A CONVERSATION WITH David P. Seifert, ABC, IABC's 1999-2000 Chairman.
Gloria Gordon: As you complete your year in office, what do you feel are the highlights of your term?
Dave Seifert: The highlights of my experience as chairman have been similar to my entire involvement in IABC: The best times occur when I'm out with a chapter, talking to leaders or participating in a chapter event. I started my term as vice-chairman with a trip through Baltimore, Richmond and Washington, D.C., participating in two board meetings, a chapter meeting and a senior communicators' breakfast. Just a few weeks ago, I had a similar tour through five U.S. District 7 chapters in five days. Those trips are tiring, but they're a lot of fun! Most IABC members continue to have their most meaningful experience at the chapter level, and I have really enjoyed connecting with our chapters. Through those kinds of trips and board meetings, I managed to visit 30 of our 100 chapters in the past two years. I only wish there had been more time for more visits.
You travel extensively for both your employer, Hallmark, and IABC. What changes have you noted over the past few years that you feel have significantly affected the way we communicate across cultures and boundaries, over, say, five years ago?
The biggest change I've seen is the sheer amount of international business travel that's occurring -- particularly between the United States and the United Kingdom. I think the fact that flying across the Atlantic -- and even the Pacific, to some degree -- has become almost routine has given more people a chance to live and work in different cultures. That kind of experience inevitably changes how people act, because they see other customs, languages and behaviors. The other factor that comes to mind is the emergence of the Internet. The global nature of the net -- there are no geographic boundaries -- has also made it natural that people think and act more globally rather than just thinking about local issues.
Under your leadership IABC has made a concerted effort to increase membership growth and visibility on the international level. What progress do you see being made in this area?
I think we've made great progress in increasing visibility on the international level. Earlier this year, I was able to participate in regional conferences that were held in the United Kingdom and South Africa that were hugely successful in increasing our visibility in those countries. We're committed to holding these regional conferences regularly, and that should make a difference in membership growth over time. Now I'd like to see us find a way to start one or two similar events in the Asia/Pacific area.
Unfortunately, we haven't made as much progress in membership growth, but there are encouraging developments. The European office that we established in Brussels has great expertise in association management and growth, and they're looking at innovative ways to attract more members in Europe -- the potential is huge. Additionally, IABC/Southern Africa has developed a three-year strategic plan that is probably the most thorough plan I've ever seen from one of our chapters. They are beginning an ambitious effort to attain significant membership growth throughout that region, not just within South Africa itself.
Even though IABC membership continues to grow, what measures do you think we should take to substantially increase our membership?
People everywhere expect choice when they are making decisions about how to spend their time and money, and I think IABC will need to move in the same direction. So I would expect to see us move from the traditional "one-size-fits-all" membership structure to one that offers options at different prices. Perhaps a membership that is solely electronic, to access products and services available through our web site. Perhaps a corporate membership, similar to those used by other associations, in which an organization can buy several memberships either at a reduced rate or with special features. We've already started to move in this direction by testing multi-year memberships, and I anticipate additional steps in the near future.
Do you see IABC moving toward a broader membership base -- for instance, offering services or programs to other constituencies such as human resources or related professions that need communication skills?
I think there may actually be two issues in your question. First, there is no doubt in my mind that IABC will offer products and services to constituencies outside our traditional membership base. People are increasingly coming to communication-related jobs from non-traditional paths, such as finance, Additionally, line managers in many functions are finally understanding that they are the key communicators in an organization -- and they're looking for help. And finally, business communicators are increasingly being put in the role of integrator and consultant. We're the ones getting different functions to work together and communicate across department lines. And we're advising managers and senior executives about communication issues. All of these factors are leading people beyond the traditional IABC membership base to look for resources to help them communicate more effectively. We can provide those resources.
The unknown outcome, in my mind, is whether this will lead to broader membership. It may be that these other functional managers will have a great interest in buying content from us or attending seminars we sponsor but don't want to formally join an organization. We probably will need to test the market to find out just where the demand is.
How would we adjust our focus if we want to attract a more diverse membership?
The most fundamental adjustment necessary in attracting a more diverse membership is to clearly position IABC as offering the kind of value they're looking for, and then to make sure the potential buyers know what we have to offer. We have begun to do that with the branding work that's been accomplished during the past year. The fact that our brand positioning statement now says that we are a network of "professionals" rather than a network of "professional communicators" is a significant change. And when I've discussed that change with chapter leaders, they seem to understand and agree with why we are moving in that direction.
Beyond this conceptual change, though, we will need to market IABC directly to audiences we have not focused on in the past. This will require us to think more broadly and to invest time and financial resources in marketing opportunities that we have not traditionally pursued, such as trade publications for other professions.
How did you become involved in IABC?
I was introduced to IABC by the wonderful lady who's now my wife, Lavonne, when I moved to Kansas City in 1977 to work for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). I was looking for some kind of professional group for a connection outside the office, and Lavonne -- who was working at the NCAA then -- recommended IABC. She had been president of what was then called the Kansas City Business Communicators (KCBC) and was accredited by IABC.
On her recommendation, I started going to the chapter meetings, got to know the people, and the next thing I knew they had asked me to be the newsletter editor. Most of what I know about business communication I've learned through IABC, and I've made some great friends all over the world. What I've never learned, I guess, is how to say no!
How has the association changed from the time you joined until now?
As Kevin Thomson, ABC, an IABC executive board member, would say, "IABC really was a 'club' when I joined. The chapter meetings were usually held in the evenings, and people enjoyed the social element as much as or more than the program." The association is much more business-like and professional now. There's real benefit to that, because the content is so often very strong and helps our emphasis on professional development. At the same time, though, I think we sometimes take ourselves too seriously and have lost some of the community and caring about each other that used to be very important. It always troubles me a bit when I visit a chapter and find that they've had to include "have fun" as one of their official goals for the year instead of it just occurring naturally.
What do you consider to be the largest challenge for the association in coming years?
I see two major challenges for IABC. First, we need to achieve a sustained level of membership growth that will provide the financial resources necessary to invest in new products and services. To remain relevant, we must dramatically improve what we offer, especially via the Internet. Our non-dues-related programs and services have been very successful and are highly regarded. But they cannot provide sufficient revenue to fund all of our members' needs. Membership dues will remain a major revenue source. As our members know from their own experience, web-based products and services are very costly. To make a real difference, we will have to invest significant amounts of money or find very generous sponsors. If we don't improve what's available on our web site, someone else is likely to seize the opportunity, but right now we don't have the financial resources necessary to really do it right.
The other major challenge, I think, is to keep moving toward a more strategically based organization by achieving the most productive partnership possible between the volunteer leaders and the staff. In the mid-'90s, IABC consciously moved the role of executive board members from tactics to strategy so that volunteers were setting the direction of the organization and staff
members were implementing that direction. But many of us come from tactical roots, so there's always a tendency, I think, to slip back into what's comfortable and want to do the tactics. If we move back in that direction, I think we run the risk of just being the "club" for the inner circle of involved leaders, and we'll miss the chance to become the source of important business content for both communicators and other professional managers.
In summary, what do you consider your greatest accomplishments--and disappointments, if any--during your term of office?
The greatest accomplishments during the past year, I think, have been the improvements we've made internationally. The conferences in the U.K. and South Africa, and the new European office, have been great additions. Also, our European region has become a member of the European Marketing Confederation (EMC), and I think that partnership between communication and marketing could have tremendous implications worldwide. Just think about the possibility of a "World Marketing and Communication Federation" including IABC and other related organizations sharing information and expertise across these two related, but distinct, disciplines of communication and marketing.
At the same time, I have been disappointed by the fact that our membership growth has slowed over the past few months. What concerns me is the possibility that this trend has nothing to do with IABC, but instead reflects the tendency to let time pressures get in the way of anything beyond work and family. I understand it, but I worry about it. If lifelong learning really is necessary, not just desirable, today, how will that happen if we just work and then go home? And what about the leadership experience people get as volunteers that prepares them for leadership roles in business later in their careers? I'm concerned that communicators may look back a few years from now and regret what they've missed.
On the positive side, it's been heartening to see how successful so many of our programs are -- Writing for the Wired World and Managing for the Web World seminars have been tremendously well received. The new technical conference, NextWave, eCommunication, has also received rave reviews and attracted strong attendance. Our knowledge products sponsored by the Foundation and by our information services also show that IABC's consistently high quality production is appreciated and supported. We have much to look forward to, and I sincerely hope members will take full advantage of the association's many fine offerings.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2000|
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