PR Face2Face is a special series of interviews with the top public relations and publicity professionals in the country, as well as with people involved in the public relations world. The second part of the fifth installment is Warren Bickford, the incoming chairman of IABC.
Warren Bickford, Vice President of Gryphon Reputation Management, has worked for more than 20 years in fund development, public relations and communications in the not-for-profit, public and private sectors. He is the incoming Chairman of IABC, and is also a Past Chair of the IABC Research Foundation. Warren is also actively involved in his home community having served on the boards of Volunteer Regina, the Hospitals of Regina Foundation and the Children’s Health Foundation of Saskatchewan and currently on the board of the MacKenzie Art Gallery. He has also served on the boards of the Healthcare Public Relations Association of Canada and the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.
I don’t balance it very well. It’s interesting because I have always have had fairly demanding positions, where I am on-call 24/7/365 – that’s just the nature of the work I have done. I am used to not working standard hours. What I find is you work some fairly long days because the daytime is client work, and then the evening is taken with the IABC work – email, and other work-related activities.
I am fortunate that my family is very supportive, plus I have older, independent teenagers. It just seems to work out.
The IABC Chair blog was hailed at first as a good idea and intention, but has now come under fire. What would you change about the IABC blog? Are you going to continue the blog? (Editor’s Note: David Kistle has already handed over the blog to incoming Bickford.)
Absolutely I will continue the blog. In the Member Speak area, I have already noted that I do intend to pick up the blog, and you should expect to see something within a week.
You have a lot of IABC bloggers – Allan Jenkins, Shel Holtz, Eric Eggertson, Neville Hobson – but no blogroll on the IABC Chairblog. Why not just turn the IABC blog into an IABC blogger aggregator?
Actually, no, we have not considered that, but it’s not that we have not thought of those things. We are getting the Chair Blog back up and running, and we will link to those other blogs, but we have a lot in store for the blog.
The way I am envisioning it is that I will be the primary person, but because I travel for both client work and IABC, I am looking at having guest bloggers. I am in the process of putting that all together at this moment.
What is IABC? In Ragan’s, David Kistle noted that the association is moving in the right direction at the right speed. What is the direction that you plan to take IABC in your year?
There’s this myth that when the chair comes in, he or she can make wholesale decisions and changes. We spent the last year developing a strategic plan for the next five years.
I will be paying close attention to what is in that strategic plan, and ensuring that the initiatives are carried out. For IABC, it is about the annual growth strategies, the annual goals. I come in and make sure the plan has action associated with it.
The joke about volunteer organizations is always that they are great, except for the volunteer aspect. How does IABC combat this?
It is our greatest weakness and our greatest strength.
Combat is not the right word. We realize it’s a volunteer organization, and the senior positions are held by people with lives and jobs outside IABC. Everyone is extremely dedicated.
Sometimes it just takes longer to get things accomplished. It’s not out of a lack of interest, but due to time constraints and obligations that we may have.
It can be frustrating at times, but it’s the nature of the beast.
I’m a former IABC member that had a terrible experience – but I love Johna Burke. I know that you are trying to grow membership, but what would you say to someone that felt he wasted his money and would rather never join IABC again – how do you bring me back into the fold?
Well, that’s a very interesting question. I would think that because IABC continually evolves, it is a different organization than it used to be. That trend will continue, and I hope that we can offer something to a wide variety of people.
One of our biggest issues, when you are dealing with a membership of 13,000-plus, is that you will have different hopes and wants from everyone. We have to be useful and relevant to each member. If it’s at the local chapter level or as a member at large, what the association is offering has to be meaningful.
It is a continuing challenge.
When I joined IABC, I thought it was like a lobbying group – bringing more attention to local PR practitioners to local business and press, and to try to keep local business locally PR’ed. I was told that that’s not the group’s mission. What is IABC’s mission, then?
IABC is a professional association. IABC is about providing ongoing learning opportunities for practitioners so they can be the best practitioners possible. Yes, some of that is ensuring the broader community understands what communications is and what it can accomplish, but primarily IABC is a professional association with a primary mission to provide continuous learning opportunities.
I have a few students read my blog. While IABC is making a push to be on more campuses, most students are more aware of PRSSA and PRSA – what do you say to them to join IABC instead of PRSA?
Not sure I can say something to them. They have to make a personal decision on what is best for them, in their particular area.
IABC was conspicuously absent during the recent PR controversies. Why doesn’t IABC take a position on controversial issues?
Part of it is the fact that the mandate of the organization is professional development. There has not been a tradition of commenting on communications issues, public relations issues. That’s not to say that shouldn’t change, but past practice is one reason we haven’t said anything.
How do you see IABC's business model evolving now that most communicators have a far wider range of off-line and on-line professional development opportunities than, say, 10 to 15 years ago?
That is something that will continue to evolve. In the strategic plan, we are looking at ways we can change. When you serve such a wide and diverse membership, we need to find ways that people can interact with the organization.
Whether it is online, going through a chapter, or joining an online chapter - the interactive nature of IABC – there are many ways to get members more engaged in the organization. You will begin to see more and more tools tested to find the best practices.
IABC needs to continue to evolve.
Some past and present IABC members seem to see blogging as an important force in discussing and promoting the profession: Allan Jenkins, Shel Holtz, Neville Hobson come to mind. Richard Edelman, Jay Rosen, and Jeff Jarvis are some other communication leaders with blogs. Which blogs do you read? And do you see blogs as important to the profession?
I read all of the ones you mentioned, and it is absolutely important to the growth of the profession.
A number of CEOs have embraced blogging, or are encouraging their managers to blog. What's your take on Lutz' blog at General Motors, for example?
It’s interesting to watch how the whole blogging world is evolving. The past year has grown leaps and bounds. It is an interesting new way for an organization or company to communicate with their members or customers.
Blogging will continue to evolve in the next few years. It is presenting information in an unmediated way, and it’s going to be fascinating to see the results of that. Right now, it’s too early to tell.
One thing, though, is that it is changing the mainstream thoughts of what journalism is and is not, that’s for sure.
Your board is going to be only 12 people, as opposed to the current 20+- You're moving to a regional structure, away from a district structure. How can you take advantage of that to improve IABC?
We’re moving away from a regional structure because the people on the board are no longer regionally elected. We have moved to a competency-based board. The regions and districts will still have a voice, though.
It’s going to be significantly different because the size current of the board sometimes impedes movement. With a board of 12, we can be more nimble and make decisions faster than we were able to before. And, the board is going to be able to work on policy issues instead of operational issues, or specific regional issues.
You've served as Finance Director under Charles Pizzo and Vice Chairman under David Kistle. What lessons did they teach about what to do and what not to do?
Charles Pizzo is a good friend of mine. I learned from him that it is okay to be an activist. That’s the primary thing I've learned – it’s good to challenge the association and challenge the status quo.
From David Kistle, I have learned much by watching his interaction with individuals and chapters. Maintaining a healthy respect for the leaders we have around the world and making sure to stay connected to those people is important. David spent time reconnecting with chapters and regions.
What that means to me is that if a chapter wants me to be there – no matter where they are – I will try to be there. It’s important to have strong chapters and regions and I will do whatever I can to help them be and get healthy.
When you look back in 2006 over your chairman post, what do you hope to point to as your successes for the year?
I haven’t given that a lot of thought. I would be happy at the end of the year if you could see that I stayed connected with members and in some way that I contributed to the conversation about IABC as an organization and the profession in general.
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