being ignorant and communication-averse. But neither do I waste my time covering them for an audience of professional communicators.”
I asked these IABC stalwarts if they thought I was overreacting, and a number of them wrote back. But this post is too long already. Tomorrow, I’ll share their reactions to Uncle Larry’s uncharacteristic taciturnity.