IABC Fellow Designation: A Milestone of the Communicator’s Journey

The IABC Fellow Designation is the highest honor IABC can bestow upon a member. Becoming an IABC Fellow signifies a body of achievement by a communicator who has had a significant impact not only on their organization and IABC, but also on the communication profession at large.

To understand more about what it means to be an IABC Fellow, we spoke with three Fellows who share how the designation has impacted their career, what qualities a prospective Fellow should emphasize and what makes them proud to have received this designation. Read on to hear from Neil Griffiths, ABC, Chart.PR; Rajeev Kumar, PhD, ABC; and Barbara Puffer, MA, ABC.

When did you become an IABC Fellow? Tell us about a favorite memory or story of hearing that this designation was bestowed upon you.

Neil Griffiths, ABC, Chart.PR (NG): I am a part of the Class of 2019. I remember very clearly laughing out loud when the IABC Fellows Committee Chair, Jennifer Wah, told me I was being accepted as an IABC Fellow. I had no idea the Fellows would be open to welcoming a mid-career professional into their ranks and thought there must have been some sort of mistake!

Rajeev Kumar, PhD, ABC (RK): I was recognized as an IABC Fellow in 2020. It was a proud moment when I got the news. I have been a member of IABC for 20 years, and I owe my professional development in the communication domain to IABC. Having switched careers from the military to academic to corporate and then consultancy, IABC has been a strong anchor throughout. I have learned a lot from admirable seniors, competent peers and rich friendships built across the globe through IABC. I accepted the award with a sense of humility and gratitude.

Barbara Puffer, MA, ABC, IABC Fellow (BP): I became a Fellow in the Class of 2012. When I first learned about this designation, I was absolutely elated and have to say I had a tear in my eye. No words are sufficient to explain my feelings, but two important elements about the honor come to mind:

  • My nomination was not a surprise. My advocate and nominator was Brenda Siler, who was not a Fellow at that time. She worked closely and tirelessly with me to find the right people and issues that best spoke to the requirements and categories within the nomination submission. Her organization and persistence brought everything together. She was relentless that the nomination be on point, and I will be forever grateful.
  • Second, I have been an IABC member since 1973 and have seen a sea change — more than once. Through all of the changes, I have held leadership positions from chapter, to district, then region, and served as chair of some international committees, including the Research Foundation and Ethics, in addition to serving on the executive board for four years. The honor is my most coveted award — it was validation of nearly 40 years of work for and in my profession.

Has being an IABC Fellow impacted your career? 

NG: I have always suffered a bit of imposter syndrome, and I am fortunate to have had access to roles that put me in touch with the senior-most ranks of every organization I have worked in, from my very first job to the present day. Being named a Fellow helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin as a communication professional, and the external validation it gave me was humbling and reassuring.

RK: Recognitions always add to your professional credibility. To be recognized as an IABC Fellow is a crowning glory for communicators. Yet we must remember that we ought not to rest on our laurels. Our dedication to the communication practice has to continue for life. One never stops learning. Recognition and fame are transitory and we have to continue proving our worth through competence and passion. Being a Fellow also requires one to give back to IABC and the communication profession in a variety of ways.

BP: My career was already winding down when I became a Fellow. It helped me most to add it to my signature in my consulting work. I was frequently asked about the designation and about IABC. People outside of our profession were impressed. So many professions have similar designations, and it was an achievement that was appreciated. I was also teaching part-time communications studies at UMUC at the time and such credentials are celebrated in academia.

If you had to prepare a Fellows nomination, what would be the five ideal qualities of a potential Fellow that you would emphasize?

NG: Being a Fellow means demonstrating impact across the career spectrum. It’s about professional accomplishment, thought leadership, volunteer leadership and vision. There also is something very human about each of the Fellows, and that human quality stands out to me as a hallmark of the community.

RK: The five ideal qualities that I would look for are:

  • Professional competence in both theory and practice. I would favor versatility in communication expertise and application in a variety of challenging settings.
  • Dedication to the communication craft by way of continuous self-development and selfless service to the organization, professional association and the community one belongs to.
  • Cultural competence and the attitude and ability to be inclusive and embrace intercultural diversity in all spheres of work and influence.
  • Humility and being a good team member.
  • Inspiring leadership endowed with integrity and emotional intelligence.

BP: The qualities I emphasize are:

  • Education, because lifelong learning is so important.
  • Contribution to the profession on a continual basis.
  • Contribution to IABC specifically.
  • Achievements in the profession, including awards, speaking and publishing.
  • Teaching, mentoring and encouragement to students, because they are our future.

What makes you proud to be a Fellow?

NG: It’s a massive sense of achievement to a member of a community of such accomplished and celebrated individuals from across our profession. I’m very proud that I get to count myself among one of this amazing team.

RK: IABC represents the global standard for communication professionals. To be bestowed an IABC Fellow designation through a rigorous process of evaluation by a global set of reputed communication experts is a career achievement. That respect and designation has to be earned through sustained professionalism, hard work and selfless devotion to the communication profession.

BP: I am most proud of being included among so many people I admired for my whole career and who mentored me as a young member and professional. They were my professional idols and to be counted among them cannot be adequately expressed.

Is there anything else about the Fellows designation that you would like to share with IABC members?

NG: When I was on stage being recognized at the Excellence Gala, it was said that my acceptance into the fellowship signaled the broadening of the definition of an IABC Fellow. I see it as a milestone on a career journey as opposed to a destination. It inspired me to keep giving back to the profession that has enabled so much fulfillment to me personally, and I wanted it to serve as inspiration to others who feel the same way as I do about our profession.

RK: While the number of recognitions as a Fellow are limited each year, the talent pool in IABC is a treasure house. Be courageous to apply and let the world know of your achievements, but remember that not getting nominated is not a measure of your self-worth and should not impact your self-esteem. To work tirelessly towards your professional goals ought to remain your life’s mission irrespective of recognitions.

BP: Nominations are competitive. Do your homework. Make sure all contributing evidence is well-documented and logically presented. Be certain that the letters are laser focused and very pertinent to the areas being examined. Good luck!

The Fellows Selection Committee is accepting IABC Fellow applications through Wednesday, 28 October. If you or a colleague has made an outstanding contribution to the communication profession and has provided selfless service to IABC and its members, consider submitting a nomination. Learn more and nominate on the IABC website, and watch the Fellows Nomination on-demand webinar for additional information.

Morgan Manghera

Morgan Manghera is the senior content associate for IABC.

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