From the President

by Steve Higgins, IABC Tulsa President

Toronto is in the headlines this week, as the G20 summit and all of its attendant chaos descend on the otherwise mild-mannered Canadian city. Earlier this month, though, Toronto was besieged by another, somewhat less rowdy group – about 1,500 professional communicators.

The IABC World Conference didn’t make international headlines or draw attention from law enforcement (aside from a 2 a.m. prank fire alarm that could not definitively be linked to an IABCer). But it did offer a wealth of ideas, inspiration and dialogue for a profession in the midst of a sea change.

Some speakers hit it out of the park (Guy Kawasaki, Craig Kielburger and Steve Crescenzo, natch). Others managed only singles. Overall, the experience drove home three main points:

The role of the business communicator is changing. The transition of the communicator from tactician to strategist is nothing new. But the preponderance of new media is making our role even more critical – and visible – than ever. Podcasts, internal video reporting and blogs are moving communicators out of the shadows of anonymity to a more front-and-center role in their organizations.

  • The one-way, top-down communication model is gone for good. We’re kidding ourselves if we think the traditional CEO memo or press release will ever again be as effective as they once were. People are far too media savvy. They expect to participate in an interactive, two-way dialogue, rather than passively letting information drop upon them from the heavens.
  • ‘Safe social media’ is an emerging trend. Safe social media is kind of like safe sex, only more controversial. Most companies are too scared of what their stakeholders will say about them to engage in truly open, authentic two-way dialogue. Problem is, those conversations are happening with or without the company’s participation. Communicators (like Crescenzo and William Amurgis of AEP) are working on corporate social media strategies that executives can get comfortable with.

If you haven’t been, I hope you’ll consider attending an IABC conference in the future. This was my first World Conference, but it won’t be my last. Besides being fun and enlightening, it reaffirmed my belief that IABC is the right organization to help define this brave, new era of business communication.