Embattled IABC Executive Director Chris Sorek Resigns After 11-Months

by / Newsroom Ink on 06/05/2013
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Chris Sorek, the embattled executive director of the International Association of Business Communicators, has resigned after serving for less than a year as the organizations operational leader. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Chris Sorek, the embattled executive director of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), has resigned after serving for less than a year as the organizations operational leader.

Sorek was chosen after a yearlong search for a new executive director started when former executive director Julie Freeman announced her resignation.

The IABC Board of Directors, led by then Chair Adrian Cropley, ABC, settled on Sorek after the Boards first choice withdrew from consideration at the last moment.

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Sorek’s demanding leadership style and his lack of face-to-face connection with members caused immediate friction within the organization, as well as with its permanent staff. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

According to Cropley, “When Chris stepped forward in the second round of the search, the board unanimously agreed that he is the right choice.”

In an email release to members, current IABC Chair Kerby Meyers wrote “Chris will continue to work with the Board on a number of special projects over the next two months.”

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.

Sorek’s demanding leadership style and his lack of face-to-face connection with members caused immediate friction within the organization, as well as with its permanent staff.

In the position less than three months, the handling of staff layoffs at the San Francisco headquarters and the resulting public relations boondoggle brought into question his leadership abilities.

The former CEO of Drinkaware Trust was sought after because of his ability to bring IABC into the digital era.

IABC announced publically Sorek’s departure via Facebook and Linkedin because according to Claire Watson, ABC, APR, who handles IABC’s external relations, the organization did not have the digital capabilities to post the release on their own website.

Before IABC could tell its members the story broke on Writing Boots, a Chicago-based communication blog by David Murray.

As the Board looks for an interim director and starts a search for a permanent replacement, Sorek leaves the organization a month before its annual conference being held in New York City.  His departure, and how it has been handled, is already bringing comments across social media platforms.

“IABC’s technology “wouldn’t allow” them to post a major announcement on its own website??? Sadly, that assertion is emblematic of just what a mess IABC has become,” commented communicator Robert J. Holland from Mechanicsville, Va. on Writing Boots.

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IABC Chair Kerby Meyers, who will temporarily assume Sorek’s role, instructed members “not of offer their own ideas but stick to the party line”. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Canadian Brian Kilgore brought to light a memo from Meyers who will temporarily assume Sorek’s role, instructing members “not of offer their own ideas but stick to the party line”.

Meyers message to key IABC members includes:

We anticipate significant conversation among our members and the trade media. As part of the IABC global management team, you play a key role in representing the Association at the chapter level, and we will need your help to ensure that the organization speaks with a common voice. To this end, I am providing you with talking points and ask that do not offer comment or conjecture beyond our approved key messages. Any media inquires should be referred to Aaron Heinrich at [email protected].

Your key messages are:

1. Chris Sorek has resigned from IABC to return to the corporate world. We thank him for his contributions over the past 11 months.

2. Between now and World Conference at the end of June, IEB Chair Kerby Meyers will lead day-to-day operations at IABC headquarters. After that time an interim Executive Director will be appointed by the Board and will continue to manage the business of IABC until a new Executive Director is found.

3. IABC’s strategic direction remains on track. We are dedicated to delivering exceptional service to our members and growing the Association. We have an ambitious agenda and will continue to implement innovative products and services that raise the bar within the communication profession worldwide.

During the past 11-months. Sorek, Meyers and the IABC staff and board have been questioned on their ability to successfully communicate with members, especially online.

Recently Mark Ragan of the Ragan Report and Ragan.com, managed to hijack the IABC Linkedin group with a self-serving survey of the organization.  Ragan, who regular uses the discussion to promote his business, managed to accomplish something IABC has failed in their online efforts  - creating a discussion that enlisted comments from members around the world including Meyers and Robin McCasland, the organization’s chairman elect.

In his first interview with Newsroom Ink at last year’s Chicago annual conference, Sorek said: “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. 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.”

To be brutally frank, in 11-months Chris Sorek and IABC has not been able to tell any story except that of an organization on the brink of implosion.

Newsroom Ink’s previous interviews with Chris Sorek, Kerby Meyers and Robin McCasland:

Chris Sorek Sets Up New “Big Communications Tent” at IABC

“The Times They Are a-Changing” for New IABC Chair Kerby Meyers

The Next IABC Chair, Robin McCasland’s Exes Aren’t All in Texas – They Spread Worldwide

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  1. Mark Ragan says:

    Ed,

    I’ve never once promoted our paid site. I have proposed that Ragan would offer IABC members sweeping discounts to our events.

    If you define “promoting” as links to free content on our site, I’m guilty. But then again, so are you. You just did it.

    And, by the way, get the spelling of my name right. It’s Ragan, not Regan.

    • Ed Lallo says:

      Mark:

      I apologize for getting the final Ragan…Regan, but it is corrected. And I will stand corrected that you don’t promote your paid site, but have changed that to business.

      As for not promoting, here are two discussions started in the group. Free trials of our new distance learning site for IABC’ers – which you started, and Samantha Hosenkamp, your social media director, started – Hello, IABC members! Ragan Communications launched a discount program for IABC. Thought you might like to know about it: http://bit.ly/120Io6u.

      I am not saying it is a bad thing, I promote my business there also.

      Ed Lallo

  2. Just for the record, I am not an IABC member and never was, but my partner was a member several times. For many years I covered IABC, PRSA, CPRS and other communications organizations for BAK’s Report. I hate the word blog.
    David Murray’s Writing Boots blog is one of my sources for what I wrote on Linkedin yesterday and today.

  3. Sherry Boyd says:

    As a chapter president, I have something to say about the 40+ year old International Association of Business Communicators. It’s strength is not dependent on one person. An executive director whose management style proved a poor fit for IABC is merely a blip on the radar. Judging IABC’s condition on the basis of Sorek, is like saying Burger King has all bad hamburgers if you get one hamburger that is half-cooked.
    All’s well at the chapter and regional level, association business continues as usual. If IABC has floundered and foundered in its efforts to develop stronger leadership and modernize the IT and social media systems at HQ, there must be some resources in our 15,000 membership with the know how to do it better.
    The writer of this story comes off as someone who got up on the wrong side of the bed. Ed, when you bite the hand that feeds you, its not a great way to “promote” your business. Please quote IEB Chair, Kerby Meyers, correctly. The memo said “do not offer comment or conjecture beyond our key messages.” As a chapter president, I have nothing to comment about how IEB leadership is going to go about getting IABC in a better position, because its good common sense not to fan the flames when a brush fire breaks out, unless you enjoy creating wildfires.
    Too bad there isn’t a law about media fire starters.

    • Ed Lallo says:

      Sherry:

      First let me say I did edit your comment. You had 115,000 members, and I took out the extra one to reflect the proper 15,000 members. I hope that is ok.

      When Chris Sorek was hired I was one of the first to interview him for IABC Austin’s BeHeardAustin.com news site that was read by IABC’ers worldwide.. I felt that I was responsible for introducing him to IABC’ers, that I had the right to comment on him leaving.

      I felt my article, although filled with typo’s because I had to run to the doctor with my 85-year-old mother, was fair. I even sent it to Paul Ladd, the sec-treasures of the southern region and one of the fairest people i know. He saw nothing wrong with the tone of the article.

      If I failed to get Kerby’s quote correct, I apologize. I have not seen it the way you have it, I copied it off an earlier post. If you will send me the quote, I will make the correction.

      The problem is not Sorek leaving, it is much larger. The problem is that for a third consecutive time a worldwide organization filled with professional communicators skilled in best practices, just couldn’t get it right.

      It is the duty of every member to speak up. Remember we are not served by an elected board, but by an appointed board. If we don’t have a voice, then we are failing in our job as communicators. You don’t have to agree with me, just get involved.

      Thanks,
      Ed

  4. Aaron says:

    There are a couple of points I wanted to address relative to this article.

    1) It states that: “Sorek’s demanding leadership style and his lack of face-to-face connection with members caused immediate friction within the organization, as well as with its permanent staff.”

    This is a statement based on conjecture since there’s no baseline for what face-to-face connection should look like and no attribution related to staff or members to validate “the friction Chris Sorek may or may not have caused.”

    Chris was tasked with implementing the strategy set by the board. There was never a question as to his ability to accomplish what he was asked to do. Furthermore, Kerby Meyers has reiterated in the past that Chris was asked by the board to focus on the business of IABC, which limited his face-to-face opportunities, especially in the first six months of his tenure.

    In the article it also states: “IABC announced publically Sorek’s departure via Facebook and Linkedin because according to Claire Watson, ABC, APR, who handles IABC’s external relations, the organization did not have the digital capabilities to post the release on their own website.”

    To clarify, It wasn’t that we didn’t have the digital capabilities to post the release on our website, it was that our website developed technical issues that kept us from being able to post the release in a timely fashion. That situation has since been rectified.

    • Ed Lallo says:

      Aaron:

      Thank you for your comments to the article.

      I think you have clarified a some points, but I take exception to the “demanding” terminology.

      According to my sources the terminology is not inappropriate, especially for a person in any senior executive level – it is the nature of the beast.

      The friction caused by Sorek, or if as you point out actually caused by the Board, is in the lives of 12 people dismissed from the organization – causing certain friction in their lives, and resulting in questions from members that were left unanswered.


      Linkedin Discussion posted by Allan Jenkins

      IABC fires most of its staff, and most VPs. Does not discuss it.

      IABC Chris Sorek has fired 16 staff members (out of about 25), including most VPs. Next year’s conference may be in doubt (although this would mean huge loss for IABC as conference venues are booked several years in advance). 

Sorek has refused to discuss the matter, other than to say to David Murray that he is “annoyed” that the firings are being talked about on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogs.

Perhaps the firings are necessary… but the way they are not being communicated is a slap in the face to 16,000 communicators who know this is *not* the way to communicate firing.


      It is good to know it was the Board shielding Sorek from the membership.

      Sorry to hear that your IT department was not able to have the website available for a news release of such importance.

      Ed Lallo

    • Bruce says:

      It’s not comforting to hear that a board charged with promoting excellence in corporate communication was somehow behind its new leader not having the touch-time most new top leadership roles require. Even if there was a plan already in place for significant reorganization, leadership is a people business–full stop. There’s no credible leadership if “focus on the business” ignores that reality. At this point, if the whole organization were “acquired” by PRSA or the like, it would probably be the best outcome for both the organization and the membership.

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