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My big lesson from the IABC World Conference

21 Jul 2015

In June I was lucky enough to attend the IABC World Conference, held in San Francisco.

It was an incredible experience with so many communication professionals in one room (over 1,000 of them). There were so many people who I could talk endlessly with about my passion…communication.

It’s hard to condense that much content into a single blog but I like a challenge so I’m going to try.

My big take-away from the event was to think like a start-up.

Appropriate considering the conference’s proximity to Silicon Valley.


It sounds so cliché, to say that the world is changing at an ever-faster rate.

But cliché are clichés for a reason this one is very true.

In this new and changing environment it makes sense to look at some of the most successful organisations of our time for inspiration, the start-ups of Silicon Valley.

These organisations are able to fluidly respond to changes in the market, constantly updating and reinventing themselves and miraculously appearing to stay one step ahead of change.

Here are three themes based on start-up culture that kept popping up during the conference.

The efficiency of ignorance

There’s power in being out of your depth, just think of the pioneering tech companies of Silicon Valley.

This lesson was clearly articulated by one of my favourite keynote speakers, Liz Wiseman, who encouraged attendees to adopt a rookie mindset.

Cast your mind back to when you first started working, when you weren’t really sure what you were doing.

What did you do to overcome your lack of experience? How did you meet the challenges set out in your new workplace?

Chances are you were innovative, you made mistakes, you learnt from your mistakes, you tried again, you did everything you could to succeed…and succeed you did.

Liz talked about power of learning vs. power of knowing, using a graph to demonstrate the learning curve of a rookie compared to the more linier learning pattern of a master.

Ignorance graph

As shown in the graph, it isn’t unusual for a rookie to eventually overtake the master in terms of knowledge and skills.

This concept is neatly summed up in the following quote. Appropriately it’s from a pioneering [female] computer programmer.

‘The most dangerous phrase in the language is, “We’ve always done it this way.”’

Never stop learning, never stop challenging yourself and never get complacent.

Quit with the five year plan

Who would have thought that five years ago we would have included LinkedIn in our content marketing strategy.

…wait, scrap that…

Five years ago who actually had a content market strategy?

In this age of flux we don’t know what will happen in the communications sphere five days from now, let alone five years

As an example, Facebook could change their algorithms tonight and tomorrow morning we’d have to adapt our communications to suit.

See why five-year plans aren’t particularly useful?

It’s something that came up time and time again at the conference – we spend so much time planning but how much time do we spend doing?

By the time you’ve finished creating a twenty-page communications plan, chances are your tactics are already out of date.

Think like a start up. If you see an opportunity then grab it by the horns and take advantage of it. In this world if we don’t act quickly the opportunity is lost.

Now, as a disclaimer, I’m big on planning. I believe that it still has an important place in communications. But our focus on planning should mean that miss out on the great opportunities that are out there.

My take-away was that you should spend a lot more time doing what you’ve planned, rather than planning what you’re going to do.

Get it out there and learn to fail

It seems that most communicators I’ve met are perfectionists, present company included.

This means that we’re not very good at failing. Or in fact doing anything that might include the possibility of failure. (Why else would we create such huge communications plans).

The thing is, you learn from your mistakes. And a lot of communications is about trial and error.

For example.

There isn’t some tried and true method for getting the most engagement on Facebook. It would be great if the darn thing came with a manual that said what to post, when to post and the format to use to get the most engagement.

But it doesn’t.

Audiences are different and organisations are different. The only way you’re going to know what works for your organisation is by trying different methods and seeing what works best.

  • Try sending your email at a different time, see what happens.
  • Use a different headline style; see what that does to your click rate (try AB testing).
  • Tweet twenty times a day; send just five good tweets a day, what got you the most engagement?

Digital communications gives us access to a stack of real-time information. We can see what works and what doesn’t straight away, and can make adjustments to suit.

Get out there and be prepared to fail, be prepared to succeed. We’re not talking $50million contracts here, what’s the worst that can happen? You learn, you improve, just like when you were a rookie.

Just like a start-up.

– Katherine Morrell

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