By Gloria Lombardi

After a couple of years already spent within the IABC international executive board, Russell Grossman was appointed Vice Chair of the global 15,000-member communications association in June 2013. His day job happens to be Director of Communications at the British Government Department, BIS – Business, Innovation and Skills.

The IABC Europe, Middle East and North Africa Region’s annual Leadership Institute had heard earlier from his colleague – Alex Aiken, the Executive Director of Government Communications – that accreditation levels were too low in the communications industry as the associations behind them were too focused on attracting members rather than driving excellence. Indeed Aiken himself has just launched a reform of the whole government communications and Grossman is responsible for the internal comms part of it.

So perhaps it came as no surprise that Grossman announced over a glass of wine to the assembled IABC leaders plans to reform the hallowed accreditation of their Association: the ABC – or Accredited Business Communicator.

Communicators’ career strategy

One of the strategic points he described is how the association defines the career of a professional communicator. Over the last couple of years, with the help of its committee, IABC has worked on identifying the key principles of communications. They were classified as six, and include strategy, ethics and engagement.

photo courtesy of Michael AmbjornThe association also worked on the identification of four levels of a communicator: “these go from the foundation level, to the business leader level, while the vast majority of practitioners find themselves in the two middle levels, being the specialist or generalist and the strategic counsellor,” explained the Vice Chair.

But one of the most striking points of Grossman’s speech (pictured above) came with the news about IABC’s redefinition of professional recognition.

“One of the things that we absolutely recognise is that communications as a profession is not standing still. Therefore, we felt the need to define a new global standard for the way in which members will be recognized as professional, practitioners. We are coming to the end of an 18-month period of detailed work on a new approach, Certification, which will supersede the IABC Accredited Business Communicator (ABC).” (IABC closed its accreditation programme on September 30th in preparation for this move).

Grossman emphasised that “for those members who are ABCs, their accreditation will remain as valid as it has been so far, and they will continue to be proud of it.”

However, the Vice Chair stressed there is a recognition that the world has moved on. The need for a new global standard has driven the association to create what will become a ‘certified communication professional’ and a ‘certified strategic communication professional’.

He also explained that the association is not going to launch the new certification until the next IABC World Conference which will be held in Toronto in June 2014 and they will be running a pilot programme first to iron out any bumps.

“You will hear more in future. This programme is in continuous development. Every time you will hear about it there will be some new element added to it.”


Grossman also touched on the importance of delivering good content for communicators to use as examples of best practice.

About two years ago, IABC International conducted a big research exercise about the tools that practitioners and members of the association wanted. The research found that “practical content that they could use in their work and look good by” is what they required.

At the time, content was already one of the benefits of the IABC membership. However, the association started asking itself if that content was relevant, and delivered in a relevant way.

“So we had a look at that, and decided to bring up a digital version of Communication World (CW). Partly because it was cheaper to do that, but also because it is much more accessible. If you have got the app, then your content is always there.”

According to Grossman, there are also some other elements and products that are aligned to the content offering in the pipeline.

Efficiency, internationalisation, transparency

Another element of IABC strategy is making the association more efficient. “We were running a model that was more akin to the 20th century than the 21st one,” Grossman emphasised. Like every organisation in the world we needed to be more efficient, and more lean.”

The Vice Chair explained that this meant letting some staff go and hiring others able to fulfill the association’s new strategy, especially for content and career. The restructuring is being put into place since the last six months, and still there are a few vacant positions.

Grossman said that there is a significant interest in trying to make IABC more international. “We are currently experimenting to find a method to make IABC more diverse. I think the more that we do that, the better.”

He is also committed to bring more transparency into IABC: “Possibly, two years ago, someone else in my position, would not be here telling you of anything evolving in terms of our plans for the future. But that does not make sense. Especially for communications organisations, it does not make sense not to share the developments that have been taking place with our own members as they develop.”

Building a sense of community

This year, under the Texan IABC Chair Robin McCasland, the association has concentrated very much on building its community base.

“You only understand the value of IABC, if you are part of the community”, Grossman cited a quote said to him by a member of the association.

That was to explain that it is challenging to properly communicate outside what it means to be part of an association like IABC. “Because you know how it feels like to be a member, only if are in it”, said Grossman.

To help with that, there are some works in progress led by the Chapter Support Committee, the Young Professionals Group (which looks after those professionals under 30s who are the next generation of the organisation) and the Strategy Group.

The latter, is led by Grossman himself and looks specifically at how to bring the strategy set from 2011 to 2014 forward (for the period between 2014 and 2017). The Strategy Group is currently very focused on chapters, community, career and making sure that IABC will remain an efficient organisation in the future. Its work has only just begun but one of its aims is to find the answers to questions such as:

How can IABC thrive in the future? What great links should IABC build within the business community? What does this association means for its members? What’s the value of it? What else does the association need to do to be relevant to business communicators today? What does ‘international’ really mean?

“’International looks different if you are in London, or if you are in San Francisco, or if you are in South Wales. So, what does international mean?” Grossman noticed.

Communication is also good for business

The Strategy Group is also looking at how to develop communication, of course.

“In my view”, said Grossman, “there is not enough understanding of the value that communication brings to the businesses and organisations to survive in a tough, difficult world. We talk about communication being good for society. The truth is that communication is also good for business.”

Almost at the end of his talk, Grossman wanted to emphasise that all the associations of PR and communications together (the organization known as the Global Alliance), only scratch the surface of all practitioners worldwide.

Grossman concluded a fascinating talk asking some key questions about the role of the communicator:

“How do I get seat at a board level? How can I become a proper strategic counsellor? How do I provide value that is more than simply delivering the message? And how do I actually become a ‘business leader’?”

He stressed that communication is at the center of business success, while at the same time recognizing the value of the Association he will lead from June 2014:

“There is a tremendous amount of things going forward for IABC, I am excited.”


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate