In a webinar Q&A with members, the International Association of Business Communicators
sought Wednesday to turn the page on staffing upheavals and lay out a vision for the future.
But judging from reactions, the organization's two top leaders failed to stem members' ire about how it made and communicated its decisions about restructuring.
Executive director Christopher Sorek and Board Chair Kerby Meyers fielded questions about its strategy following the layoff of half its 32 staffers, even as it plans to hire 11 new employees.
The Q&A Wednesday morning was the first of two that day. Meyers apologized for mishandled communications that led to a flurry of criticism on LinkedIn. But he and Sorek laid out new directions that they said required staffing changes.
"What I can say is, it was a business decision and a business judgment that we took in terms of looking where the organization needed to be, where we were at and where we are going to," Sorek said.
Not everyone pleased
If the session was intended to calm the storm, not everyone was reassured afterward. Some members returned to a LinkedIn feed afterward to complain that their questions were ignored or addressed in generalities.
Tellingly, commenters mostly ignored the IABC's LinkedIn thread, which had 30 comments, and took to a critical alternative, with nearly 170 as of Wednesday afternoon. "This is getting smelly," one wrote of the IABC's process.
Reached by phone afterward, Shel Holtz of Holtz Communication + Technology said he heard nothing suggesting IABC plans to collaborate with and listen to members in the manner that is taking off in companies such as Dell.
Judging from the reaction on LinkedIn, he said, "A lot of people are still very skeptical following that call. There was an opportunity here to get people excited and to rally them behind the strategy. Instead it was very bland and not incredibly inspiring."
The communications blog Writing Boots was scathing, criticizing the "business jargon" of Sorek and Meyers.
"Here's the score: IABC is being run by two people who do not know or care very much about the organization's culture or its past," wrote author David Murray. "They also don't know much about its future."
It likely doesn't help matters that, as the head of a communications association, Sorek's last tweet was June 29.
Free premium content for members
The IABC has announced a series of changes that include free premium content for members, rather charging an additional fee, as in the past. The association is also looking to provide enriched mobile communication, and revamp accreditation and certification.
Sorek and Meyers faced some sharp questions about areas such as financing and staffing.
"You removed most of the senior staff," one member said. "Were they just wasting time?"
Another stated, "It's a hard message to absorb that the organization is doing fine financially but we have to make drastic changes."
Meyers said a different set of skills were needed for the job than its previous employees possessed.
"One example is, we're showing a leader role in stakeholder relations that requires a competence in marketing, member relations and resource development that we didn't have before," Meyers said. "So we're looking at hiring someone who has experience in all three of those areas."
The new strategy involves a shift away from print publishing toward digital content. In the webinar, Holtz said he was pleased by the shift but asked how IABC could compete with content providers such as Ragan Communications.
Sorek says IABC will be working out its content strategy in the coming year.
"We do recognize that there's a lot of competition out there, a lot of it at the skill level, that we need to be aware of so that we don't replicate it," Sorek said.
IABC also plans to create digital platforms for communities around groups such as social media or crisis communications, he said.
IABC plans to revamp accreditation. This drew questions about whether the organization would continue to honor current accreditations for its Accredited Business Communicator designation.
"The ABC does not go away if a person has got their credential," Sorek says.
Despite the missteps, Sorek and Meyers expressed confidence that the new direction was the right one.
"Our goal is to serve members in the most strategic way possible," Meyers said, "and we believe our new model will do that."