Lessons learned at the IABC World Conference

Mari Lee |  July 2022

The IABC World Conference was held between 26-29 June 2022 in New York City, USA. I had the privilege of attending and learned so many lessons throughout the conference. I am proud to report that South Africa’s level of communication professionalism and standards of excellence stood out above the rest. We are doing communication right, and we are doing it well. However, we aren’t perfect, and I feel it is imperative that I share some of the benchmarking lessons I learned at the IABC World Conference so that you too may see any gaps you might be missing in your communication processes and ensure you remain on Global Standard.

Here’s what I’ve learned from benchmarking with global peers in New York:

1. Surveys are not the best research option. Conduct less surveys and use more quality analytics.

We’ve taken the pendulum too far on surveys in many environments, and survey fatigue is a real issue in most organisations. What is more, is that surveys usually test yes or no responses, and don’t give us the data to inform understanding why, narratives, or next steps. Survey data is often also at odds with qualitative data that does provide deeper and wider context, examples and understanding, because respondents tend to respond from what they think you want to hear, rather than with examples, showing actual behaviour behind perceptions.

Existing data and analytics are often also not mined effectively for storylines, behaviour indicators, and linked to survey data – survey data is usually taken into isolation. And then, the worst sin – not providing feedback to participants after gathering data. For these reasons, a mixture of using existing business data and analysing it with a human behaviour lens, doing qualitative and narrative research that understands the why, examples and what needs to change, and then adding more open-ended data and visual data through surveys, needs to be our standard practice.

2. Humans and processes are more important than channels and messages.

We have to put human behaviour at the centre of our decision making as communication professionals and be the voice of the stakeholders for the organisations that we represent. This means that we are more than channel managers or content creators. We holistically review the internal and external systems and listen carefully.

We use data and analytics that exists in our business and social context, and supplement this with qualitative research that builds understanding of complex issues and informs the next steps with the stakeholders. We zoom in on our stakeholders as human beings, and have real conversations, and map and understand the impact of our company, internal and external factors, and what we need to do about it. Only then, do we craft messages that are relevant, and use channels that inspire two-way conversations.

3. Dialogue is more important than ever. Why are we still shouting? Listen more.

Communicators are masters at push communication and broadcasting messages. We often have a reputation to be information sharers, rather than pursuing the goal to build understanding. This has severe implications on measurements that indicate retention of messages.

Retention of messages are always higher when they have been received in dialogue rather than in one-way broadcasting methods. In our experience of more than 200 research studies in 17 years, we have found that there is approximately 1 listening channel for every 10 broadcast channels, and they hold up to 10 – 30 messages per channel per week. They are also mostly focused on what the company wants to say, rather than what the audience needs to hear. You need to listen more – keep an eye open for our next Aha Moments for more on this topic.

4. Communication is an organisational competency. Leadership and operational communication, with leaders taking the lead, and communication professionals providing the skills development and training, systems and environment and message packaging support, is imperative.

Communication has often been reduced to implementing well-crafted and creative campaigns or publishing content – either digitally, on systems or via traditional media. At the recent IABC World Conference, many speakers emphasised the role of the communication professional as an integrator, and as the person with a 360 view of the organisation.

This implies that we should not aim to do all the communication on behalf of the organisation, but rather create an enabling environment and build the capacity of leaders – from executive to the lowest level in the organisation – to be excellent communicators. This also links to how you position yourself as a communicator, and how your organisation sets up communication as a management function.

5. The implementation of the Global Standard, with a focus on ethics, context, consistency, strategy, analytics, and engagement as core competencies, are non-negotiable.

Understanding the ISO standard of our industry and using it as a guideline for implementation of best practice in your company, is very important. Certification on these standards will be the non-negotiable level of entry into the profession in the future, and we need to ensure that our leadership understands it. Here are the 6 things you can do today to ensure that you and your department function on these highest levels of excellence:

  1. You can access the global standard here.
  2. You can assess your own career level (free of charge) here.
  3. You can apply for certification here.
  4. You can set up your work in the best practice standards by applying the Midas touch, that you can access here.
  5. You can book our team to explain how this works in your organisation, in a free session. Send an email to ilze@dev-com.co.za.
  6. You can order the book (where Mari Lee, ABC, SCMP is a contributing author) that further unpack the detailed aspects of the global standard: IABC Principle Guide on Amazon here.

6. Reducing complex issues to diabolical hashtags and campaigns, are not solving social and business problems.

Reverting to packaging complex information systematically in a visual, verbal and action-based format, and using our advocacy skills as communicators with internal and external audiences, is a strong requirement. Cultural sensitivity and diversity and inclusion, gender issues and social issues are every-where, but a woke culture approach and opinion sharing, with polarising narratives rather than a fundamentally behaviour change approach with measured actions and results, are not going to move the needle.

We have an ethical role and responsibility as communication professionals to listen, facilitate and represent all voices, not just one-dimensional campaigns. Dialogue brings resolution and ownership through indigenous knowledge and internal solutions. You can review case studies on how to use social impact communication to achieve a culture of dialogue and measured business and social impact results at www.dev-com.co.za