I’ve given serious thought in recent months to letting my IABC membership lapse. With all the drama earlier this year, it crossed my mind more than once. But then, I attended the Heritage Region Conference, Oct. 13-15 in Indianapolis.
The IABC International is huge — 1,500 isn’t out of the question — and its venues, large hotels in big cities (New York, Toronto, etc.) makes for a spendy trip for the likes of a sole proprietor. But the regional conferences are more compact, are in smaller cities, and yet offer terrific programming.
This year was no exception.
I’m a little biased, as I had the chance to speak once again, but the quality was wonderful — Jim Lukaszewski held court for three hours, evangelizing on the concept that communicators need to be much more business-centric than communication-centric, particularly in times of crisis. We know that we get more popular when it’s time to sweep up after some sort of conflagration, but too often, Jim averred, we see communication as the solution to every problem.
Case in point at my own expense: Jim asked why the CEO of BP — Tony Hayward, of “I’d like my life back” fame — lost his job in the wake of the oil platform explosion that killed people and brought the US gulf coast to its economic knees. I piped up instantly — blame-shifting, insensitivities, cluelessness…
Jim said I was wrong – it’s just how things are done. The disaster happened on his watch, and so he paid the price. He’ll be OK, Jim added, because these guys get paid no matter what. But he’ll never lead as large or important a company as BP. Jim’s point: we communicators need to better understand how business operates, not just the role that communicators play in it. There’s more, of course, including Jim’s gentle good humor, phenomenal stories and exceptional insight that comes from doing this work for 40-odd years.
Tim McCleary of The Involvement Practice keynoted Monday morning, offering not only a valuable speech, but a couple of fun exercises demonstrating how we can move from informing to involving people. Establishing the central objective, then helping people understand it through real dialogue, then immersing them in the world of the new so that they own that objective and finally activating the power of the internal network (the What, Why and How of communicating change), was clear, intuitive and actionable.
Kent Lewis of Anvil Media, and serial entrepreneur, talked social media analytics — but not in a dry, statistical way. He shared stories of how to measure effectively — key performance indicators, metrics and goals for each platform, content strategies, etc. — that resonated well with attendees. Two big reminders for me — YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, so having content on that platform is critical; and that SlideShare adds immeasurably to both search performance and sharing content effectively. One more from Kent — LinkedIn is essential in B2B, and one’s company page needs to be robust, clear and urgent. I need to get on that right away!
That’s just a couple of examples.
The point is that about 150 attendees really got the chance to network. I met at least five people I’d not met before, and I reacquainted myself with dozens more. The seven-person dinner Monday night at the Dine-Around was terrific, even if Harry and Izzy’s shrimp cocktail blasted my head (and everyone else’s) into a tear-streaked paroxysm of anguish and bliss.
IABC might be struggling to right itself, but they might have kept me in the fold thanks the Heritage Region team’s great work. Check out the Twitter stream at #iabchrconf.