Living in the UK, Chris Sorek is no stranger to umbrellas. For him, IABC is “the umbrella” under which all communications fits.
by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink
At first glance he looks a little like a character off a British sitcom, or perhaps even Woody Allen. When he starts to speak, his low-key narrator-like voice demands attention. It is however the thoughtful content of the words flowing smoothly through his lips that shows the true character of the new executive director of the only worldwide organization representing more than 14,000 professional communicators.
Born in Michigan and a graduate of Michigan State University, Chris Sorek is a global public affairs and communications professional with more than 25 years experience working for international organizations, multinationals and agencies. As the new executive director of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), he will be overseeing an organization seeking a leader ready to embrace change.
The almost yearlong search for a new executive director for IABC started when Julie Freeman announced her intention to leave the top spot of organization. After five months the IABC Board of Directors, led by chair Adrian Cropley, ABC, found a suitable candidate, offered the position, but at the last moment before introducing their choice to the membership the candidate withdrew from consideration.
John Clemons, ABC, APR, was called upon to step in as executive director of the organization while the search was re-opened and continued for another six months – with the board finally offering the position to Sorek.
According to Cropley, “When Chris stepped forward in the second round of the search, the board unanimously agreed that he is the right choice.”
“I see communications as being an umbrella,” said the mild mannered Sorek, “It’s an umbrella that a lot of things fit under; from investor relations, to stakeholder relations, to advertising, to marketing – communications is all of that. As person who has run businesses all over the world, I can tell you that all those things fit into one place and that is into IABC.”
Before taking the leadership reigns at IABC, Sorek was the former CEO of Britian’s Drinkaware Trust, an independent UK alcohol awareness charity providing consumers with information about how alcohol affects lives and lifestyles.
“To be brutally frank, when I first started Drinkaware was an organization looking for a reason to be,” said Sorek, a former journalist at a younger age. “It was a great idea and concept. The biggest issue was finding a way to talk to consumers so they could still enjoy alcohol, while at the same time moderating their behavior.”
Sorek was instrumental in the organization’s employment of the latest behavior and social marketing techniques intended to influence change in the behavior of target audiences. “Using the “nudge theory” we wanted them to provide a reason to move. We gave them the concept, the education and the tools they need to make informed decisions on drinking, but allowed them to make the move on their own,” he explained.
“Chris has been instrumental in establishing the organization as the pre-eminent provider of evidence-based alcohol information and education in the UK,” said Drinkaware chairman Derek Lewis. “Clear evidence is now emerging that effective alcohol education can play a vital role alongside other initiatives in creating a better understanding of alcohol harms, in changing the UK alcohol culture, and in reducing the incidence of health and social harms attributable to alcohol.”
Building and leading cross-cultural teams in developing results-oriented communications are part of then new executive director’s communication strengths. He has a proven track record in handling global reputation and image development, social responsibility, government and community relations, issues management, corporate communications, brand re-positioning, executive thought leadership, and crisis management. Sorek has worked on public information and humanitarian issues in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
“I’m an easy going individual, I like what I do, as a matter of fact I love what I do,” said the former head of communications for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva. “I am kind of a 24/7 – 365-type person. I wouldn’t be taking on this responsibility, this role at IABC, unless I was really committed to what I felt was a big thing to do for the profession and the professionals. I serve members and that is what I want to do.”
IABC Needs New Communication Techniques
The new leader feels that the organizations needs to reexamine the needs of members, so the can continue to improve as professionals. IABC also has to reexamine how the organization can become more professional as an entity.
Communications, and communication professionals, are an integral part of a business in terms of the overall mix of methods used to reach and engage stakeholders. He feels, “this is the perfect opportunity for IABC to reach those people in a better way. By giving communication professionals better education, better tools, a better way to go forward in developing their own careers, we will see a growth in professionalism and at the same time draw more people into it.”
In February 2002 as the fiscal crisis hit IABC and members weren’t sure if IABC would be around, membership fell to a low of 14,221 professional and student members. That rose to a high of 16,189 combined members in 2008.
The financial crisis beginning in the fall of 2008 once again took a toll on membership. A low of 14,640 combined members in 2010 has risen to 14,028 professionals and 806 students, for a combined total of 14,834 members presently.
“I think every organization should reflect its membership, but also reflect a wide range of people in terms of their personalities and their capabilities,” Sorek said. “It makes no difference to me is somebody is red, green, blue, black, brown; I don’t really care. What I am interested in are people that are going to be delivering for our members and be able to be the best of the best around the world.”
IABC Has a Better Story to Tell
“One of the things we are going to be doing is taking a closer look at what we should be offering members. Once we have that defined, my goal is to run with that ball all the way down the field and deliver for our members,” explained Sorek using a football metaphor – or was that soccer?
One of the things he feels IABC needs to improve is the delivery of services to members, while at the same time reaching a wider audience. He believes it important for IABC to be more in front of both traditional and social media. It is incumbent upon the organization to become more involved in telling its many stories from the international level to the chapter level.
“We need to share best practice as much as we can so people can see what we are able to do, see what our members are doing,” he said. “To be brutally frank, we need to tell the story in bigger ways across a wider spectrum of media channels; using social media, using the Internet, but also getting increased exposure in traditional media.
The Organization is Too Often Pigeonholed
For Sorek, IABC as an organization too often pigeonhole for doing just one thing. He perceives it from a totally different perspective. For him “communications is literally ” the umbrella” that everything else fits under. You are engaging audiences at different levels and through different channels”
“They wouldn’t be going to organizations outside of IABC unless they felt that those organizations are giving them something that IABC is not providing,” said Sorek addressing the problem. “Our job is to be able to deliver a wide rage of services and programs specially tailored to the communication professional, so they can then do their jobs and improve their careers.”
According to him, IABC needs to become the “go to place” for communication professionals; be they advertising, marketing, employee, PR, financial or other. IABC needs to establish itself as the “umbrella” or “big tent” covering all communication fields.
“I don’t see us boxing ourselves in,” explained Sorek on his strategy. “We are in the business of building communications for a company and its brand. We don’t think “small”, we are the “big tent” that every communication organization fits under.”