Join The Club: Finding The Right Professional Association For You

November 6, 2015

I regularly partake in networking meetings and informational interviews with peers who are either starting a career, want to re-launch a career, or are looking for more information about a career in public relations, communication or stakeholder engagement.

The most reoccurring question I’m asked in these chats is “where do I go to connect with people, build professional contacts, find job leads, and learn new things in our industry?” Well, the great thing is that BC (and Vancouver in particular) has many avenues for this. While different organizations will meet different needs, I share with you here my top four recommendations of associations you may wish to consider if you are asking yourself these same questions. Note: these are based on personal opinion and experience.

The Vancouver Board of Trade

Going to a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon and speaker presentation is always so telling to me in terms of who is working on what, where people are focusing their efforts, which companies and consultants are interested enough in the topic to buy a table, etc. It is here you learn how small our community actually is. The other thing I like about #VBOT (besides it’s exceptional ability in attracting top-notch and relevant speakers) is the amazing programs and benefits offered to members. For example, the Women’s Leadership Circle and new member networking events.

CPRS Christmas Event
The 2014 CPRS holiday event with my colleague Kyla Humphreys

Canadian Public Relations Society – Vancouver chapter

Okay full disclosure of my bias. I currently sit on this chapter’s Board of Directors as Vice-President. Back in 2009 I joined CPRS because I wanted the membership discount to attend the organization’s National conference in Vancouver (about 6 months after moving to YVR from YYC) to make new friends. It wasn’t long before I was hooked. I have mentors who have worked in communications for 25+ years who are still members of CPRS to this day. So after obtaining my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) and attending many more conferences, I finally decided to take the leap and dedicate my volunteer efforts to joining the local chapter Board in 2013 and I haven’t looked back. This group is fun and approachable, but what I really value is getting to do stuff I love and am passionate about that has really nothing to do with work – this is my professional development outlet. Whether it’s CPRS or not, find an association that meets this need for you.

International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)

Yes, I know it’s a mouthful. IAP2 was one of the very first associations I was introduced to back in Alberta when I started my career in stakeholder engagement/public consultation over a decade ago. To this day, I still recommend IAP2 and its training programs as “baseline” knowledge in public engagement. If you want a taste of what this line of work is all about in theory, look here. At its core, IAP2’s values are based on best practices of involving the public in meaningful ways about decisions that impact their community.  You don’t hear a lot about IAP2 BC – they’re quiet, but active. I sat on the Board of IAP2 BC from 2009-2011 when it was a 4-person board. Today, it’s over 12! The membership of the BC chapter is filled with so much talent and experience you would be remiss in not tapping into it. Attend an event!

BC Chamber of Commerce / Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce

The BC Chamber of Commerce represents over 110 local chambers. They truly are “the voice of business in BC,” an ally, an advocate, and have I mentioned super friendly? Just attend one of their AGMs and you’ll see what I mean. Because Communica works throughout western Canada, we are also members of local chapters where we are doing business. Currently, we’re a member of the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce and I’ve found them to be a great source for community information and current events, and one of the best resources to disseminate information to the community and promote your own event. Win-win right? Mutual back-scratching. If you want a quick way to tap into a community and find out what’s going on in town, get involved with the chamber. The chamber knows all!

Gold pan
Networking events provide great opportunities for learning new skills – like gold panning

These organizations have done more than just build my personal and professional network; they drive innovation and inspire me. They have provided me the opportunity to hear and learn from others who “have been there” while swapping stories of failure and success. My conversations with fellow association-goers frequently revolve around that project that went sideways, or the fresh battle scars earned from that last public engagement exercise. I have to say, it’s nice to have these stories met with nods of understanding and appreciation.

Does this read as a call to action? It should! If you are not already involved in a professional association that advocates for the work you do, I strongly encourage you to join a club.  If you’re feeling kind of awkward about going to an event on your own for the first time, reach out to us at Communica – we’ll be your wingman/wingwoman.

Got a recommendation for us on an association to check out? Leave a comment, we’d love to hear it.

  • Emma Shea, General Manager, BC