I’m very passionate about the “I” and the “B” in IABC

Telum Media catches up with Zora Artis GAICD SCMP, Chair, Asia Pacific Region, IABC to learn more about her vision for the communications industry.

What made you decide to take on the role of APAC Chair for IABC?

The usual progression to step up as a leader in International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is from chapter to region then to International Leader, but in my case it was a bit different. I was Chapter President of the largest chapter (in Melbourne) outside North America and then I served a three-year term on the IABC International Executive Board (IEB).

As an IEB director you’re mindful of all members, their diversity and the profession’s interests as a whole, and you don’t represent a geographic region. From this experience I developed a deep knowledge of IABC, and have a reasonable idea of what our members value and the issues that concern the profession globally. So when the opportunity to lead the association in the APAC region came up I thought let’s leverage this and focus on the value we can deliver to the region. 

What do you hope to achieve in your time as Chair?

I’m very passionate about the “I” and the “B” in IABC, and the impact that we, as communications professionals, can have on business and society. The standard of the work in APAC is amongst the best in the world – I see this recognised year-on-year with IABC’s Gold Quill Awards – and our region is accelerating the pace of change and innovation. We’d like to see more of this excellence recognised in 2020 and share it amongst the communication community globally.

There are key areas of focus for IABC APAC:

  • Advancing the profession as a strategic function demonstrating the impact upon business, through professional certification and the Gold Quill awards
  • Creating global peer connection amongst the diverse communication professionals to interact, share knowledge and support each other
  • Elevating practitioners from tacticians to strategic communication professionals by creating opportunities for learning, leadership and global recognition
  • Supporting the growth of our 14 chapters in APAC to deliver value for their members and community at a local level
  • Engaging with and connecting our members-at-large with each other and the global IABC member network

Are there any areas of professional development that the IABC aims to focus in the coming months?

Regionally, we’re very excited about our forthcoming #Fusion20 conference which will be held 25th- 27th March 2020 in Wellington. The theme is “The Future is Now – dynamic communications in Asia Pacific”. We’ll be offering the Global Communication Certification Council’s (GCCC) exams for the Communication Management Professional (CMP) and Strategic Communication Management Professional (SCMP) certifications at the conference. Additionally, we’re currently pulling together the free IABC APAC webinar programme for 2020, which will feature regional senior communication leaders sharing their expertise on specific topics.

Globally, IABC has a breadth of professional development programmes available to members and non-members designed around the global standard and career road map for communication professionals. The standout PD event is the IABC World Conference in Chicago. We also offer strategic communication education and skills training via the IABC Academy. Free PD content from the IABC Fellows is also available via video and podcast – the Circle of Fellows are monthly one-hour discussions on a given topic by four outstanding experts.

What comms industry trends do you have your eye on at the moment?

There’s been a significant shift to show the real value of the profession to business by moving from being the doers to trusted strategic advisors, as well as stepping up to the C-suite. Funnily enough this is not unique to comms as it is also the case with our marketing and HR colleagues. Some of you will say this has been around for years, so why is it a trend? Simple – many of us still behave like tacticians and some don’t have the business acumen, courage and confidence needed to step up. These were clear trends at this year’s IABC World Conference in Vancouver, and have been highlighted by recent research from Gatehouse, VMA, CIPR, Happeo and Page.

I wrote a series for Poppulo that explored the business value of internal communication for the C-suite and what it takes to step up from tactician to strategic advisor. The context and trends I identified, and the advice apply to communication professionals irrespective of whether they have an internal or external focus or perhaps both.

Aside from the strategic, business acumen and courage piece, there are other trends that directly impact our profession:

  • AI – leveraging and embracing the opportunity rather than fearing it.
  • Data -recognising what data is relevant, what the insights can be distilled from it and then what you do with those insights?
  • Acceleration of change – it will never be as slow as it has been to date, so can you provide informed advice in a timely way without knowing all the data and having certainty?
  • Ethics – there are many examples of organisations behaving badly, and now community and business expectations are changing, so as business communication professionals are you applying the ethical lens to your advice and decisions.
  • Employer / Employee focus – there’s a clear skew to the weight of internal communication and the importance of trust in this relationship, and the impact that this has on culture, external stakeholders, brand experience and reputation.

What are some of the key challenges faced by the industry currently?

Culture and ethics. The two need to work together and as communication professionals we have an opportunity to connect the two through alignment and robust advice. Edelman’s Trust Barometer shows that publics do expect brands to take a stand on societal issues and we’ve seen more and more brands do this. In many cases it’s authentic to who they are and what they stand for. But where there is a mismatch, or superficial woke-washing, we see this called out by employees, customers, media and in some cases regulators.

Business acumen. I recently spoke with a senior advisor to Fortune 500 companies who said, “We work in business not in communications” – he was referring to business acumen and strategic counsel. With the acceleration of change, boards and executive leadership are under constant pressure and need strategic advisors who understand their context, the business and their expectations as well as those of the external stakeholders. So, the communication professional needs to demonstrate an understanding of how the organisation operates and be comfortable to have a meaningful dialogue the organisational challenges. Substantiating your business knowledge along with your communication expertise builds your credibility and adds to the stakeholder trust bank.

Measurement and alignment. There’s a quote from AMEC’s Richard Bagnall that I love, which is “we measure for effectiveness and evaluate for value”. Being accountable for your work and linking it back to the business problem and the impact you’ve had are key to showing that we understand how we create value for the business as communication professionals.

Staying ahead of the pace of change. Digital disruption and dealing with uncertainty are amongst the top concerns for the C-suite. Let’s take the broader view and expose ourselves to the themes and trends that are emerging and impacting consumer expectations. Then think about how our business can leverage those opportunities or minimise risk from a communications perspective.

Have there been any PR or communications campaigns that have caught your eye in the past year?

The video PSA “March for our lives” launched via social media with the hashtag #GenerationLockdown stood out for its cut through and simplicity of message. It is incredibly powerful and is created by McCann NYC by two Australians from Melbourne, Alex Little and Karsten Jurkschat.

I was also fortunate to judge the creativity category in the Australian Marketing Institute awards and was taken with the Heart Foundation’s Serial Killer campaign. The Heart Foundation and News Corp created an integrated campaign to highlight that heart disease kills 51 people a day in Australia. It drove action amongst the community to check their heart health and increased government funding for cardiovascular disease. The campaign was recognised for excellence in Australia with multiple awards.