Looking Back, Looking Forward

Communications Strategy Past, Present, and Future

By: Dan Voss and Mike Murray
STC Fellows
Florida Chapter, STC

This is the third installment of Looking Back, Looking Forward, a new column appearing periodically in Memo to Members. This installment examines our chapter’s communications strategy past, present, and future while presenting a year-end challenge for our chapter to consider in the upcoming new decade.

The Looking Back, Looking Forward series is also archived on the chapter history page on the Florida Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) website under the tab “Looking Back, Looking Forward.” 

What is the Basis of this Article?
The content of this article is based primarily on four documents, three from 2001-2007 and one much more recent, from 2017:

  • A Communication Awareness Plan written in July 2001 that describes a proposed external communication campaign to establish the then STC Orlando Chapter as a key player in the Central Florida technology industry
  • A Proposal to Establish an STC Orlando Media Kit submitted as an academic project in a University of Central Florida (UCF) technical communication course in February 2005
  • STC Communication Strategy, a detailed and well-written document outlining our community’s communication objectives for the 2006-2007 chapter year that remains remarkably relevant today
  • The STC Florida Chapter Communication Strategy developed by the chapter president and vice president in 2017, focusing on the newly renamed STC Florida Chapter’s initiative to re-establish a statewide STC constituency.

What Exactly is Communications Strategy?
What do we mean by communications strategy? That can mean a lot of things, including a comprehensive communication plan both internal to our organization (STC) and external to the Central Florida business community.

In the 2001 Communication Awareness Plan, communications strategy meant formulating specific plans to make sure businesses throughout Central Florida knew that as technical communicators, our talents extend far beyond just technical writing. In addition, we hoped to make technical communicators aware of the myriad job opportunities they might not realize they were qualified for.

The second document was a proposal to develop a media kit to tell STC Orlando’s story to Central Florida’s technology industry and the technical communicators supporting it.

The third document is an excellent example of a well-structured, detailed communication strategy that includes four specific objectives along with planned activities to achieve those objectives. The four objectives were Culture, Conversations, Credibility, and Celebration. It includes both external and internal elements of strategic communication, although its primary emphasis is on communication within STC.

Unlike the first two documents, which were aimed mostly at an external audience, the fourth document focused on an “internal” audience—engaging disenfranchised at-large STC members in Florida whose chapters had dissolved—with the ultimate goal of extending communication externally to Florida technical communicators in general.

In addition to these guiding documents, the chapter’s Coaches and Rising Stars in the 2017-2018 Leadership Development Program (LDP) built a comprehensive online Community Resources Toolkit presented at Leadership Day at the 2018 Summit in Orlando. These valuable resources for building/rebuilding an STC community remain available on our website. Key among them when it comes to communications strategy is a module of resources under the subtitle “Chapter Communications,” including the aforementioned 2017 STC Florida Chapter Communication Strategy. We will address that in more detail a little later.

Why is Building a Foundation So Important?
The 2001 Communication Awareness Plan was our chapter’s first stab (at least in this century!) at bringing the need for an overarching communications strategy to the forefront. Later that same year, chapter members Mike Murray and W.C. Wiese sat down with some of the prominent players in this topic at UCF, including Dr. Dan Jones, an STC Fellow.

At the time, the UCF curriculum listed “Technical Writing” as one of the university’s majors, but participation in this major had been dwindling. Earlier, Mike and W.C., in conjunction with STC Headquarters, had been successful in working with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in making a change to their Job Classification Guide from “Technical Writer” to “Technical Communicator.”

The UCF technical communication program, led by Dr. Jones, was successful in convincing the university to change the name of the major course of study to Technical Communication, and class sizes soon increased. With this step, we felt we had established an important foundation that had to be in place for the next big push in implementing an overall chapter communications strategy.

Any Successful Project Needs a Champion
However, following an auspicious start, effort on the communication strategy front was quiet until February 2005, as the chapter leadership team focused on numerous other important initiatives on the way to three consecutive Chapter of Distinction Awards in the Society’s Community Achievement Award (CAA) program.

The spotlight returned briefly to communication strategy in 2005 when a Proposal for an STC Orlando Media Kit was developed as a project in one of Dr. Jones’ UCF tech comm classes. The proposal was an excellent blueprint for developing the media kit, but the plan was never executed because no “champion” stepped forward to make it happen. Again, the chapter’s communication strategy initiative moved to the “back burner.”

In June 2006, the detailed Chapter Communication Strategy set the chapter’s strategic objectives for the upcoming 2006-2007 chapter year as described above. However, follow-up on that valuable strategic communications roadmap was minimal as chapter leadership again turned the community’s attention to other priorities.

New Chapter Leaders Take Up the Cause
Ten years later, in 2017, Chapter President Bethany Aguad and Vice President Nick Ducharme picked up the baton, establishing a visionary integrated STC Florida Chapter Communication Strategy designed to launch and sustain the new STC Florida Chapter’s initiative to rebuild STC’s constituency in Florida by strengthening a then anemic virtual component in our communication toolkit.

Now, as we approach 2020, the chapter has moved to the cutting edge in leveraging virtual communication technology to support our statewide STC educational outreach effort. All our educational chapter meetings are now available remotely, and we have established proof of principle for a “hybrid” meeting format combining a face-to-face meeting in Orlando with a virtual audience from all over the state (and beyond). We also have established virtual networking meetings to build the statewide STC community.

In short, we have made great strides in internal STC communications within Florida.

Public Relations Effort Still Languishes
However, to the external audience, the general public, technical communication still remains a relatively less well-known and even less understood career. Depending on where you are in the world, under the umbrella of “technical communicator” you may be called a technical writer, a technical author, an information developer, a documentation specialist, an editor, or yet another job title.

Chances are that if you tell the average person you are a technical communicator, you will receive a blank stare or a blunt question—what’s that? Even when you begin to explain, many people will still have the wrong impression, thinking you write technical books or technical code, rather than performing a broad range of job functions spanning a wide variety of industries and making a critical contribution to the bottom line.

Our Newest Communications Challenge
This survey of four past chapter sorties into communications strategy leaves us with an important public relations challenge going forward. This would be an excellent time to resurrect the long-dormant initiative to build an STC Florida Media Kit. Instead of STC members statewide, however, the initial target audience should be Central Florida technical communicators and the companies and organizations they work for. Ultimately, the idea would be to extend this outreach throughout Florida. To accomplish this mission, we need to:

  • Develop an updated chapter brochure, both printed and online, to increase our visibility in Central Florida and statewide
  • Post the brochure as well as flyers announcing chapter educational meetings on bulletin boards at Florida businesses that have a technical communication staff
  • Add a public relations component to our website inviting businesses with technical communication requirements to consider STC as a primary resource for meeting those requirements
  • Add a social media component to the Media Kit, including more active use of our LinkedIn portal.
  • Revitalize the Gloria Jaffe Award by promoting it in the workplace to elevate the professional status of technical communicators as key contributors to business success
  • Partner with corporate sponsors to provide increased resources to support our statewide professional and educational outreach
  • Over time, develop Local Interest Groups (LIGs) of the STC Florida Chapter statewide, reaching out to technological industry and technical communicators in their respective locations. 

In short, we need to “brand” ourselves in an eye-catching manner that captures the interest and support of Florida’s burgeoning technology industry. 

This initiative should move to the top of STC Florida’s priority list. But how?

We Need a New Champion!
Ay, there’s the rub. Our core leadership team is already stretched to the limit without taking on yet another pacesetting STC initiative—but, paradoxically, a successful foray into the Central Florida public relations arena could expand our ranks and result in more member resources as well as industry sponsorships. This, in turn, could pave the way for similar growth statewide.

If this is to happen, we need a champion to lead the charge and two or three volunteers to help broadcast our message to the public. To spearhead this drive, our chapter needs to fill its too-long-vacant position for a Public Relations manager.

What a terrific mentor/mentee project this public relations project would make! It might also be a suitable academic project for a technical communication course at UCF, just like the proposal for an STC Orlando Chapter Media Kit back in 2005. But this time, let’s take it the rest of the way.

It is time to get this done!

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Student Mentoring Program Enters 17th Year

By: Dan Voss and Mike Murray
STC Fellows
Florida Chapter, STC

Welcome to the second installment of Looking Back, Looking Forward, a new column that appears periodically in Memo to Members. This column showcases articles and other documents generated by members of the STC Florida Chapter over our community’s 41-year history that still bear relevance to our community’s operations today and into the future.

In our September 2019 LBLF column, we are looking back at three articles that captured the establishment and growth of the STC Florida Chapter’s benchmark student mentoring program, co-sponsored with the Future Technical Communications (FTC) club at the University of Central Florida (UCF).

The highly successful program, founded in 2003 by the Orlando Chapter with FTC and UCF, is presently looking forward to its 17th year, about to get underway under the guidance of Education Committee manager Misty Arner and FTC president and chapter liaison Amy Truong.

In its first 16 years, the student mentoring program has generated 141 mentor/mentee pairings in which professional practitioners within the chapter have guided technical communication students at UCF as they have embarked on their careers.

It’s a Quadruple Win!

The student mentoring program has proven to be a win-win situation both personally and organizationally. Mentees get valuable practical professional development advice and job placement assistance they are not likely to get in the classroom. Mentors get the satisfaction of helping groom the next generation of technical communicators and they also benefit from seeing what ideas newcomers bring to the industry. The UCF technical communications (tech comm) program and FTC benefit from the professional expertise of many of our chapter members. And our chapter is assured of a steady pipeline of fresh volunteer talent that has played a major role in the extraordinary success of our community over the past 17 years.

You can read about the student mentoring program under the Education tab on our chapter website. Over the years, it has been emulated by several other STC geographic communities. The program guidelines and the various tools used to administer the program are available to all STC communities in the Community-Building Toolkit on our website.

Reaching Out to UCF

The first article about our mentoring program, “Bridging the Gap Between Industry and Academe,” was written by its co-founders, Orlando Chapter Education Committee Manager Dan Voss and FTC President Bonnie Spivey. The article was published in the Proceedings to the 52nd international STC conference (now called the Summit) in Seattle in 2005, in conjunction with a presentation delivered by Bonnie and Dan.

Reaching Across the Atlantic

The second article, «Un Programme de Mentorat International? Mais Oui, C’est Possible! Absolument!», tells an inspiring story of a trans-Atlantic virtual mentoring partnership that led directly to the establishment of a student mentoring program between the STC France Chapter and the University of Paris-Diderot modeled on the “Orlando model.” Coauthored by STC France Secretary Clio Fouque, then a student at the University of Paris, and Dan Voss, who met at the 56th international STC conference in Atlanta in 2009, the article was published in the Proceedings to the 57th international STC conference in Dallas in 2010. Clio and Dan’s mutually enriching and organizationally fruitful mentoring partnership offers a promising paradigm as our student mentoring program seeks to add a virtual dimension as it extends to other universities in Florida over the next several years.

Reaching Across the Society 

The third article, “STC Student Mentoring Programs: Investing in the Future,” was written by Bethany Bowles and Dan Voss for the 15th annual STC-India conference in Varca, Goa, in 2013, and published in the STC-India newsletter Indus in third quarter 2013. The article recaps the history of our chapter’s student mentoring program and chronicles Bethany and Dan’s 3-year tour of duty with the Society’s Committee Affairs Committee (CAC) as task leaders in the student member outreach program. The pair co-presented at Leadership Day at the 59th and 60th international STC conferences in Toronto in 2012 and Atlanta in 2013, respectively—in both cases distributing both printed and soft media copies of a comprehensive reference guide on student mentoring programs that other STC geographic communities have used to establish and sustain student mentoring programs.

Coming Attraction:

Watch for the next installment of Looking Backing, Looking Forward in the November edition of Memo to Members, where we’ll be looking at communication strategy past, present, and future.

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

By: Dan Voss and Mike Murray
STC Fellows
Florida Chapter, STC

History has an uncanny way of repeating itself.

Welcome to Looking Back, Looking Forward, a new column that will appear periodically in Memo to Members. This column will showcase landmark articles and other documents generated by members of the STC Florida Chapter over our community’s storied 41-year history.

Fear not, younger members—this is not going to be an eye-glazingly soporific forced march down Nostalgia Lane by tribal elders pontificating from our creaking rocking chairs.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

As chapter historian, Mike Murray has been sifting through hundreds of documents and organizing them into a coherent archive of the chapter’s history. In the process, he has unearthed a treasure trove of materials that remain remarkably relevant today.

We plan to exhume some of these gems from the chapter crypt, dust off the cobwebs, and take another look at them decades later.

So here we go.

We are launching the new column with an article Mike wrote for Memo to Members back in 2003—the year our community won the first of what would be an unprecedented and never equaled nine Community of Distinction Awards in STC’s annual Community Achievement Awards (CAA) evaluation. The article is entitled “The Road to Distinction.”

What could possibly be more apropos as we celebrate the chapter’s first award in the Society’s new CAA structure, which replaces the historical Merit-Excellence-Distinction progression with a Bronze-Silver-Gold-Platinum sequence?

Having abstained from the CAA process for the past 4 years for reasons beyond our control that we will not go into here, in reentering it we were hoping to come home with a Gold Award—the equivalent of the nine Chapter of Distinction Awards we won in the past.

But no—we went straight to the top, landing the coveted, hard-to-achieve Platinum Award, which was presented to former chapter president, now STC Board of Director member, Bethany Aguad, at STC’s 66th annual International Conference (Summit) in Denver at Leadership Day on May 5.  On top of that, we also brought home our chapter’s third Pacesetter Award for our innovative Leadership Development Program (LDP) that grooms future chapter and Society leaders.

As you read “The Road to Distinction” from 2003, we believe you will be amazed at how easily this could be “The Path to Platinum.”

The key is an unflagging Commitment to Excellence that has characterized our STC community since its inception in 1978. Excellence is, and always has been, one of our chapter’s core values. It’s in our DNA.

So, we tribal elders who paved the Road to Distinction 16 years ago take off our hats to the young leaders who have carried on our community’s Commitment to Excellence on the Path to Platinum.

Without further ado, then, here is Mike Murray’s eerily familiar “The Road to Distinction,” freshly disinterred from the archival crypt.

Déjà vu!

We think you will agree—in this case history has, indeed, repeated itself!