AB Thinks  →  15th May 2019

IOIC Live 2019: four key takeaways – and one prediction

Last week, a few of the AB team were lucky enough to attend the 2019 IOIC Live conference in the gorgeous city of Bath. As a first-time attendee, it was an invigorating experience. I left fizzing with IC ideas, contacts and good practices. Here’s four things that stood out, and one – provocative – prediction.

#1 Sector Confidence

IC has truly arrived as a profession. It’s no longer the poor relation of PR or public affairs. This was brought home during a keynote speech by Drew McMillan, Head of IC at British Airways. He described how it is at the beginning of a five-year transformation of its business for its 45,000 customers. His secret? Having pride in your organisation and a simple narrative vision. In other words, it’s about IC – pure and simple.

#2 External and Internal Must Work Together

Companies and organisations need to behave internally as they speak externally. A message that was brought home by Sarah Meurer, Head of IC at Nestlé. Sarah candidly discussed her organisation’s struggles to realign its message when it was challenged over its use of palm oil. She said that honesty and transparency in  messaging – internal and external – had proved essential to getting the business back on track.

#3 A Truly Cross-Generational Workplace

There are now five generations at work. And, regardless of demography, every employee is unique. You cannot, therefore, try to fit every piece of messaging through the same shiny millennial-shaped aperture. This point was brilliantly outlined by Martin Ferguson from B & Q. He discussed its attempts to appeal to over-50s and challenge preconceptions around older workers. There are 17 million people over 55 in the UK workforce and they’re worth £473bn to the economy – so it pays to broaden your reach.

#4 Listen, Listen, Listen

It’s a simple act but in the world of IC it can prove transformational. Embedding a culture of feedback and transparency is one of the most powerful tools in the IC arsenal. Initiatives like live-streaming board meetings will become more common, asserted Nita Clarke, OBE, former advisor to Tony Blair. Reputational damage is the biggest risk to companies, she said, and that a decent culture is the bedrock on which organisational strategy and vision are built.

And the prediction…

By 2035 IC won’t exist and there will be no need for writers anymore. I have to admit I was initially sceptical of this bold forecasting by Jon Simons, Laura Low and Ben Keohane – partly because no one wants to be told a bot can do a better job of blog writing than they can. But, in fact, this makes sense: the 4th Industrial revolution has already democratised knowledge and communication.

In fifteen years’ time, perhaps the role of IC won’t be to create content, but curate it. Company culture will not be shaped from the top-down but driven by all colleagues engaged and collaborating together.

So where does that leave us?

Well, my first IOIC conference left me with the impression that, as a profession, IC is at a crucial juncture. The unprecedented status, vigour and confidence places IC at the heart of the modern workplace, enabling operational, cultural and behavioural transformation. We have finally been recognised as key drivers of business success. But with this opportunity comes great responsibility. We need to make sure the fundamentals are strong. We need to have the skills, focus, mechanics and tenacity to deliver. Our leaders and our colleagues are depending on this. If we let them down, we may set the profession back years.

In short, we have a choice. It’s time to step up to the plate. Lace up. There’s work to do.