Relevant. Inspiring. Energizing. Thought-provoking. These are just a few adjectives communication professionals used to describe the virtual IABC World Conference 2021. Over the past three days, communicators from around the globe gathered to focus on their collective strength, celebrate their impact on the world and acknowledge the continuous, evolving state of change they navigate daily.
Throughout the conference, communicators heard from leaders at Pfizer and NASA, and tapped into topics such as accessibility, diversity and inclusion, crisis management, how to adopt a freelance mentality and so much more.
With more than 50 sessions at their fingertips, communicators added a wealth of knowledge and new perspectives to their toolboxes. Here’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lessons learned:
The World Conference welcomed Sally Susman, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer for Pfizer Inc., and Isidro Reyna, senior communications specialist for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, to the virtual keynote stage.
Susman opened the conference by sharing Pfizer’s story of collaboration as she and her team communicated the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Susman touched on watershed moments over the past 18 months, from the launch of the “Science Will Win” campaign, to the moment Pfizer’s executive team learned the vaccine was FDA approved and all the way to standing with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and President Biden at the G7 summit to represent how the company brought a “lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine” across the globe.
Susman encouraged communicators to make their own watershed moments, set wildly ambitious goals and to always think big. As for Susman’s best piece of advice for communicators navigating a crisis, big or small … “Get a diary and take good notes!”
Reyna closed the conference by giving attendees an inside look at NASA communications initiatives, from capturing rocket launches live to interviewing astronauts fresh off the International Space Station, eating “space food” for a week to show Earth-dwellers how it’s done and more.
The senior communications specialist also showcased two major campaigns NASA created after realizing it was missing out on a key demographic — employees (and retirees). Enter “Dare, Unite, Explore,” an internal campaign focused on the Johnson Space Center’s vision: “We dare to expand frontiers. We unite with our partners to complete bold missions. We explore space to benefit humanity.”
In line with this campaign, NASA rebranded its internal materials from the ‘90s to propel itself into the modern era by following best-practices, rebranding under one umbrella and color-coding products à la major media outlets like BuzzFeed. The agency then created an external campaign — Giant Leaps Start Here — to complement their internal focus and encourage employees to share their great work with the public. (The company’s employee site was also made externally-facing for this reason.) NASA tied the two efforts together with fun, colorful splashes of the “Dare, Explore, Unite” branding throughout its campus (open to the public), on banners, crosswalks and murals.
So how does the U.S. space agency’s communication strategy apply to your practice? For the past 18 months, communicators navigated something they hadn’t experienced before. This led the entire industry to think differently. Reyna challenged attendees to unite and explore new ways of doing business. It’s about time to stop talking about your plans and dare to take action.
What Can Communicators Learn From…
- … neuroscience: Decision-making is not just a cognitive activity — emotions are critical to this process. Tap into the basics of neurobiology in communication by cultivating strategies for healthy emotional regulation and reduce the use of written e-communications in favor of face-to-face and video when possible. (Applying Neuroscience to Your Corporate Communication, Dr. Laura McHale)
- … women and girls in sports: To drive real change, use data and find opportunities in the numbers. The better the data you collect, the more opportunities, conversations and change you can achieve. (Making Meaningful Change — Improving the Representation of Women and Girls in Sport in New Zealand, Ngaire Crawford and Philip Clark)
Make the Most of Your Virtual Meetings
- When producing hybrid meetings, communications and events teams should collaborate to ensure virtual and in-person audiences are treated equally. Also, you may not want to do away with that virtual option so fast. “People are going to expect that a meeting comes with a Zoom link.” (Jenifer Bice, Breaking Through Zoom Fatigue to Create Engaging and Meaningful Meetings and Events)
- What can livestream opera teach communicators about virtual connection? For starters, online events can be more intimate than live shows, allowing for one-to-one conversations. Plus, a virtual audience does not come at the expense of a live one. Make a case for both live and virtual events — your audience will thank you. (What the History of Livestream Opera Can Teach Us About Zoom Calls — and Other Lessons About Virtual Connection, Chris Graham)
- How can you bring your brand’s purpose to life? Frame your content around the three Cs: content (the what), customers (the who) and culture (the why). Know your customers, and ensure your brand is present where they are. (Brand Reimagined: The DNA of Purpose-Driven Content, Maliha Aqeel)
- Why should you make your content accessible? You’re missing out on a huge segment of your audience if you don’t. Pro-tip: Adding alt-text to images is a communicator’s best friend. For people using screen readers, this lets them understand the image. You can even embed alt-text into images in Tweets. (All > Some: The Importance of Accessible Content in Communications, Matisse Hamel-Nelis)
Strategy and Values: A Recipe for Success
- When it comes to DEI, don’t try to be someone you’re not. Encourage your leaders to champion DEI, but top-down is not the only way. Feature employees’ stories and fresh perspectives in your internal and external communications. (Telling Your DE&I Story: The Secret Ingredient for Success, Neil Griffiths)
- Organizations don’t fail to change unless people fail to change. Look outside of your organization at best practices, but remember — there is a wealth of untapped opportunity hiding within your company’s top performers. (It’s Time to Thrive, Not Survive — Communicate and Accelerate Your Organization’s Strategy to Win in 2021, Gary Magenta)
- What you do and say in the first few days of a crisis determines the value reaction. Timing, transparency, empathy and tone all lead to a “winning” crisis response. Follow the golden rules of setting your strategic intent, determining your main effort, being courageous in making timely decisions and staying true to your values. (Time to End the Damage Caused by a Mishandled Crisis: How to Avoid the 10 Most Common Traps, Jonathan Hemus)
- What could go wrong if communicators don’t lead with values and allow decisions to be made for them? When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Behaviors (IoB), partner with your IT teams and lead the conversation. When using data powered by AI, defer to privacy regulations and laws in your country. (Leading With Our Values: AI and the Internet of Behaviors, Joanne Henry and Donna Itzoe)
Psst! Want to learn more about this topic? Read the latest report from the IABC Trends Watch Task Force.
- By 2027, freelancers will make up the majority of the workforce in the U.S., and the Gig Economy is the biggest trend in global business by far. Whether you’re a freelancer or not, embrace this mentality by showing your value and finding your niche, doing your absolute best and taking true ownership of your work. (Build a Freelance Mentality — Especially If You’re Employed!, Tiffany Markman)
Social Media Stand-Outs
@IABC World Conference | This keynote with @pfizer Comms Exec Sally Susman was worth teh entire price of admission! #IABC21 pic.twitter.com/qK7W166CP0
— CoachKamna (@CoachKamna) June 28, 2021
@iabc day 1 was great. Opening session with @pfizer Sally Susman, purpose driven content Maliha Aqeel, disinformation and DNA roundtable Deanna Troust, communicating in real time Shel Holtz ANNNND rock n roll game. Where else but #IABC2021?
— J Wilson (@JWilson4JW) June 29, 2021
Thank you to @IABC staff & volunteers for a great #IABC21 experience! Love this year's platform! pic.twitter.com/uWw9g1j5iv
— Gabrielle Loring (@Gabriettaa) June 29, 2021
The IABC World Conference 2021 live event may be over, but that doesn't mean you have to miss out on all the industry insights and innovative learning! Purchase your IABC World Conference All-Access Pass today, and you, too, can take part in invaluable learning opportunities that hundreds of global communications professionals are leveraging now to get ahead. Purchase your pass.