“They” say that God does not give you more than you can handle and that coming through challenging times only makes you stronger. Must be true because here I stand a year later having survived as president of the IABC Houston Chapter. But I didn’t just survive, I thrived, as did our entire board and I think our chapter did too during a year filled with hurricanes, fire and a down economy. I am so grateful for having such as great board team to work with. It was a year in which we laughed, we cried, we drank (just a little) as we worked to make our chapter stronger. We also learned a lot. I share with you some of the nuggets of wisdom.
Be flexible. Our first two board meetings had to be rescheduled due to hurricane warnings. Conducting business through email saved the day.
Be resourceful. When the big one–Hurricane Ike–hit, our beloved Brennan’s burned to the ground. Not to mention we were all reeling from the storm in our personal lives, we had to quickly come up with a venue for the chapter’s monthly meetings. “Why not try a different venue each month, sort of a tour of Houston restaurants,” said Pam McConathy, VP of Professional Development. We thought it was a great idea. We could hit different parts of the city and maybe attract some members who couldn’t make it downtown. After about the third new venue Pam had to coordinate, she said, “Who’s idea was this anyway?” We quickly realized the value of having one set location knowing that you wouldn’t have to renegotiate the set up and menu each month. But I have to say, the chapter supported us on this one as we still averaged 40 to 50 attendees at each monthly program. We experienced a cozy gathering at Escalante’s, survived the smoke at an outdoor barbecue at Goode Company and wondered when lunch would be served at the House of Blues. That was a little embarrassing since we had 80 people in attendance to hear the IABC International Chair Barbara Gibson, ABC, speak. But she was most gracious and the HOB made up for it by throwing us a happy hour with FREE drinks and food and offering those in attendance a three-month membership to their exclusive Foundation Room. We now have found a home for a while at Maggiano’s.
Be innovative. We introduced some new types of programming. When Dr. Richard Murray, UH political analysis guru, couldn’t speak at our September luncheon because of Hurricane Ike, we rescheduled him for an evening presentation in December. It was an informal gathering of appetizers and analysis of the just-held presidential election. We offered a brown bag FREE Webinar that was well received. Members had selected the topic through a Be Heard Poll, a new means of hearing what members want. We also sponsored a branding breakfast workshop in collaboration with PRSA and look to partner with other organizations in the coming year. In fact our third year of sponsoring a nonprofit communications workshop with the United Way was again a hit with the two organizations splitting a net revenue of about $4,000, and we look forward to continuing this relationship.
Be willing to step up. When Mayor Bill White spoke at our July meeting, he challenged us to reach out to the community and champion the use of social media. We accepted the challenge and thanks to Steve Parker and Suzy Hartgrove, formed the Social Media Task Force to work with civic groups on social media training. The task force, now under the leadership of Elaine Krause and Sandra Fernandez recently completed the first training session. We’ll be hearing more about this meeting and the task force’s plans for the coming year on this blog site.
Be understanding. When the economy went south, we decided on a price freeze for attending monthly luncheons, held several networking happy hours, offered a free Webinar and kept the prices for entering the Bronze Quill competition and attending the event at 2008 rates. We also had some great membership drive promotions thanks to Robin Leeder, the board’s official “fun” ambassador. The recent promotion of joining or renewing members receiving certificates to attend two monthly luncheons at no cost was hugely successful. Throughout the year when many associations are seeing a decline in membership, IABC Houston has remained steady at about 325 members. Watch for more promos in the fall.
Be supportive. The board was proud to see the progress of building a student chapter at the University of Houston. Thanks to UH communications professor Mike Emery for his boundless energy in getting the students excited about our association. The board was honored to sponsor a scholarship luncheon this spring and looks forward to one day establishing an IABC scholarship at the college. The students held a successful communciations homecoming which featured a panel of alumni sharing their knowledge of the industry with students. We asked some of our chapter speakers to make appearances at the campus, including IABC International Chair Barbara Gibson, ABC, and David Henderson, our BQ keynote speaker. The students were also regular attendees at our monthly luncheons courtesy of some of our members who sponsored their attendance. The board was pleased to sponsor the World Conference attendance of past student president, David Gonzalez. He shared his thoughts on the trip to San Francisco on this blog site.
Be tenacious. When Janelle Ewing and Shea Daugherty took on the co-chairmanship of the Bronze Quill competion and gala they were on a mission to set a record for sponsorship dollars. And they did. It was one of the most successful BQs in our recent history with a net revenue of over $11,000. And that’s in a down economy!!!! When Shea had to bow out due to a job transfer to another city, Hattie Horn stepped in as co-chair and quickly wrapped up a nationally recognized keynote speaker and kept the BQ planning on track while Janelle attended to family matters in Australia. We are so fortunate that both Janelle and Hattie have agreed to spearhead the BQ committee again this year. Another tenacious volunteer this year has been Helen Fischer, ABC. As director of hospitality she has worked with our Web hosting group Schipul to fix registration issues with the Tendenci software. Members, she has your back. If you have trouble registering, she will make sure you get registered and make sure the problem is reported. I also want to thank Helen for her support of our crazy idea to have luncheons at different venues each month. It created a registration nightmare, but she worked everything out like a dream.
Be responsive. Chapter members have not been shy in telling the board what type of programming they want to see. Partly because of having a great evaluation and measurement method put in place. Thanks to Stephen Rassenfoss for bringing our evaluation methods online, reducing the paper shuffle at luncheons and getting a quicker read on what the members want.
Be cautious. In a down economy filled with uncertainty, you want to be sure to remain fiscally responsible. Thanks to Nancy Trowbridge, our VP of Finance for keeping our spending in line.
Be communicative. Sounds funny since we are a communications association, but you’d be surprised how the thing you know best is sometimes the thing you forget. Thanks to Merrisa Turner and her committee for keeping us in the know with the Insider newsletter and Web site. She was also instrumental in coordinating those member polls and surveys. The Be Heard blog made its debut this year and kept me on my toes as I committed to making weekly posts. I soon caught on that having guest bloggers was a good thing and invited some of our speakers, students and sponsors to share this space with me. The blog will continue with more of a variety of contributors this coming board year. I also dabbled in sending emails to all members from time to time to remind them of great programming and promotions. Based on the response I got, this was a good way to stay connected.
Be heard. Please hear my message of gratitude for this experience. I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement and support of my boss, Tracy Torma. She served on the board as well handling sponsorships and serving on the communications committee. She also sponsored several programs and was always a willing volunteer to sponsor a student at our luncheons. Her favorite student of course was her son, Patrick, who graduated in May.