Editor’s note: Those interested in reading all of the comments in our survey can find them here. Ad hominem attacks were omitted.
The mastery of internal and external messaging is the name of the game at the International Association of Business Communicators.
Yet the organization has often failed to communicate with its own membership, leaving doubts about its leadership, according to many respondents to a Ragan.com survey of 767 communicators.
Of self-identified IABC members, only 21 percent feel Executive Director Christopher Sorek is effectively communicating his new vision for the association. Some 42 percent agreed that there has been a lack of communication between IABC headquarters and its chapters, while only 9 percent disagreed.
The Ragan survey questioned readers about the controversy that began with the layoff of half of its 32 staffers last fall, shortly after Sorek took the helm. IABC also announced it would hire 11 newcomers, and an uproar ensued among members who questioned the plan or IABC’s communication about it.
In the survey, 55 percent of respondents, or 418 individuals, identified themselves as current IABC members, with another 24 percent saying they had let their membership lapse.
Along with the criticism, the poll revealed that IABC has a reservoir of good will as it reboots its Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) credential and undertakes other reforms. Three quarters of members expressed at least some degree of satisfaction about the services that IABC provides.
Chris Huestis, a board member with IABC’s Calgary chapter who participated in the survey, called the layoffs necessary and appropriate, but says IABC needed to be more transparent. He learned about the layoffs through LinkedIn discussions.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” Huestis says. “We’re among the last to hear about changes.”
Ragan’s survey was open to all comers, and no attempt was made to verify claims to IABC membership. But it offers a snapshot of opinion among Ragan.com’s readership of industry professionals. Ragan is publishing the comments here. (Ad hominem attacks were omitted from the published comments but were nonetheless considered as part of the survey findings.)
‘The board sets the strategy’
Kerby Meyers, volunteer chair of IABC’s International Executive Board, admits the association has had missteps in the past year. He has stated that IABC’s communications fell short last fall and that messages did not land well, but the organization was trying to be considerate of departing colleagues.
This year, however, things have improved, Meyers says. The association has reached members through weekly email updates, quarterly reports, LinkedIn discussions, and a webinar. Its world conference, approaching next month, will offer further opportunities.
“In the last few months, I would say that we’ve considerably improved on that front,” Meyers said. “In terms of a [communication] problem? No. Are there areas where we can keep improving? Always.”
Asked for an interview, Sorek deferred to IABC’s volunteer leadership. Vice Chair Robin McCasland, who will succeed Meyers as chair in June, implied that IABC needs to improve communications about Sorek’s role.
“Chris is not there to set the vision for the association. … The board sets the strategy and the direction for the association,” McCasland says.
The poll offered a series of opinions about the organization on issues ranging from its accreditation to areas needing improvement. Among the 418 members, it found:
- Nearly 60 percent agreed that IABC should conduct an independent branding study to learn how the association is perceived among members and the outside world.
- Free stuff? Sure! Sixty percent liked the idea, bandied about by some in the association, that IABC should offer its content free of charge. This might include digital courses, video presentations and other online learning.
- Just half agreed that the IABC’s Accredited Business Communicator credential has value in the profession, and about a third (34 percent) said no.
- Nearly 75 percent feel at least somewhat satisfied with the services IABC provides. The largest portion of those—37 percent—stated they were “somewhat satisfied.” Only 22 percent expressed dissatisfaction.
- IABC’s publication, Communication World, is popular. Some 70 percent find it informative.
- Among the areas that most need improvement, promoting the value of business communications ranked highest (nearly 60 percent), followed by communicating with members (54 percent), the website (45 percent), and accreditation (36 percent). IABC says it is working on all of these.
- In response to a Goldilocks-style question about dues (too much, willing to pay more, just right), a slight majority of 51 percent feel IABC’s dues are “Just right,” while 40 percent found them too expensive. A valiant 4 percent would happily part with more money.
- Ask the lapsed members, though, and it’s a different story. Fifty-six percent of them choked on the dues, finding them too pricy; only 19 percent thought the dues were just right.
- Only 24 percent of members watched a YouTube from a recent Leadership Institute meeting outlining plans for the future.
An unfair survey?
Some respondents found Ragan’s poll unfair. Though many criticized Sorek, others felt it was a low blow to ask about his performance by name.
“You need to stop picking on IABC,” one respondent wrote. “Members are turning on you, not IABC. You are bullying people online.”
Another wrote: “I think IABC needs to stay far away from scum-sucking organizations like Ragan. You are like sharks. You don’t give a tit about the profession. You want to make money. People see through you.”
One respondent claimed to have heard secondhand that Ragan Communications “bribed someone in another country to get positive feedback.”
Asked about the bribery allegation, Ragan Publisher and CEO Mark Ragan quipped, “We tried, but we couldn’t get Vladimir Putin to ‘like’ our pages.”
Others reserved their ire for IABC. One respondent wrote that IABC’s staff and volunteer leadership have lost their way, adding: “Many of my acquaintances who are long time IABC members and active volunteers are just dropping out, not renewing or, if they remain a member, not wanting to get involved. … IABC has shot itself in both feet.”
Justyna Piesiewicz, president of the board of IABC Poland, praises the worldwide organization as one with a long history and a great image, but she describes it as “a cobbler without shoes” with regard to communications.
“It is a great shame that having such a network of top-notch experts around the world, IABC did not ask them before these activities and strategy were taken into action,” she says. “It is, as well, a fantastic example of how communication is important, that without proper communication many bad things could happen to your organization.”
Supporting other countries?
Though the association has nearly 15,000 members in many countries, Piesiewicz says those outlying chapters and affiliates “do not get strong support from headquarters; frankly their leaders and members are left alone. Why is IABC targeting its activities mostly to U.S. and Canadian members?”
Meyers, the current chair, says that supporting chapters and members around the world has “been an issue in the past, and we’re continually working to improve the support on that front.”
He agrees that IABC’s efforts have historically skewed toward North America, where most members reside. Recently it has broadened the perspective, adding board members and recruiting committee leaders globally “to ensure that multiple viewpoints are considered in major initiatives,” Meyers says.
For the past three years, international board leaders have also participated in the IABC Europe, Middle East, and North Africa Regional Leadership Institute. They took part in a similar event last November for the Asia Pacific Region.
McCasland, the vice chair, said she doesn’t think IABC ever stopped communicating with chapters, but concurred that it needs to explore new channels. “I do think we can do a better job,” she says. “It’s clear that whatever we’re doing now isn’t working for a lot of people.”
Check your spam box
One problem is that many members don’t read the communications that are sent. IABC spokesman Aaron Heinrich said its emails have only a 16-25 percent open rate.
“There’s no lack of communication that goes out the door here, but because we’ve done so much of it, people have basically put IABC emails in their spam folder,” he says.
IABC hopes a new website and email system will help by enabling people to opt in to what’s most relevant to them. These should be launched this summer.
Paula Cassin, past president of IABC’s Los Angeles chapter, says that chapter sometimes struggled to offer programming that would be relevant to communicators with a wide array of specializations. She had hoped the international office would use its leverage to bring in video live-streaming of major speakers of a level that a local chapter couldn’t arrange.
Still, she understands the difficulty of trying to communicate with an association of communicators.
“They could’ve done it better,” Cassin said, “but it’s the toughest audience in the world, with 15,000 people who think they could do it better than you.”