Boosting IEEE's Visibility And Prestige

IEEE has embarked on a five-year communications program to raise the organization’s global visibility

5 September 2008

visiIEEE has embarked on a multimillion-dollar Public Visibility Initiative, a five-year communications program that seeks to raise the organization’s global visibility and improve the image of the engineering profession.

“Our goal is to increase the public’s understanding of how engineering, computing, and technology benefit humanity,” says 2007 IEEE President Leah Jamieson, chair of the Public Visibility Ad Hoc Committee. “We want to reestablish the pride and prestige of the profession and position IEEE as the world’s trusted source, the forum and the ‘voice’ for the profession. Ultimately, we want to make IEEE a household name.”

Studies have indicated that the public in many parts of the world has a meager understanding of engineering and of IEEE. At the same time, IEEE members rank the organization’s visibility as critically important. That’s why a major goal of IEEE’s Envisioned Future, the organization’s strategic plan released last year, is to get the public to “increasingly value the role of IEEE and technical professionals in enhancing the quality of life and the environment.”

Until now, IEEE has had no coordinated institute-wide messages promoting the benefits of engineering, technology, and computing. Nor has there been a concentrated effort to reinforce pride in the engineering profession or bolster its prestige. Compounding matters is the fact that there is no consensus as to what “public visibility” means for the organization. The initiative aims to change all this on multiple fronts.

BASELINE RESEARCH First, IEEE Corporate Communications, which oversees the initiative, together with Ruder Finn, a New York–based global public relations firm, did research. To understand what people think about IEEE, the research team surveyed four target audiences: the public, industry professionals, university and preuniversity students, and members and volunteers. The “perception audit” asked questions regarding global issues as well as such questions as “Have you heard of IEEE?” (42 percent of all the audiences had) and “What’s your opinion of IEEE?” (42 percent had a “very favorable” opinion). The research identified messages that move each audience and uncovered key global themes and topics that resonate with each group. “Hot” topics include sustainable energy, health care, biomedical engineering, Earth observation, security, and gaming. The results also established starting points from which to measure the initiative’s success.

Based on the survey findings, Corporate Communications and Ruder Finn developed messages that define IEEE’s mission and the benefits of joining the organization. Other messages include talking points for IEEE spokespeople and an “elevator speech”—a description of IEEE’s goals that can be summed up in less than a minute.

In addition, the hot topics—the top two are developing sustainable energy sources and maintaining a sustainable world—were prioritized in terms of importance to the survey’s respondents. Information about the topics was developed into dozens of feature articles and white papers by the IEEE team, citing IEEE’s involvement through its publications, conferences, societies, and committees.

Next, a database was put together of members who are authorities on those topics. They form the basis of a speakers bureau, a community of members worldwide who can speak on the issues or offer comment to reporters working on technical subjects.

Messages were also targeted at 10 countries chosen according to criteria that included ratings for technical innovation in each country and the number of IEEE members and student members each has. The countries include Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, and the United States.

THE PRESS IEEE then approached the media, using a database of media contacts and journalists in the 10 countries who cover the leading technology issues identified by the research. Members of the speakers’ bureau and the feature articles and white papers were made available to traditional and Internet media channels, including blogs and influential Web sites that cover technology.

IEEE began contacting members of the media in May about covering the top technology themes—sustainable energy, maintaining a sustainable world, and Earth observation applications—and putting them in touch with its experts. It scored several successes. Reuters was one of the news organizations that spoke to IEEE Fellow Saifer Rahman, vice president of new initiatives for the IEEE Power & Energy Society, who discussed the global energy crisis and rising gas prices. Articles ran in 14 news outlets, including Forbes.com, The Economist, and The Guardian.

In July, IEEE was a program partner at Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Tech, a conference held in Half Moon Bay, Calif., of movers and shakers who deal with shaping the future of the tech world. Leah Jamieson; IEEE Fellow Victor Lawrence, a former Bell Labs–Lucent executive; and Susan Hassler, IEEE Spectrum editor, represented IEEE. They provided Fortune’s editors with insight into technology issues, story ideas, and suggestions for the program’s content.

Another project improved IEEE’s online newsroom at http://www.ieee.org/web/aboutus/newsroom.html, giving it a new look and feel and more content, including RSS feeds, podcasts, and videos. A central repository of news articles about IEEE and its members, the site provides journalists access to timely, accurate information.

To update members on the progress of the initiative, the monthly IEEE Engaging the World Newsletter was launched in July. You can view it at http://www.ieee.org/go/visibility_newsletter.

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