In this posting, the men and the woman of CommScrum discuss their short history, their commitment to free discussion, and the reactions they have received from unexpected places…with real-time conversation from the ethers of Skypechat:
Mike: Here’s how I’d like to start: So, we’re into our fourth month of CommScrum–where we promised to break some taboos and challenge conventional wisdom–how do we think we’re doing?
Lindsay: I think we’ve produced some good stuff and had some fun doing it. The format’s been easy and the interaction we get is great so I can see this going for a while.
Kevin: I like that we have brought out some sacred cows and if not slaughtered them then at least grilled and seasoned them a bit. But we could still be more challenging. I don’t want to become too polite or we’ll turn into what we are trying to distance ourselves from.
Dan: We have established a core of engaged folk (Sean Trainor, Sean Williams, Debbie Hinton et al) on both sides of the pond who like what we have to say, and are happy to chime in on a regular basis. Now its a question of how we widen the net further, in my book.
Mike: To be fair, we’ve clearly drawn blood a bit though, which I think we should acknowledge ourselves for. We have one core principle guiding us, which a belief that there is nothing or no one in the communication world whom we can’t challenge, so long as we challenge on substantive grounds.
Kevin: And I don’t think drawing blood is an objective in itself. It’s just an outcome of focusing on things that need to change in our profession if we are to remain relevant and innovative.
Mike: One thing we’ve identified that’s crucial—is that there seems to be all-pervasive element of our profession’s culture that’s holding us back–a belief not only in hierarchy for its own sake, but that those in hierarchies hold their positions by right, making it wrong, impolite and even treacherous to challenge them publicly.
Kevin: Indeed. We are at a sort of crossroads in terms of professionalism and how we associate – with an unprecedented range of options available to us. In the UK alone we have CIPD, CIPR, CiB, as well as EACD and IABC internationally. As our profession has specialised, so has it fragmented. It’s actually becoming hard to decide where to commit your time and energy in terms of best practices, next practices, networking and so on.
Mike: Even though Commscrum is in its infancy, I think we have carved out a place in this fragmented world where comms pros who think the industry needs an ideological shakeup can connect with like-minded pros.
Kevin: Agree. I’m getting lots of positive feedback that CommScrum is a place to have open conversations, rather than polite inwardly-focused chats behind closed doors. I have had the opposite experience from IABC however and sort of drifted away – partly because of work pressures but because I felt it had become insular.
Lindsay: Lets not forget that the IABC is a resource that offers a lot more where there is a critical mass of local and regional members that can float beneficial events and offer great networking opportunities. – i.e. North America. Over there, it’s basically a big club for communicators complete with staff, accreditation and annual conferences – take it or leave it.
Dan: Where I see myself getting value from any one of these sources is in uncovering alternative perspectives that encourage me to think differently, though. I certainly don’t get that from IABC these days. In fact, I’ve encountered the opposite, because of the views we have expressed about IABC on Commscrum before.
Mike: Are you talking about the email you received from a regional IABC officer expressing dissatisfaction with previous mentions of IABC in Commscrum postings?
Dan: Yep – I’m headed out to Saudi next week for a 9-month contract, and I’d asked him if he knew anyone out there – a pretty simple and innocent request. Not only did he make it very clear he was unimpressed with my “recently expressed views”, he said he’d only help me network with IABC members in the Middle East if I renewed my membership. He even said – and I quote – “hey, nothing’s free these days.” Unbelievable!
Kevin: Wow. Yeah … I think sometimes people forget they are volunteers on these “boards.” I was one of them! I mean, it’s not like the elections are ever opposed and people are clamouring for roles. Quite the opposite in my experience.
Mike: But ironically, IABC’s own “Code of Ethics” calls for professional communicators to understand and support the principles of free speech, freedom of assembly, and access to an open marketplace of ideas, and to act accordingly.
Lindsay: No denying that. We Commscrummers – and anyone else who wants to share their professional views should be able to do that without reprimand. I like being part of Commscrum because it stands for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and we don’t pretend to always be right. We float ideas so our readers can shoot ’em down.
Dan: It’s a difference between an “instructional/right answer” focus (IABC) and a “thought leadership/chew on this” focus (Commscrum)
Mike: IABC doesn’t have a monopoly on ‘right answers’, and I’m afraid it is missing the boat on the biggest issues facing us all right now. IABC has some massive choices to make as we move into the social communication era–where democracy will confront hierarchy like never before, internally, in the industry, and in the business and organizational worlds as a whole. To be sure, IABC fills a great social role in North America where communicators are dispersed, but it’s not needed for that in Europe. Germany in particular is getting along fine without any IABC involvement whatsoever.
Kevin: To be fair, I think IABC Chair Mark Schumann is spiritually “one of us” – he gets all this. His challenge, and his successor’s, will be overcoming IABC’s propensities toward introspection and inertia. And you can’t generally overcome inertia without some disruption. There’s the rub. The thinking that got us here is not the thinking that will get us out of here.
Mike: What I see–IABC has great members–everywhere, Europe, NA, Asia. It has some smart leaders, some real lions (like my buddy Ned Lundquist in particular), and does some good stuff. It needs to keep doing the good stuff that informs and strengthens us as practitioners.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Let’s keep things in perspective. Some people get a lot out of it – but looking at it another way, the more introspective IABC becomes, the more people will seek information and truth from other sources – like Commscrum. We’re all players in this evolution.
Kevin: Let’s go to another example though. IABC flew Mark Schumann over to Europe talk about employer brands. That’s great, but, um, we happen to have some employer brand experts in Europe, thank you very much. And as good as Mark is, there’s no blue water between him and say Simon Barrow. Why didn’t they invite Simon? Certainly his perspective and experience is more relevant to a European audience. Even I did employer branding for Coca-Cola and BP. We aren’t exactly lightweights over here. But I “left the IABC flock”, so it seems am persona non grata. And my employer doesn’t sponsor IABC either. Yet my practice is officially launching in India next month, three offices of employee communications pros, then China. And I don’t see IABC there at all. It’s a real problem.
Lindsay: What do you mean? It’s a problem that they haven’t grown to cover the entire planet? They have 14,000 members…
Kevin: But that’s mathematical – 50 states plus say an equivalent 5 in Canada, event with 100 people per region you hit 5,500 pretty quickly. The you get some large densities et voila. It’s a problem that they claim “international” yet 90% of the members are on one continent. Many of them presenting on cross-cultural, international communication issues when in truth their experience is working within a North American MNC. As a long-term expat I have real problems with that. It’s like being named the “World Champions” in American Football…
Dan: And emerging markets can, and do, leapfrog a lot of the incremental-competence-improving stuff that holds back the profession.
Kevin: I think we can’t over-emphasise this issue. The equivalent is people in India and China who have gone from no phone to iPhone – never had a land line or a cruddy old brick. That is the shift we are looking at. Social media isn’t a channel; not something you learn about at a conference; you just do it.
Mike: Or, in Germany’s case, going from “newsletters and posters” to white-hot social media without getting mired in “employee engagement.”
Mike: Nevertheless, IABC (and certainly its loyal members) don’t want to find themselves on the losing side. Competent, confident ideological neutrality—that’s where IABC needs to position itself if it’s to thrive in the new environment.
Kevin: Is there a role for the “professional communicator” in 5 years time? Assuming so, how should we organize ourselves?
Mike: That raises a further question–is IABC worth reshaping, or does it need replacing? For example, in terms of industry infrastructure, the IC group in Germany, IK_Community has 1000 members, no dues, and is totally organized through social media. Melcrum and Ragan have followings in the tens of thousands for online and offline offerings alike.
Dan: As for ideological content, where we fit into the business picture is grounds for lots of discussions—for example, the words ‘brand’, ‘communication’, and ‘business’ put in front of the word ‘strategy’ are actually the same thing.
Kevin: Agree, and I won’t bang on about multispecialism again here. Another question – does IABC become a market shaper or a market maker? I suspect the latter or fade into irrelevance. I mean CIPR and CIPD are already making pretty strong inroads in the UK as well. But IABC isn’t going to fade, it has such a strong North American footprint. And again it has so much that is positive about it. It just frustrates me, I guess… in my heart I feel it could be dominant if it could only shift its gaze from its own navel…
Mike: Maybe there’s a need for a “matrix” approach—we keep the “associations” as support infrastructure (skills training, accreditation, access to other members etc.), but the thought and commercial leadership moves to “movements” and “tribes” of like minds, and small networks–perhaps even acting and competing as virtual firms.
Not fragmentation, tribalisation!