Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 IABC Leadership Institute--Final Day Notes

IABCLI, Orlando, FL--The 2015 Leadership Institute is my fourth LI. I find that it's an emotional and satisfying event, giving me face time with colleagues that I often only connect with online. It also makes me a better leader, I hope--I learn what other chapters/regions are doing, their burning issues are, and their ideas and aspirations. I am excited to take these ideas back to Chicago and put them into action! My notes on the final day's discussions are below.

Thanks to Russell, Michael, Robin, Carlos, Melissa and everyone else from the IABC staff and international executive board for making this year's LI informative, friendly, open and useful, all at the same time.

Thanks, too, to our sponsors: Rust Insurance, Igloo Software, and Netweaver. We so appreciate you!

On Saturday morning, we were given the opportunity to pose a topic and invite others to join a discussion. I asked, as a representative of the IABC Ethics Committee, what chapters and regions were looking for from us as we review and update our Code of Ethics.

Here's what I heard:

  • We need to address citation of non-original content in online applications, specifically blogs and the "echo chamber of social media" (don't you love that phrase?).
  • Recent graduates/entry-level professionals don't seem to "get it." As an example, an agency exec was contacted by a photographer demanding payment for use of a copyrighted photo and demanding the photo in question be taken down. The exec discovered that an entry-level hire had copied a photo from a major news outlet and used it on a client's website. While the employee did properly cite the work, s/he did not purchase or get permission to use the work. This lack of knowledge cost the agency in terms of money, work, and reputation.
  • Another concern was the lack of honesty/transparency online, such as paid reviewers and bloggers.
  • IABC's code of professional ethics is part of our brand and sets us apart from others. but we're a society trained to automatically click "Accept" when presented with user agreements, rules, or other compliance information, without actually reading it. IABC members are no different--every year, we're asked to tick the box to acknowledge that we have read and agree to the Code of Ethics, but when did you last read it?
  • Lastly, I heard a concern about unethical behavior, not on the part of our professional colleagues, but of their employers. An IABC colleague noticed more than one award entry with communication objectives that were unethical: in one case, attempting to coerce minorities into purchasing unnecessary products by making unfounded health claims (fear-mongering). The communicator may not have know the deception, or may not have felt s/he could stand up to the employer.
Thanks to all who shared their thoughts on ethics. I promise to take these to the Ethics Committee for use as we reshape the Code of Ethics.

Professional Development Innovation
IABCers from four different U.S. chapters shared their professional development event successes. Some of the ideas:
  • Sarah Thornton and the Denver, CO chapter partnered with Denver University. DU provides the location for free and a discount if the chapter uses their catering. The chapter provides a box lunch--sometimes from DU catering, but often from local restaurants--at a cost of about $12. Members pay $30, nonmembers pay $45. Parking is inexpensive, the location is well-known and convenient. Also, the chapter gets three speakers per year from DU--known local experts--at no cost. DU gets to advertise its communication program to participants. Program is a mix between strategic, tactical and personal topics.
  • Dani Bader and the Seattle, WA chapter cold-called the Seattle Mariners for a year-end activity. The VP of communication did a presentation, followed by a ball game (worked with group sales). The chapter paid $32/ticket and charged $30/$50. They had 24 attendees, drawing some new faces, and cleared $350. The also offered a join-n-go option (join IABC at the time of registration and get the member price) but no one used it.
  • Shelby Curry and the chapter in Orlando, FL do a series of events (around 10 a year) at businesses around the Orlando area, priced to be competitive with other organizations: $25/$30, including a full lunch from Panera, Jason's Deli, etc. They also offer webinars that are free to members and $15 for nonmembers, plus $10 networking events. Each presenter receives a leather-bound journal as a gift ($17 each). The chapter has no VP of professional development. Instead, all board members are responsible for PD.
Discussion within the group included whether the international organization could offer templates, suggested topics, themes for the quarter or year, and downloadable assets for chapter use.

What registration software is used? Cvent, Eventbrite, yourmembership.com, Star Chapter ($100/month), and Constant Contact. 

Other ideas: offer a new member's first event free (use a coupon code), track a net promoter score (how likely is the attendee to recommend it to their friends and colleagues?). All good ideas to help local IABC chapters provide value to their members and raise revenue to continue to do so.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Add value for independent communicators and for IABC members as a whole

LI, Orlando, FL--Part One: Chapters will sometimes support special interest groups (SIGs) to accommodate or attract different types of members or attendees. IABC San Francisco established the Independent Communicators' Roundtable (ICR).

Presenters cited research that 43 percent of workers will be self-employed (didn't catch year-sorry). The ICR caters to independents (but is not exclusive to them). Here's how they do it:
  • ICR meets monthly, getting about 12 to 20 people; not all are IABC members.
  • They have two distinct meeting times and places, alternating each month: an end-of-day meeting in San Francisco and a lunch meeting in Oakland.
  • The simple format is low-stress for the organizers: start with a "go-round" in which each person gets 30 to 60 seconds to introduce themselves, then have a 20-minute presentation followed by a Q&A session. 
  • They used to charge $10; now they are free (attendees responsible for their own refreshments).
  • IABC has gained some new members through ICR, and the networking has yielded jobs and contract work, so there is benefit to all.
  • ICR surveys members for topics of interest.
Part Two: IABC chair Russell Grossman presented the organization's achievements against 2014-17 strategy:
  1. Launched new website in December, with further enhancements coming in March.
  2. Raised unbudgeted revenue; the board set a target of raising $190,000 but actually raised $230,000.
  3. Tidied up governance of the association.
IABC's market value:
Our Chapters & Regions 


Communications Profession
(~85,000 potential for revenue and reputation)


(the only communications association focused on business)


Global Context
(the only communications association that is truly global)

Ideas? Questions? Email chair@iabc.com or vicechair@iabc.com.

Headed off to bed. I'll try to be wittier--or at least more coherent--in six hours.

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm (or membership retention ideas)

LI, Orlando, FL--Every IABC chapter--indeed, I'll wager every association--struggles to attract and retain members. A standing room-only crowd attended a forum Friday at Leadership Institute in Orlando, FL to discuss this very topic.

We all understand the barriers to retention--cost, fewer employers paying for memberships, younger professionals are less likely to join associations--but how to keep our members and remain viable?

Lapsing membership has a number of causes. Chief among them: "I forgot" and "my employer won't pay for it this year." Twenty percent of first year members don't renew when their anniversary comes around. How do we get them plugged into the organization and to see the value?

First, identify what we have to continue to do to run the business: provide the services needed, maintain and improve infrastructure such as websites, manage resources effectively and efficiently.

Then, determine what to change. In IABC's case and at a high level:

  • Certification program and academy (June)
  • Create a plan to engage communications professionals, whether as members or other users of our programs
  • Put ourselves as a business brokerage, connecting small to medium business with communication needs to member practitioners
  • Align chapters to regions to headquarters--one IABC
Some key things to note:
  • Chapters and volunteer boards are the heart and soul of IABC. HQ needs to supplement and support local boards.
  • While membership is dropping, our followers on social media have grown to 40,000 on LinkedIn and 20,000 on Twitter.
  • We have a retention rate of about 65 percent, below industry standards.
  • Associations average nine touchpoints with lapsing members. IABC HQ does five at present and assume another three to four from the chapter. In addition to emails, IABC has tested adding a telephone call and will begin regularly calling lapsing members in March (will do on a quarterly basis). They will also begin sending a print letter. Future enhancements include providing a print invoice to aid those who must submit an invoice for payment at work.
  • Corporate memberships (one-third of our membership) will evolve into an account management process--more to come.
  • Additional tools: reintroducing the Steal Sheet, an electronic document with news and info that can be copied and pasted into chapter communications.
  • Membership month: March and October in 2015 and 2016. Chapters can do another month; just let HQ know. Will do a prize drawing for all who pay to join or renew in March. Prize: communications makeover, including four to five one-hour coaching sessions with subject matter experts.
  • Another possibility: auto renewals, most likely on an opt-in basis.
  • IABC will conduct a member survey in March/April and will provide segmented data to chapters.
  • Members will get a new IABC pin upon joining. Existing members will also get one (roll-out at World Conference in June).
Ideas from other chapters:
  • Connect with lapsing members on Twitter.
  • Provide event passes to renewing members.
  • Assign an existing member to each new member--buddy system.
  • Ramp up recognition by issuing certificates to milestone anniversaries: 1, 5, 10, etc.
  • Use social media to congratulate member at the one-year anniversary.
  • Use a calling tree to contact lapsing members, or assign each board member a certain number of members as contacts at the beginning of the year for regular contact.
  • In an email to lapsing members, include a list of upcoming events that they might miss (or will have to pay full price to attend) if they lapse.
  • Take new/renewing members to lunch.
  • Customize the reminder email for different career stages--what's important to early career professionals, senior communicators.
  • Offer premium content for members only; i.e., book club.
One more report, then bed!

Friday, February 13, 2015

A sneak peek at the new IABC

LI, Orlando, FL - Past IEB chair Robin McCasland and taskforce chair Priya Bates unveiled the new IABC brand. Not final, mind you, but due to launch in April, with a big splash at World Conference in June. 

Background: interviews revealed that IABC is perceived as old-fashioned, slow, closed, unfocused, not advocating for the profession, and not "proactively international enough." Our opportunities: need to be open, accessible, light, contemporary and professional.

The team put a lot of energy into discovery and development of our shared values: global professionalism, creating connection, diverse community, and insights and results. They worked with a design firm (I will get the name and publish it) who did the brand work pro bono. We asked for something that's "not so North American," works across the globe, is innovative, dynamic and professional, and allows for freedom within a framework. The result is above (sorry for the fuzziness).

New logo and old side-by-side
There will be a lot of flexibility for use of the logo. Guidelines will be supplied in an orientation kit. Watch for the launch in April 2015, with orientation and the big splash in June at World Conference in San Francisco.

The crowd at Leadership Institute was very receptive. More to come!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A different kind of open mic event

Musings from sunny, but chilly, Orlando, Florida:

Day one of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Leadership Institute. The International Executive Board (IEB) invited chapter leaders from around the globe to freestyle questions, comments or suggestions to the board. As you might expect, a crowd appeared to take advantage of the opportunity. Here's what we learned in the ensuing conversation:

  • IABC plans to review membership pricing, including the application fee. They plan to include pricing in the upcoming member survey. A reminder: chapters can adjust their fees, increasing or decreasing if desired.
  • The organization will also consider our corporate membership structure—currently not really corporate, but a collection of individuals who work for the same organization.
  • IABC needs to define the roles of the international organization, the regions, and chapters. How do we operate as one IABC? We're not maximizing value at present.
  • A committee is being organized to produce an annual report.
  • New programs are ramping up—IABC academy, certification program ("meeting the 21st century")—best practices.
  • IABC's finances are recovering from the issues of the past six to seven years—now moving in the right direction, with investment in programs, infrastructure. The concerns now are not expenses (they have greater control of this) but in revenue.
  • The organization is taking steps to replace staff, re-evaluating each position to ensure we're making the best use of our resources.
  • The IEB, for the first time, has more than half its members from outside the U.S., ensuring a more global perspective. Two former chairs will research how to better leverage our membership in the Global PR Alliance.
  • IABC will go old school with lapsing members, sending a print mail reminder along with the electronic reminders already sent.
  • Russell Grossman, the IEB chair, will visit chapters, if invited and if practical.
I put this account together for my colleagues on the IABC/Chicago board. I intend to do the same the next two days of the conference; we shall see if I can follow through on that. 

Oh, and at right, Martha Muzychka, Canada East Region, accepts the Regional Leader of the Year award. Well done, Martha!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Pre-blizzard mental meanderings

This winter has been so disappointing for a snow baby like me. As of yesterday, I think our snowfall was nearly five inches below normal, and most of it from light snowfall--an inch here, half an inch there. After the huge hoopla of the NYC non-blizzard, the weather forecasters (or weather guessers, as my dad calls them) are decidedly lower-key about today's forecast for Chicago. Yesterday, we heard that we'll get a lot of snow today. 

Last night, the Weather Channel put up a "winter weather advisory" that became a "winter storm warning." By 3 a.m., when I was up trolling the channels due to a bout of insomnia, it had changed to a "blizzard warning."  I got up and looked out the window. There, in the park below me, was...a dusting. Back to the TV--yep, it says "blizzard."

I shook my head and found something else to watch. Slowly I became aware of an irregular ticking sound--frozen precipitation hitting the window. Very fine, very light, but as time went on, snow began to fall in earnest--again, very soft and light; not large flakes. Nothing obvious--look out the window and you'll see what looks like a mist or fog. That's snow.

It's been falling steadily for four hours. But wait...there's more! The "blizzard" part of the weather prediction doesn't actually start until this afternoon. Perfect--I'll have time to go out for breakfast before being snow-bound.

Finally! Snow!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Still cold, but the kitchen is warm

It's May 16, and it snowed in downtown Chicago today. I shivered in my home office all day. To keep warm, I thought about baking.

Mmmm. I love to bake. I love to create in sugar and pastry - it's my happy place. Maybe I'll share some of those creations with you over the next few weeks - kind of a cake-y nostalgia.

Sweet Goodbye Cake (2014)
This is an enormous cake -- a double layer half-sheet (12 x 18 inches) in a classic yellow vanilla cake. The cake is filled with strawberry buttercream -- Swiss meringue buttercream blended with strawberry jam, which turned out to be a big hit at the retirement party.

The frosting is a base layer of Swiss buttercream, with decorations in a classic American (read: Wilton) decorator's buttercream. I wanted a spring theme, so there are poseys with leaves, stems and accent dots, using blue, pink, violet, green and yellow. The poseys are made using drop flower tips.

The Sweet Goodbye cake was so heavy, we used a cart to move it into the building (because I know I would have dropped it!). It was well-received, which makes it all worthwhile.

Bonus - Cupcakes!
I always over-make my frosting, just to be safe. What do to do with it? We have a small refrigerator, so storing six colors of frosting for any length of time is out of the question. I know! Cupcakes!

I actually used a mix for the cupcakes in the interest of time. Note there are 23 cupcakes. My mother asked who the cupcake thief was, and I answered, "Betty Crocker." Previously, the box held 18 ounces of mix; now it holds 15, which makes fewer, smaller cupcakes.

Anyway, I was very popular at work the next day!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Yes. It's cold.

It's cold. It's February in Chicago, and it's cold.

Even my hot flashes are only lukewarm.

I can't keep up with filling the humidifier, the heater runs 'round the clock, and my skin is so dry it hurts.

It's cold, and it's been cold for what feels like a long time.

Okay. That's better. I'm over it. Thanks for letting me whine a bit.

Now then, what else is going on? I've been staying busy making pasta, reading, even watching the Olympics (a bit). Oooh, there's a good rant.

I'm patriotic - I love this country and cheer for our Olympians, but I feel cheated with the NBC coverage of these winter games from Sochi.

Prime time coverage seems to be limited to a few sports: hockey, snowboarding and skating. I'm also disappointed that NBC focuses almost exclusively on U.S. athletes. I was watching an event earlier this week, and as soon as it became clear that the U.S. athlete was not going to win, coverage ended and the network moved on. Wait! What about the winner? I'd like to see more!

What I don't need more of are interviews (as entertaining as Bob Costas is when he looks like he's been poked in both eyes with a sharp stick). Sports! Give me more sports - and all of it, not just what your girlfriend wants to see!

=pant= Sorry. I'm a bit out of breath with all this ranting. Boy - I wish I was in charge of Olympic programming at NBC. They must have hours of unused footage. It's a shame not to use it. I'm probably in the minority, though. Their demographic research probably shows that most people want to see highlights only, and that highlights means Team U.S.A, rivalries and big upsets.

I like an underdog and I like to know that other countries, even if they have only a few athletes present, get a chance at a few minutes of stardom too. 

That's all. But it's still cold.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Suburban Mouse and the Downtown Girl

Once upon a time lived a suburban woman. She was raised in the suburbs. She owned houses in the suburbs. She mowed grass and planted gardens. In the suburbs, she shoveled a lot of snow, drove everywhere, rarely walked except in a specific effort for exercise, and spent hours upon hours of her life in cars.

And when she moved to the Chicago area, it was to an apartment in the suburbs. Then one day, the woman and her sweetie were sharing a lo-o-o-ong commute from the suburbs into the city...yet another 1.5 hour one-way commute. It just became too much.

The woman and her sweetie found a place three doors – that's right: three! – from her office. His new commute: 3.9 miles. Her new commute: two blocks. And life was good once again.

The couple had grown up in Detroit – original home of the American automobile – so it was with trepidation that they sold their two cars and bought one hybrid. Now, they fill the gas tank every three weeks or so instead of twice a week. The money they spend on tolls went down by about 75%. 
Even the cat loves highrise living.

And they began to walk - to the grocery store, the park, the drug store, the bank, the post office, the department store. To breakfast, lunch and dinner, if they are so inclined. The sweetie lost eight pounds in the first three months, without changing anything but the amount of walking he does. (Not so the woman, but life can be cruel.)

In particular, they love the amenities of a downtown highrise - the rooftop pool and fitness center, the door staff, parking attendant, onsite dry cleaner, package service - even the taxi call light. These did not exist in their suburban lives.

And oh, the parks, festivals and concerts! The accessibility of the lakefront! The museums and cultural center! The lights! The sounds!

Her family – who by this time had moved from the suburbs to a rural area, thought she had lost her ever-loving mind. The city! Why on God's green acre would anyone want to live surrounded by...cars, trucks, buses, building, concrete...and other people?

From her vantage point overlooking a luscious green park surrounded by attractive highrises, the woman smiles. Maybe she has lost her ever-loving mind. And maybe she sounds like an advert for city living, but that’s okay. Who knew a suburban girl could grow up to be a happy high-rise dweller? Definitely not the end.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How Brownies Should Taste

What's a sure-fire crowd-pleasing dessert that's quick to make, easily portable and (nearly) infinitely variable? Brownies!

Once upon a time, I rarely made brownies except from a boxed mix - I didn't want to bother with making them from scratch when the mix-based brownies were good (though I added a squirt of chocolate syrup to box-mix brownies to improve the choco flavor). Then, a miracle occurred - the Make-a-Mix Cookery book.

I now make my own brownie mix. One batch of mix makes dozens - nay, hundreds - of brownies. I once gave my mother's friend, Millie, some mix and the baking instructions. Her reaction, after making them: "This is how brownies are supposed to taste."

The mix recipe is from the cookbook, but the frosting, variations and notes are mine.

Master Brownie Mix* (recipe can be halved or quartered)
6 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 tsp salt
8 cups sugar
8 oz. can unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups vegetable shortening

In large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in sugar and cocoa. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in shortening until evenly distributed. Place in a large airtight container, label and store in a cool, dry place. Use within 10 to 12 weeks. Makes about 17 cups of mix.

To bake brownies:
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups brownie mix (above)
1/2 c chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan. In medium bowl, combine eggs, vanilla and brownie mix; beat until smooth. Stir in nuts. Spread in prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, until edges pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool, cut into 24 bars (or 16, if you like them bigger).
Connie's Variations
  1. Frost your brownies using the following frosting:

    Basic cake frosting
    1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature

    1/2 cup vegetable shortening
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
    cream or milk

    Place butter and shortening in large mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, beat again until incorporated. Add powdered sugar a cup at a time, alternating with a tablespoon of cream or milk and beating between additions. In all, you'll want to beat the frosting for about five minutes, aiming for a smooth, light consistency. If too stiff, add more cream a teaspoon at a time. If too loose - if it doesn't hold it's shape without being stiff - add more powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time.

    Above all, take your time - your patience will be rewarded. Variations:
    • Cream cheese frosting: substitute 4 oz. cream cheese for butter.
    • Vary the flavor by using different extracts and flavorings in place of the vanilla. Use fresh lemon, lime, pineapple, mango or other juice in place of cream.
    • Beat in melted chocolate - what's not to like?
    • To tint frosting, stir in good food coloring (I prefer gel) a drop or two at a time until you get the color desired.

  2. Stir in some fun:
    • Chopped walnuts plus mini-marshmallows for a rocky road flavor
    • Chocolate chips, or white chocolate, raspberry, butterscotch, etc.
    • Coconut and chopped pecans for a German chocolate flair
    • Spices such as cayenne pepper
    • Chopped peanuts and caramels (cut in little bits) for a Snickers Bar-like brownie

  3. Ice cream sandwiches: Spread batter in a larger pan and bake it for a shorter time (just watch for the edges to pull away from the pan to know when it's done). When cool, cut into 2 or 3" squares or use a round cookie cutter. Scoop slightly softened ice cream onto one brownie, top with another brownie, gently pressing down. If you like, dip the sides into brownie crumbs, sprinkles or chopped peanuts. Then wrap tightly and freeze until firm.

* (excerpted from Make-A-Mix Cookery, Eliason, Harward and Westover, H.P. Books, Tucson, AZ, 1978.)