In 2006, I was a few years into my post-grad study in marketing whilst juggling a management role in a busy integrated marketing communication agency and a young family. I chose an elective unit, Change Communications, where I came across models I still refer to these days and first heard of IABC. It was the source of credible research in the space. Upon reflection, I’d connected with the lecturer, a change practitioner, and respected her opinion and expertise. She planted the IABC seed in the back of my mind.
Jump forward five years and I was at a career crossroad. I’d just walked away from leading strategy in a full service ad agency which was no longer the right fit. I didn’t know what I would do next but I knew I had to build my professional network beyond what I already had. I sought out networking events where I could build my profile and connect with people who might be valuable in my job search.
One of those was an IABC Victoria ‘speed networking’ event facilitated by a recruiter I wanted to reconnect with. At the time, networking made me anxious particularly if I was solo. This event was different. My anxiety quickly dissipated as people engaged with me. I felt welcome. The next IABC Victoria event followed suit. IABC people were friendly, diverse and willing to share their knowledge. It was the right fit and I became a member.
At the same time, I’d started my own strategic consultancy working with agencies and brands alike. My first project for a global pharmaceutical firm involved brand repositioning, employee engagement, internal communication and campaigns. It really was the beginning of the convergence of the disciplines for me. Access to tools, relevant research and knowledge was essential and I found this through my professional associations, including IABC.
During this time, I set myself a long-term career goal to be in paid board director roles by my mid-50’s. I knew I had a learning curve ahead of me, so I pursued board or committee roles with two non-profit charities in areas I was passionate about. One of these was a lead from an IABC connection.
In 2012, the Victorian chapter called for board nominations and I became the Vice-President (President-elect). It was a fertile and safe space to learn and further my director capabilities. It was hard work but incredibly worthwhile. Aside from the professional learning, it enabled me to become a better communicator, leader and connector. This IABC leadership role gave me the opportunity to meet and connect with professionals that I would not have had access to including business leaders in major organisations and subject matter experts in Australia and across the world. Many of these are now friends or colleagues that I can call on for advice without hesitation.
During my time as Chapter President, we worked to build equity in the IABC brand with corporate and individual members through a strong calendar of PD events, content, recognising excellence and bringing the “I” in IABC to life. We reached out to our global connections to deliver content and events. We were fortunate to coordinate member events and corporate visits with IEB Chairs for four consecutive years as well as the brand evangelist and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki for a sell-out event. That was an opportunity that I took upon approaching him at #IABC15. I’m still a little star struck that I negotiated with him directly and drove him around Melbourne a few months after we met in San Francisco. I look back at my chapter board experience and I’m thankful. I worked with some of the most talented and generous people who gave so much to make it work. We took the time to connect and understand with our current and lapsed members to deliver value that was meaningful to each of them.
One thing that is clear about Aussies is that we do look beyond our shores for validation. Connecting with global SMEs for best practice, as well as engaging Australian communicators in the IABC Gold Quills program are how we can see where we’re positioned. I’m in a privileged position where I have won a Gold Quill for my work, but each year I mentor some who enter the Gold Quills as well as evaluate entries as a Blue Ribbon Panel evaluator (obviously not entries by people I know). I’ve seen some incredible examples of work across many categories and disciplines, and I can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling it is to come across an entry that is at the Gold Quill merit or excellence standard. (I do also judge Australian marketing awards and I can attest to the standard and rigor of the IABC Gold Quill awards.) My fellow Aussies should be proud of the standard of their work as it is certainly on par with the best in the world.
Another interesting insight into IABC comes from volunteering at one or more of the international committees or task forces. Before my IEB commitments, I was able to contribute my brand, governance and program management expertise to time-specific task forces and programmatic committees, which deepened my knowledge of IABC and how it operates globally. This has continued to this day through my IEB commitments, where I’ve either been the IEB liaison or chair. The commonalities across all of these has been gaining knowledge, appreciating the diversity of thinking and culture, the professionalism and the energy of the IABC staff and volunteers.
Stepping up to the IEB in 2016 was a significant commitment which ends this June. It’s a well-run board with strong governance principles and clear focus upon the sustainability of the association and delivering value to members. It’s a competency based board so we have a robust mix of skills and experience, and it’s truly international. Of course, being involved in an international organization means being accustomed to early morning video calls or late evening calls.
Like any professional board, we set the strategic direction, evaluate the progress, change course if needed and oversee risk. It’s been hard work with some challenges, but the reward has been immense. It’s no longer about promise and potential, IABC is really moving forward. It’s thanks to our staff, our volunteers and of course our members.
When you’re in the leadership role, whether it is at chapter, region or international, you do need to walk the talk. Sometimes that means stepping outside your comfort zone. For me it was stepping up to lead, entering the Gold Quills, writing the SCMP certification exam, public speaking or undertaking thought leadership research. I’ve learnt every step of the way and validated my expertise.
Challenge yourself and take a risk. That could be as simple as getting involved at a chapter or regional board, the regional or world conference organizing committee, a programmatic committee or task force, speaking at an event or webinar, running an Academy course or contributing content for CW. Make sure it works for you. IABC is a diverse and inclusive organization that has been called a “tribe” – it is in its own way. It will welcome you, help you, develop you and give back.
What’s next for me? Continuing the growth of IABC in Asia Pacific supporting the chapters to deliver value to their members and our members-at-large.