This month, we interview Jo Curkpatrick – a 20 year IABC member and a founding member of IABC Victoria. Jo tells us about the IABC's early days in Victoria and how the profession has changed over the last two decades.
Hi Jo. You have an amazing record and we all have a lot to thank you for. Can you tell us about your early IABC days?
I joined the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) as an at-large member 20 years ago in April 1995 while working in the United Kingdom as Corporate Communications Manager for the International Wool Secretariat.
On returning to Australia I received an email looking for volunteers interested in forming an Australia Chapter as at this time there were less than 15 members in Australia. I joined a small joint Victoria and New South Wales working group to form the Chapter and served on the first Australia Chapter Board.
As membership grew we were able to form separate Victoria and NSW chapters and I served on that Board for more than a decade, as Chair/ President and in a number of other roles, and leading the Chapter through incorporation as an Association in the State of Victoria. I managed the membership database before online and international solutions were made available, and while a board member I began a (hard copy in those days) member newsletter that ran for several years, writing, editing and distributing to our growing membership base.
What work have you done for IABC and what opportunities has IABC offered you?
IABC has been fantastic for me and extraordinary good value for money. Coming into the profession from agricultural research and extension, followed by a stint as a reporter with ABC Radio, it has been IABC that has provided my professional development as I moved through different communications positions in government, corporate and consultancy. Much has come from events and activities, but much more from the fantastic network of peers across the world that IABC is, all of them willing to share their experience and wisdom.
I always leave an IABC activity much richer for the experience. The real reward from IABC is in being involved. Give something and you will get back in multiples.
I believe my most important achievement was to instil the ethos of IABC at a local level, ensuring the Chapter board remained focussed (and it continues to do so) on its purpose – to improve the standing of the communications profession and support our members as professional communicators. It has been a great joy to me to see the growth of a strong and sustainable Chapter with more than 200 members from our small group of about six members in Victoria back in 1996. Much of the credit goes to the fantastic volunteers who have stepped up into leadership roles on or supporting the board.
I was the Victoria Chapter’s Public Officer from initiation in October 2004 until January this year. I worked on the incorporation of the association to ensure our constitution and association rules met Australian legislative requirements. Recently I assisted with updating the constitution and rules.
I have judged the international Gold Quill awards since the late 1990s, travelling to New Zealand and Malaysia to judge Asia Pacific award entries and have hosted the judging on a number of occasions. I served on the Blue Ribbon Panel on several occasions and was International Gold Quill Chair as well as Asia Pacific Gold Quill Coordinator and Asia Pacific Judging Coordinator.
I also chaired the Excel Award for Communication Excellence as a Leader in 2000/01 and served as a judge for a number of years.
I received my designation as an Accredited Business Communicator from IABC in 2005. Being an ABC recognises the achievement of designation earned from the International Association of Business Communicators and recognising the highest standard of professionalism and ethical conduct and is a designation I am very proud of. I have also supported accreditation as Asia Pacific coordinator for several years, and as a mentor, even hosting candidates in my office for their exam.
How has the communications profession changed over the last 20 years? What are the two or three things you believe have most changed the way we do our job?
It has changed completely. Well, perhaps the exception is that many of us remain true pedants, determined to get apostrophes in the right place.
Technology has been the biggest change to the way we do our jobs. In 1996 when I returned from the UK we were very focussed on the printed word and publications. Yes we had email, but it was 1996 before browsers such as Internet Explorer even appeared, Google was still a couple of years away and social media was unheard of. We were often found in the print room organising the delivering of boxes of brochures, postcards and other bits of paper. Sigh, I do miss paper just a little.
The rise of internal communications has been another significant change. We were talking about it 20 years ago and were delivering team briefings and staff newsletters, but we didn’t understand the real and measurable impact of good employee engagement and internal communication on an organisation’s productivity and profitability.
And the other big change is that we have had to get our heads around measurement and evaluation. Twenty years ago IABC was leading the way and Angela Sinickas had already been promoting measurement in organisational communication for more than a decade, but many of us were still struggling with the ‘how’ we could measure beyond the tried (but not very true) column inches.
As communicators, is there anything you think we could still be doing better?
Getting our apostrophes in the right place!
Sorry, back to the topic…I believe many of us still have a long way to go in being heard and supported to effectively promote the work we do (and could do) within organisations. I am envious of those professional communicators who have been able to influence management on the value of good communications, especially in difficult times, and have the support to do what they need to do.
So perhaps we could be better at selling ourselves.
Finally, you’ve just moved over to Adelaide. How are you finding the profession over there?
I know there are really good people here, but at the moment I am focussed on getting to know my role with the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, and haven’t had much of an opportunity to network with colleagues. I am hoping to do that in the next couple of months when I have finished unpacking boxes.
Engagement is the word of the moment here. The SA Government has highlighted community engagement in its “Better Together” approach towards a public service with the skills to engage the community and a culture which respects and welcomes community input. So in practical terms that means I need to be up to speed with best practice community and stakeholder engagement, and I want to expand this to include internal engagement – because we need it. Exciting times, I have much to do.
And you never know, in time I may be able to help to grow IABC membership in SA from the current three (including me) to a Chapter.