IABC World Conference 2010 – Day One

June, 9 – BY TAM SANDEMAN – This week, the home of the Blackberry (the phone not the fruit), Toronto, sees the world conference of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) which had its fill of Ogilvy Public Relations.

Scott Kronick, president of Ogilvy PR North Asia, represented us in speaking about “Brand Building in China”. Scott’s insights reflect his 19 years in Asia, complete with success stories and failures of brand building efforts. The thirst for knowledge about China was evident through a very well attended session.

However, I am here to attend sessions on employee engagement, communication and change – hear and possibly bring back new thinking.

Day one saw various themes running through a packed agenda of sessions – change management, employee communications and leadership communication.

From the first sessions, the most obvious issue presenting a significant opportunity for improvement for internal communicators, is that there is now a recognised lack of confidence in senior leadership from employees.

This problem has grown since 2003, as cited by Professor Veronica Hope Hailey, from Cass Business School in London, who has been researching change communications for over 20 years (including Australia). Interestingly, she sees real danger in 2010, that leaders will attribute the reason for this breakdown in trust to the economic downturn. And, more importantly, going into recovery will NOT rebuild trust in organisations. Leaders need to invest time in improving the way they communicate and engage, and do it better than they ever have before.

Secondly, (and unsurprisingly) all sessions I attended highlighted the strong need for authenticity in leaders. As communicators we must work with senior leaders enabling them to communicate strategy and direction in a real, authentic manner. Only then will we ensure we turn business strategy into action.

Lastly, as with all our work, driving interaction and conversation will be fundamental for success as leaders trying to engage employees in business critical initiatives.

One particular first day highlight was hearing keynote speaker, Kevin Warren, CEO and President of Xerox Canada. A leader who truly lives and breathes employee communication and engagement and one who directly attributes positive outcomes on the bottom line to their investment in this area. Even better was his inspiration – a sign he’d seen on the wall of Ford Motor Company – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, emphasising your strategy is nothing if you can’t get the people piece right.

Another highlight for our team must be our attendance at the prestigious IABC Gold Quill Awards dinner which saw us collect our two Gold Quills of Excellence for work with Bayer ANZ and Ford Australia, as well as a best of the best award for the Ford work. No other consultancy took as many awards and proved again, Australia and particularly Ogilvy Public Relations punches well above its weight on the world stage.

So far, Toronto has treated me well, and I’ve also managed to catch the BlueJays vs the New York Yankees before the conference started. Given Toronto is also the city of choice for this year’s very imminent G20 frivolity…  if they coped with an Ogilvy PR invasion, they’ll be OK.

More from day two to follow…