A Foundation for Communication Success: The IABC Research Foundation Celebrates 25 Years of Visionary Leadership and Scholarship

Communication World, May-June 2007 | Go to article overview

A Foundation for Communication Success: The IABC Research Foundation Celebrates 25 Years of Visionary Leadership and Scholarship


In 1982, Johnson & Johnson recalled 31 million Tylenol capsules in response to product tampering, AT&T agreed to divest itself of 22 subdivisions, Sony and Philips introduced the CD-ROM, the Weather Channel debuted on U.S. cable television--and the IABC Research Foundation was established as a nonprofit corporation to advance the communication profession and demonstrate its value in organizational effectiveness through education and research.

Louis Williams, ABC, APR, co-chair and chair from 1984 to 1987 and one of the foundation's founding architects, said in a 1986 interview: "A major part of what we're trying to accomplish with the IABC Foundation is to help provide information and research that people can use in their everyday jobs.... We need to establish communication research as an ongoing function of organizational communicators."

Twenty-five years and 17 published reports and studies since its inception, the IABC Research Foundation continues to fund research to improve communication leadership. The foundation's research measures and evaluates communication decisions that support organizational strategies, providing a platform for sound business decisions overall. 2006-2007 chair Kellie Garrett, ABC, notes, "Our predecessors had the foresight to recognize that a body devoted to communication research would add credibility and professionalism to our discipline."

Lynda Stewart, ABC, the foundation's first chair, recalls the inspiration of visionary IABC leaders that led to the incorporation of the foundation despite the realities of legalities and paperwork.

"It's thrilling to have experienced 25 years of reality that was once just a vision," says Stewart. "We could have made a long list of obstacles and talked ourselves out of a foundation, but IABC's executive board said, 'Let's do it.'"

"Research is not always an easy sell," says Vicci Rodgers, chair from 1996 to 1997. "IABC took a bold step forward by investing in the foundation. We can still look back on those early studies and find value today."

Jan Thibodeau, ABC, 2006-2007 vice chair and incoming 2007 chair, says that the foundation's Excellence Study (see page 39) in particular remains the essential guide to the "fundamental and timeless elements of excellent communication." Barbara Puffer, ABC, 1997-1998 chair, adds, "As an adjunct associate professor today, I see the study surface again and again ... it is still a widely quoted piece of work in the academic arena." "I will always remember the day that an article appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal that described how CEOs valued communicators in the organization," says Maire Simington, Ph.D., chair from 1994 to 1996. "Most felt that [communicators] added 200 percent to the bottom line. This was based on [James and Larissa] Grunig's findings in the Excellence Study. It really underscored the value of our profession to a wide audience."

The question remains: Does research lead to improved organizational efficiencies, or does communication practice lead to new research and theory? Both sides are defendable. Clients and bosses expect communicators' decisions to be based on a foundation of established theory, as well as on ongoing research that tests, perfects and introduces new knowledge to reflect a changing business and political environment.

The foundation's aim is to satisfy both. The Business of Truth, published last year, helps business communicators understand their role in a post-Enron era of increased public and governmental demand for corporate transparency. The 2003 study Communication Behavior of Virtual Workforces took into account new media and other innovations in technology that have led to the increasing prevalence of remote workforces, and explored the challenges and characteristics of today's virtual teams.

Current foundation trustee Greg Gordon points to best-practice studies such as Thinking Big, Staying Small and Best Practices in Employee Communication, calling them "a platform to move from tactical to strategic communication. …

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