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IABC works out the numbers after World Conference in New York: 1500 delegates delve into Socrates, social and success

July 30, 2013


There’s a tendency when you do a wrap up of a major event to focus first on the numbers. Especially when you come out of an event like the IABC World Conference where we tried some new things, weren’t sure how some tried and true elements would go, and where new speakers were suggesting they conduct their sessions in ways we hadn’t tried. Like Richard Torrenzano’s Socratic dialog.


But the numbers are helpful because they quantify how we did, and by most measures, the numbers tell us we did pretty well. With nearly 1500 members and non-members attending, we beat last year’s attendance and stopped a downward trend that has hopefully gone the way of this last recession. Would we like it to be higher? Absolutely, but considering travel budgets are still tight, jobs are not a given, and there are people who weigh every dime spent on attending events like this, we feel pretty good about the number of people who made the investment in themselves to join us in New York the end of June.


With over 100 different sessions covering everything from branding to crisis communications to social media in multiple iterations, there was a topic there for every professional communicator, regardless of where they work or who they work for.


Some of the real meaty stuff, though, was in the general sessions. Richard Edelman, head of the largest privately held PR firm in the world, opened the conference on Sunday with his take on trust in business and business leaders today. He also warned that PR, not advertising, must own native advertising, but the time to learn it and stake claim to it is rapidly dwindling.


Prior to Edelman’s keynote, this year’s conference also saw its first flash mob with members of the opening session audience interrupting now past- IEB chair Kerby Meyers’ opening remarks with a rendition of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.”


On Monday morning, Richard Torrenzano of The Torrenzano Group and author of Digital Assassination went away from the normal panel discussion with a Socratic dialog related to a fictional crisis. His participants included a CEO, a CFO, a head of PR, a board member, a lead investor, a blogger and a reporter giving their take on a crisis involving a consumer product that had been reported to cause skin cancer. Each of the participants responded as they would in their real world role as the “crisis” unfold. The format and energy of this approach was well-received, but several IABC members were wondering why someone from HR or employee communication wasn’t also included in the discussion. Good point.


CEOs and other business leaders with experience at major companies like SAP, Marvel Entertainment, Heineken US and Ogilvy came together on Tuesday morning under the direction of Robert Reiss, author of Transformative CEOs, to discuss the role of CEOs and business leaders today. They had the crowd clapping approval at several points as each participant pointed out their own view of the importance of communication and definitive decision making.


Of course, the World Conference is also defined by its signature event -- the Gold Quill gala. This year there were nearly 700 attendees, recognizing over 250 winning entries. Both numbers broke previous records despite the fact that changes to this year’s Gold Quill program made judging far more objective. However, in what could have devolved into a litany of winners’ names with little to no attention given to any but the multiple award winners, there were enough entertainment breaks by the percussion-like group called Industrial Rhythm, and the supply of drumsticks at every table, to be sure the winners continued to “drum up” attention and excitement from the crowd.


We also took social media to an entirely different level with the addition of a live Twitter and Instagram feed in the IABC Central set up in the Exhibitor area. Tweets or posts using #IABCWC13 were automatically entered into a continuously refreshed stream projected on a dedicated screen. Stats show us there were nearly 5500 individual tweets and posts related to everything from shout outs to fellow members, quick bits from sessions, to some legitimate grumbling about the long food lines. Next year, though, we’re getting a bigger screen, encouraging more picture sharing…and finding a way to more quickly feed everyone!


While the sites of New York were just outside the conference hotel, the opportunity to take advantage of them were as available as conference attendees had the time to do so. There were hosted walk-arounds on Sunday, an outdoor Welcome Reception with live DJ at Rockefeller Center on Sunday night, and dine-arounds on Tuesday.


So there’s the quantitative take on the event, what about comments from those who attended? We consistently heard that this was one of the best World Conference’s to date. Some of the best speakers, best sessions, best experiences in memory. And that’s saying quite a bit since many wanted to compare expectations with a few past events, most notably 2008 when nearly 2000 people came to New York under far different circumstances.


Of course, we couldn’t do any of this without our sponsors and exhibitors, and we are particularly grateful for our Platinum Sponsor – Towers Watson – who continues to provide support on many different levels.


Now it’s on to Toronto. The bar’s been set and we’re looking forward to seeing how our Canadian members help set it even higher in 2015.