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PR Face2Face: David Kistle, 2004-2005 IABC Chairman

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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 first part of the fifth installment is David Kistle, the current chairman of IABC.

David Kistle

David Kistle, 2004-2005 IABC Chairman

David Kistle is well-known and well-respected in the public relations industry. His work has received numerous awards from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Public Relations Society of America. Plus, David teaches the next generation of practitioners as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

In addition to these achievements, David has built a solid reputation by fusing 25 years of experience into an incomparable understanding of communication research, public opinion, strategic planning and organizational development. Today, he heads up the Padilla Speer Beardsley research and employee communication practices, helping companies identify and develop plans that leverage their communication dollars to achieve business objectives.

The scope of David’s work is diverse. His recent efforts span from a community-based non-profit to a multi-national manufacturer operating in 15 countries across five continents. And the rest of his experience follows suit. Besides education and manufacturing, he has counseled clients in health care, consumer products, financial services, gas and electric utilities, and not-for-profit organizations.

An accredited member of IABC, David is active in all levels of the organization. He has served the association as president of IABC/Minnesota, a member of IABC’s executive board, trustee and chair of the IABC Research Foundation, and the outgoing chairman of IABC.

According to the recent Ragan Report interview with you, you are 90 percent billable at Padilla Speer Beardsley (PSB), you teach college courses at University of Minnesota, as well as having a family. Where do you find that life/work balance?

At PSB, I have been active in various organizations. John Beardsley was the president of PRSA during 1995-1996, and knows the demands of such organizations. But, the client work gets done.

As for a life/work balance, I don’t find one. The work day is as productive as possible, and I do the IABC work within the office confines – such as correspondence, phone calls – to fit into the workday.

The PSB management team is behind me, though, and that makes all the difference.

As for the schoolwork, I take care of that at night, and the nice thing about this wired world is that even when I am on the road, the laptop and connection mean I can work anywhere. I am armed with my cell phone, wireless card and Ethernet card.

But, the thing to remember is to be where you are. Focus on the here and now, not on what you need to do later.

Plus, I do make some time for my personal pursuits. While there is usually little time, and that does mean cutback on family time, I do make sure to escape and rejuvenate with the family.

When you started the IABC Chair blog, it seems like you had a good idea and intention, but didn’t realize the amount of time blogging takes. What would you change about the IABC blog, and looking back, would you do it again? (Editor’s Note: Kistle has handed over the blog to incoming IABC Chairman Warren Bickford)

An IABC staff person suggested the blog as a good way to communicate with our members, and I have to admit that I didn’t know much about blogs back then. Blogging is challenging.

The intent was to find an effective way to keep the IABC agenda activities in front of members, to create a dialogue with members. The concept was great, and since my predecessor was from South Africa, all that we were able to do was send the quarterly letter to members. The intent with the blog was to have an ongoing dialogue with members, both national and international.

But, it constantly has come up to me to decide on content. Blogging is very time intensive, and I was anticipating more interaction; instead it became more and more burden.

I love to communicate, but this is just time intensive. It’s the right idea, but if I had known at the beginning, I would have delegated the blog to be more of a community effort, and then added my own notes and thoughts. That way, it would not have been such a start-to-finish endeavor.

I understand the enthusiasm that people – like you – have for a personal blog, and the interaction and forum that blogs do provide for a greater audience. Just, the IABC Chairblog was a greater undertaking than I expected.

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?

I don’t have an opinion on that idea. What it sounds like you are suggesting is a central resource, a portal from other sites. Not sure if that would be good or bad or indifferent.

What is IABC? In Ragan’s, you noted that the association is moving in the right direction at the right speed. What is that direction?

IABC, as all associations, is there to build a community (for IABC, it is 13,000 people) who have a common interest (for IABC, it is business communications) and therefore work to put forth a common goal and idea for professional development.

With IABC, it is to be: an access point for information, with products and resource materials to grow a professional’s knowledge; professional development and skill advancement; and, to build a network of similar-minded professionals.

There is a realization that creating seminars for professional development that people are able to physically attend can now be done more efficiently with Webinars. We’re moving toward Webinars, because it is easier for our participants to access, and more affordable to deliver and receive.

The basic reasons of having an association – or being part of IABC – have not changed, but technology is changing how we work with the members.

In the first phase of IABC technology, the people in the late 80′/90′s pioneered pushing IABC into technology. They created a community, a community of people with common interests.

And, that is what IABC is about. People will find their network and create them in their own ways.

Our technology group on staff – people like Chris Hall – is thinking of ways to apply technology to our association all the time. People are reaching out to participate in online forums, Websites, Webinars, and to move that into more of an official status.

The IABC chairman job is a volunteer position. If you could do it again, would you?

Of course I would. I am proud of being the chair of IABC, and have worked very hard to be a good one. I’ve been a member of IABC since 1977, involved in that whole continuum since then. I have learned a lot, and being involved gives me an appreciation of what and who IABC is.

I know that I cannot be popular with everyone, but I have tried my hardest to not go out and be confrontational.

And, let’s be honest. We have all been beaten up by clients, coworkers, bosses at one time or another. This is just another time where everyone cannot be made happy

But, being the chair of IABC is an experience unlike being a CEO and chairman, and an experience that I would not get on the job. I serve on the board at PSB, but that is not an opportunity like this.

The joke about volunteer organizations is always that they are great, except for the volunteer aspect. How does IABC combat this?

It’s the nature of the beast. Lots of groups have volunteer boards, and I serve on other non-profit boards.

But, people belong because they care about something. Volunteers do not necessarily inhibit building consensus through agreement, but it can be difficult. It has been my experience that disagreement is better than agreement. You find the right balance and direction through the agreements and disagreements with volunteers.

To get the most out of the volunteer base, though, volunteer leaders need to be good listeners, and hear the minority voice.

What motivates volunteers? It’s not career or money. There’s something that’s motivating these people to volunteer for IABC. Effectively working with the volunteers means finding that motivation.

I’m a former IABC member that had a terrible experience, although I do love current president 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?

That’s a difficult one – everyone has reasons for leaving an organization. As I have been involved in IABC, it is interesting to learn why people come and go. Sometimes it’s professional, sometimes it’s personal. Sometimes a career goes into a different direction, and there are other reasons why people don’t rejoin IABC

Many times, it may be because the process failed. Sometimes I hear from former and current members that the membership ended, and no one called to inform them.

Whatever they experience is legitimate; it is the same with resolving conflict. IABC merely asks the former members to give us another shot.

But, sometimes it is the right decision to not come back.

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 has a stated mission from its Website:

  • Provide lifelong learning opportunities that give IABC members the tools and information they need to be the best in their chosen disciplines.
  • Share among our membership best global communication practices, ideas and experiences that will enable us to develop highly ethical and effective performance standards for our profession.
  • Shape the future of the profession through ground-breaking research.
  • Lead the way in the use of advanced information technology in the profession.
  • Unite the communication profession worldwide in one diverse, multifaceted organization under the banner of the International Association of Business Communicators.

    But, we should also champion the profession to local businesses.

    One of the things that is needed for communications is to better represent our profession to other businesses. We spent this year and part of last year developing a global code of ethics and ethics committee, to explain the ethical ways that communications works with businesses.

    IABC should be more visible and relevant in the business community. This takes a lot of forms – business media outreach, which includes a media tour with the chairman in NY and/or Toronto. As far as the US media, it takes a lot of work with outreach.

    While I have been IABC chair, I focused on our own town (Minneapolis), holding a thought leadership forum with the Minnesota Business Journal to connect communicators with the local business leaders.

    We need to always focus on the business and international part of IABC. There does need to be more of a focus on the BC part of the IABC, which will lead us to be more recognized worldwide.

    Recently, we finished a global market survey, and a few of the takeaways were that there is a universal desire to be recognized by the business community, to build greater credibility, to create career opportunities and the residual impact that the recognition will create.

    IABC was conspicuously absent during the recent PR controversies. Why doesn’t IABC take a position on controversial issues?

    IABC does not have a mechanism in place, or one voice that addresses ethics issues, which is why we are codifying ethics for future issues, to be able to provide a soundbite and opinion.

    The code of ethics will give us a forum to give a statement, and a guideline on how to comment on issues. I have opinions in what happens in our industry – but those are my opinions – and it is inappropriate for my opinions to appear as the association’s opinion.

    As for the relevance to our constituents, the recent ethics issues have been so US-focused but you have to remember that we are an international board. The commenting process is certainly something that I would like to be resolved, and it is a vigorous point of conversation.

    PRSA has done a great job at recruiting the future PR people with PRSSA – how come IABC has not made as big a push onto college campuses?

    We have made a push, and we’ll see more of that in the future. We have a few IABC university branches, such as James Madison University, University of Wisconsin, Eu Claire (which is affiliated with the Minnesota IABC), and the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.

    PRSSA has been around so much longer, and has that lead. We came second to college. It’s less likely for us to unseat current PRSSA chapters, so we go to campuses that do not have a chapter.

    Plus, we have made efforts to get chapters on international campuses – Canada, Europe, Asia – such as the University Lugano in Switzerland.

    IABC also realizes that once a student gets out of college, they are not going to be able to afford both an IABC and PRSA membership. We are discussing transition memberships – students to professionals – to help new professionals advance their careers into the world of PR and communications, while keeping them as members.

    Right now, we have a smaller footprint than PRSSA, but we recognize the opportunity and are leveraging it where we can.

    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?

    As we discussed in the earlier question, more and more of IABC is going online and offering online options. It’s going to change to that, where face-to-face networking is changing.

    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?

    Unless I am directed to go look at one, I do not regularly read blogs.

    My take is blogs are personal soapboxes, as opposed to a business catalyst for thought in an academic sense.

    I see blogs more as hype right now, than substance. If that continues, they will not remain strong. If it grows beyond vicarious strength, they will probably take.

    As a business model, blogging is in the experimentation stage. Blogs address the innovative and early adopter/influencer at the front end of the bell curve. It will go either the way of the 8-track or the way of the iPod.

    If blogs become a meaningful, accessible means to an end – such as building constituencies, support, and communities – then it’s a good thing.

    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 not going to be the norm where 40-50 percent of CEOs will be doing blogs themselves. Successful CEO blogs will take a staff, like those that handle correspondence, speeches.

    You’ve had a year of mixed reviews. Certainly some bloggers and their readers don’t think you are having a particularly successful one. When you make your final speech as Chairman, what successes do you think you will be able to list?

    I can point to several things that I am proud of, but there are two things specifically.

    Think of a business, and an important part of running a business is the oversight of strategy and planning and financing – we have some outstanding processes in place. People before and after me have helped put these processes in place.

    There has been an overhaul of the governance, with more clarity on roles and responsibilities.

    IABC remained on track with its debt to a zero position in five years – we delivered in 2004, will do so again in 2005.

    There are some disciplines in place to connect our product growth and membership growth. We are setting up what we need to, and what will support it, and the money allocation. We’ve done it before, but not in a staged way. Now, it is a planned growth strategy.

    On the marketplace side, we have provided some tools and access to the information (networking, Webinars) that is more appropriate for today. With growth, the numbers are moving up, with a concentration on member retention. We are doing well in recruiting, but we need to retain the members we have. We need to reduce that loss by 10 percent, which will help us grow.

    IABC will be so exciting that people will want to join.

    In Seattle, at the annual leadership meeting, I was able to visit with chapter leaders around the World, and find out the issues and needs that their members are telling them. The focus of their issues has shifted from misguided processes or bad feelings of the HQ. We have worked hard to be more responsive to our chapters. From an operations stand-point, it has tightened up, and we have more to offer than ever before.

    For IABC, there are huge growth opportunities overseas. The group is growing and evolving in Asia, and we have robust groups in Shanghai and Beijing.

    If you could advise future chairmen about what to look out for during their tenure, that they can get the most out of it, what 3 lines of advice would you have?

    My thoughts for Warren as the incoming chair are:

  • Emotion – the need for having balance in dealing with feelings of others and yourself. Things will happen that will come out of left field and will surprise you. You need to manage the reaction and keep perspective.
  • Intellectual – be creative in thinking about problem solving and future needs. Internalize what you hear and apply your own thoughts. Combine what others say with your own beliefs.
  • Inspire Others – help others do their best to take it to new levels. For me, the governance people have been amazing. They rose to new levels, doing great work for governance. Taking advantage of their intellect has inspired them to go further. There is always the need for recognition and reward.
  • What are you going to do on the last day of your chairmanship? You going to kick back and relax?

    The end of the line is not now. The past chairman has two important things to do: conduct the President’s performance review, and chair the nominating committee. But, I will also be there as a sounding board for the new chairman, new vice chairman and new board members.

    The past chairman should stay tuned in, and provide the wisdom of going through the minefield. The past chairman has an opportunity to be the person who challenges the others – particularly the current one – but not in a way that interferes. There is a need for an advisor, and that is something that someone who has held the position can do.

    I have thought of that last day, and I think I will feel more sadness than jubilance. Not because I want to be a perennial leader, but because all good things have to come to an end.

    With IABC, you get more than you give. There is something fun and valuable for me that will have ended.

    Jeremy Pepper is the CEO and founder of POP! Public Relations, a public relations firm based in Arizona, USA.

    He authors the popular Musings from POP! Public Relations blog which offers Jeremy’s opinions and views – on public relations, publicity and other things.

    PR Face2Face: David Kistle, 2004-2005 IABC Chairman
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