Issues Pertinent to Electing New ATA Board Members

October 20, 2014 JAlfonso 33 comments

I would like to recognize the hard-working board members of the American Translators Association (“ATA”). Theirs is a thankless job. As volunteers, they contribute valuable time and effort to serve in this position.

The position, however, is very important, as it affects the lives of every person in the language profession. ATA is the authority that the media and business should be looking to for credible information. When translation and interpreting services are respected and valued, we are in a better position to charge what we deserve.

Members of ATA running for board election come with their own unique experience and talent. They speak to the members about the issues passionate to them and lay out what they plan to accomplish. They make themselves open to criticism when things go wrong or if others don’t agree with their decisions. Furthermore, I don’t think any hard-working volunteer should be criticized for being focused on his or her own issues.

Recently, there has been a lively discussion about public relations. As time goes by, the needs of the organization will change. It is up to the members to vote for people whose talent and goals align with their own. If the needs of ATA are now finance and public relations, we must vote in individuals passionate and skilled in those areas. Nothing is accomplished by blaming those elected with different goals in mind.

My desire is that this blog address some issues. I would love to see a discussion on it so that the members know the right questions to ask on Thursday, November 6, 2014 at the Presentation of Candidates of those seeking to be on the board.

Finances

  1. I have seen gossip on social media. First we had money, then we lost a whole lot of money hosting the FIT XIX Congress in 2011. I would like to hear an official explanation from the ATA board, not to rehash or review possible past mistakes, but to move past the gossip and allow the membership to move forward. The ATA board has never furnished an explanation or apology on this matter, only silence. An explanation is required, even if this mess is not the work of the current board. Honest upfront conversation is the only way to respect our members’ dignity. Once we are all on the same page, it will be easier to move forward.
  2. ATA has four major “service” programs: (a) Chronicle, (b) Conference, (c) Training, and (d) Certification. My understanding is that they are all losing money. To deal with these, it appears that some difficult, unpopular decisions are in order. We should ask potential board members how they would address these issues.
    1. Discontinue print version of the ATA Chronicle. It is already available online and in PDF for those who want to download to their mobile device or print it. An e-mail notification can be sent to remind members of this option.
    2. Increase prices on other programs.
    3. Consider revenue-generating methods, such as sponsorship.

ATA needs to run like any profitable business. The conference, training, and certification programs benefit only those members that use them. Should the entire membership subsidize these programs for the minority? The conference should make enough to pay for itself. The same goes for training and certification. The Chronicle is the only service that is a benefit to all the members equally. Of course, this also is my opinion and I welcome open discussion.

The bottom line is that I don’t like making sacrifices. I like my paper copy of The Chronicle. Each year I have to carefully budget to attend our conference, I don’t want to spend a cent more. I don’t want to spend any more on webinars or anything else for that matter. I will say this, though:  if paying more adds value that somehow translates into increased income, I’m all for it! I don’t have a problem sacrificing if there is a bigger payoff later. So the questions to ask are what’s the sacrifice? And what’s the payoff?

Public Relations

The ATA was once the go-to place for comments on translation and interpretation for the media. Journalists would obtain quick access to experts in our field. Every time they required some information, they knew who to approach. Over the past two years, there were news reports on the interpreter for the mayor of New York City, the mentally ill imposter “interpreting” by heads of state at Mandela’s funeral, the unqualified court interpreter, the unethical interpreter , and the Vatican’s rushed translation.

The media provided extensive coverage, up to and including providing fodder for Saturday Night Live skit on the imposter. To me, these were wasted opportunities for the ATA and for its members; we should have been involved.

Should we bring back public relations? I think so because it will elevate our industry benefiting us all. To be sure, it is expensive, and the money must come from somewhere. But seriously, I would rather have PR and a digital Chronicle, instead of a paper Chronicle and no positive representation in the media.

These are the questions we need to ask the candidates. Members ought to think about these issues as well and offer feedback.

Accountability

Two years in a row, I have been in a position to stay after the annual conference and use my member benefit of observing the board meeting. On both occasions I took note of what was being said and made suggestions afterward. I was thanked for my interest and comments, but I honestly don’t think they gave it any further consideration.

Nevertheless, if you log into ATA’s website and search for board meeting minutes, my name does appear for the October 2012 and November 2013 meetings.  I have questions about how the board accomplishes things. I know that they meet four times a year.

Do they set specific goals and dates to complete things or is it instead common to keep moving the conversation on to the next meeting? Do they have help from other volunteer members? Is there accountability for decisions made, and how does it work? I have reviewed all the minutes for every board meeting since the first one I attended. There appears to be some specific goal setting, nevertheless the implementation seems slow. Is there room for improvement, or is the ATA such a big vessel that it requires plenty of time and room to maneuver?

A couple of other issues I don’t understand. At the conference, on Thursday, each candidate who hopes to be elected to the board will deliver a speech and perhaps answer some questions. On Friday, the annual meeting occurs, allowing the membership to query the board. I would like to see this process in reverse. I prefer to ask many of the questions previously mentioned in this article. Based on the feedback from the board, I would know better what issues to address with the candidates.

Also, candidates for the board cannot campaign (I was mistaken about this. Please see the comment section below.)  They present a pitch and hope for the best. I think that linguists tend to be detailed-oriented persons. We need more information in order to make informed decisions. What if the person is really qualified but doesn’t express himself well in a speech? Forming a serious discussion will allow us to figure out who is really qualified and in line with our goals.

Discontentment

I have read negative member comments on social media. Although it is impossible to make everyone happy, what should be done to address displeasure? I would like to see issues acknowledged. We won’t always agree on issues, but we can always treat one another with respect. I would like to know how the candidates plan to handle dissatisfaction. This may be a primary reason why seasoned professionals do not renew their the ATA membership. Over that past five years ATA has lost nearly two thousand members! (Correction: 1,598.  ATA Minutes October 31, 2009:  11,009; ATA Minutes April 30, 2014:  9,411.)

I’m sure there are other issues to be discussed. Feel free to share them with me. My goal is not to criticize or throw blame but to objectively consider the current issues in the ATA. I want to promote positive discussion on how to address them and promptly move forward for the benefit of all our members.

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33 Comments on “Issues Pertinent to Electing New ATA Board Members

  1. Jeffrey, I just wish to acknowledge your posting and let you know that I share many of the same concerns, esp. those regarding our finances. (As one would hope I would being in my position!). I am going to forward your message to the current board so they all have a chance to read your comments/learn of your concerns.

    Ted R. Wozniak

    1. Ted, the only other guy I know wearing a hat at the conference. Thank you for your comment. It is very kind of you to forward this blog to the other board members. Obviously, if I’m going to opening my big fat figurative mouth, I need to be rolling up my sleeves and help. I would love to see where I might fit in.

  2. I received this thoughtful reply but have not gotten approval to use this person name. Therefore the message is here to see but the name is removed because I believe it is beneficial. I will also need to make a correction on my blog about campaigning.

    Hi Jeffrey,

    Thanks for putting so much serious thinking into ATA’s priorities, opportunities, and challenges, and for your constructive comments. My schedule is tight today, but I would like to quickly address two concerns you raised–how board decisions are implemented, and campaigning.

    Implementation of board decisions. In private companies, the board of directors sets directions, and the managers implement board decisions. It is similar at ATA. The board is focused on goals and strategies, and it is not set up to handle managerial and operational tasks. The real muscles in ATA are the committees, divisions, ad hoc working groups, and headquarters. They implement programs, set operational plans, and work on deadlines. Many board members are members of committees as well, working with other committee members on the implementation of programs and other board decisions.

    Campaigning. ATA election policy does not prohibit board candidates to campaign. I’m including the section on campaigning at the end of this email for your reference.

    I look forward to seeing you at the ATA conference in just a couple of weeks. We can certainly talk more there.

    Best,

    _____________

    2. Campaign

    A. Campaigning
    It is the policy of the Association that campaigns should be open, dignified, positive, and focused on the issues and on the qualifications of the candidates. Candidates shall not accept campaign contributions nor shall they personally incur more than nominal expenses for campaigning purposes.

    B. Endorsements
    Because the opinions and comments of the Association’s leadership may be perceived as carrying more weight, all elected office holders and employees of the Association are expected to maintain neutrality surrounding elections, refraining from publicly endorsing or showing preference to any candidate for office, either explicitly or implicitly. No resources of the Association or its Divisions shall be used to promote any candidate outside of their usual publications. Chapters of ATA are encouraged to refrain from making endorsements and to observe an equal space policy.

    C. Equal Space Policy
    Equal space shall be made available for all candidates in all ATA publications and platforms.
    Sufficient space (maximum word count 500 words) and a photograph will be allocated for each candidate in The ATA Chronicle to set forth their qualifications and goals for the position and to respond to questions appropriate for the position sought. Space may also be made available on electronic forums.

    1. Thank you Corinne, I hope that the blog didn’t come off as a criticism or attack. Like many people, I have some concerns and I’m trying to find a way to make the best informed decision possible.

  3. Not at all; I differ with you on some points, but I do think that we need *more* members to be as involved as you are and to speak from *their* experiences with the Board, not from rumor and hearsay. I value your opinion because you’ve seen the Board in action and have reported your impressions.

    1. I have my opinions, but would like to believe I am open to reason. Even if we end up never agreeing on everything, I always respect a well thought out answer backed by reason. I welcome the conversation perhaps in Chicago. 🙂

  4. I do think there’s benefit in keeping the focus on elections and the future.

    Associations in general are having a hard time these days as social media have become serious competition. In our industry, ATA’s competition in terms of conferences and workshops has exploded in just the last 5 years. At any given time there’s a workshop or conference going on somewhere in the world, a situation unheard of just 5 years ago.

    There are dramatically more options competing for members’ dollars, and huge benefits to tracking free “non-denominational” training options online.

    The problems in ATA Jeff discusses here have been growing worse over the last three years. Membership has collapsed, dropped 2,000 members, and all major programs are losing money and have been for a while, but were not recognized as money-losers due to accounting lapses in terms of proper allocation of expenses. The FIT Conference losses totaled an astonishing $150,000, vanishing without a trace or an explanation.

    As the Board “listens” it appears to do very little else.

    Also, just a piece of advice from the resident PR expert, guys, you need to stop saying “we’re listening.” It’s the worst thing you can do. (I told the Boards I served to stop doing this and they did.)

    First, it implies that you are royalty or clergy who are in a position of regal authority and are taking time out of your busy day consulting with God to “listen” to your subjects. Second, it comes across to the reader as drippingly condescending, much like Frasier Crane’s “I’m listening” on the TV show “Frasier.”

    Third, “listening” is irrelevant.

    What the response should be is “here’s what we’re doing.” Even better: “We’re aware of this, have the following study we commissioned/produced in process, have enacted these changes, have the following milestones and timelines in place, and would welcome input to set the future course.”

    You know, like a real business does.

    There should be a well-informed activist point person to do this on behalf of the Board. There was a time I performed this function — actually for nearly a decade — and I can assure you there is zero chance I would have ever said “they’re listening,” without then resigning the next day for monumental incompetence.

    I know everybody means well and is doing the best he or she can, but this is PR 101 that even a high-school senior already knows.

    I did eventually resign as National Media Spokesman in 2012 (over strenuous objections from the Executive Director and the ATA president at the time, nearly causing a meltdown in my email inbox for a month, just for the record) because the Board had defunded PR and several other activities and eviscerated all the groundwork and momentum we had built up for over a decade. One current candidate for the Board who I enthusiastically support has called this “a pity,” which is much like calling hurricane Katrina a “pity” for New Orleans.

    We urgently need to focus on how to fix this range of serious problems. ATA is shrinking, losing money and invisible to our clients and the public. This can actually get worse, not better. I think we’re all optimists and forget that the downside might actually be worse in the future. So we need change now. The solution lies in elections, in electing competence, focus, business expertise and leadership.

    This is why the elections are vital and why Jeff’s post is a valuable start to the discussion on where we go from here.

  5. I agree with some points, such as a report on losing money on sponsoring a certain conference and retiring the printed copy of the Chronicle. I don’t know what style guide some advertisers use, but I keep seeing the same mix of well-designed advertising and poorly conceived, amateurish bits in every single issue.

    In professional magazines, submitted ads have to conform to more than just metrics (width, length, height, color, etc.). I don’t see that in the Chronicle.

    Public relations is an important activity, but I part ways with Jeffrey Alonso on two aspects:

    1) The “ATA used to be this or that” mentality has to go. Enough with living in the past.
    2) Mr. Alonso forgets that the communications dynamics have changed. Back when the older PR program was in full swing (more than a decade ago), there was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook. As for those “missed opportunities,” let’s be realistic. What is the ATA supposed to do, run a press conference and say what? Duplicate efforts? I don’t think so.

    I like Mr. Alfonso’s proposals on accountability. Sure, why aren’t board members allowed to campaign, make their case, answer questions throughout the year or at least six months before each conference? I don’t particularly like those meetings when candidates are introduced and give a speech. Like Mr. Alfonso, I’d like to see more engagement.

    As for discontent, I agree that there should be a two-way dialogue. One way to address this, the way I’ve seen it in respectable newspapers and magazines, is with Letters to the Editor: people write to indicate their agreement or displeasure with something that was published or printed. Why isn’t the Chronicle making better use of this? I don’t think there’s censorship, but there’s this culture of apathy: I suspect many ATA members simply don’t feel invited to opine on the Chronicle. Maybe I’m very wrong, but the only way to test it is, yes, by venting our views on Chronicle.

    Regarding discontent from ATA members as viewed on social media, I like to make a distinction between legitimate complaints and voiced concerns, even debates, but not relentless and repetitive diatribes against the ATA or what ATA is doing or failing to do. My policy is: complain but offer an alternative.

    Thank you for letting me have my say.

    Mario Chávez, Spanish information designer

  6. Good evening. Reading this has been extremely eye opening for me and I appreciate the time, effort and thoughtfullness of Jeffrey, Corrine, Kevin and Mario. Mario I especially like your policy to complain but to also offer alternatives. To only complain serves no purpose because after a while, I know I get tired of hearing the same complaint by the same person or persons and just tune them out. Jeffrey if I’m hearing you correctly you want the members of the Board to do more than just listen respectfully. I mean, yes that’s great. However, from the listening should come dialogue/discussion and identifiable steps to move from discussion forward into implementation of whatever the final concrete steps may be. In life both professionally and personally there has to come a time when one moves from intense thought process through concrete action. Processing is just that –processing and doesn’t yield any results unless it is followed by action. Please correct me on this Jeffrey if I am wrong. I also like your comment about perhaps investing in PR professionals. I look forward to reading your responses and also the input of other members.

  7. Jeffrey,

    I forgot to address one point you made: that the ATA should operate like a business. I beg to differ. The ATA is a non-profit organization and, while it resembles a business in terms of organization, division of responsibilities, goals, budgeting, etc., it differs from a business in important ways. Another criterion I strive to apply is precision: let’s be precise on what we say, let’s be clear. So, if we want to compare ATA to a business, let’s state which kind and make useful analogies.

    At the same time, I eschew pompous declarations and extreme comparisons, as many of them have the veneer of respectable opinions when in fact they hide seething resentment. It’s back to complaining without offering alternatives. And said vacuous complaints, when they offer alternatives, they come packaged as difficult leaps and unrealistically achievable demands or requests.

    As for “we’re listening,” I find no fault with that statement. To me, it means that group of volunteers is taking my opinion into consideration in whatever degree of care they decide to take it. I have occupied several positions in another type of non-profit organization, a church, back when I was religious, for more than 30 years. So, I have a bit of an insight into how volunteers work together and how resources might be allocated. Definitely, it’s not a business.

    I confess I don’t know any of the board members personally, let alone intimately, to prejudge or second guess their intentions or what they’re doing, or how their day, week or year is going for them. To an outsider, it may seem they’re doing very little in what I want to get accomplished. In the end, listening is the first step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t seem much.

    Everything begins with our ears.

  8. I agree with Mario more than he likely expects. Certainly 100% on the Chronicle, Board engagement, and the importance of soliciting and publishing honest feedback from the members.

    Surely any observer of my comments and critiques and exhortations on ATA and its current lost-in-the-woods policies will have no doubt grown weary with my endlessly long lists of specific action items on PR, media, funding, training and regional conferences.

    I make a point of never writing a critique that does not also point a specific way out of the woods. In fact, often many alternative paths.

    With respect to media and PR, Mario makes a mistake that is actually quite common, but one that we need to be careful to keep straight in order to best serve the membership.

    First, and crucially, I’ve yet to see anybody propose that ATA do something a certain way “because it was done that way before.” Most of the introduction to my post above discusses how the competitive association environment for ATA has changed radically. This requires that ATA and the Board become more aggressive and strategically focused on how to better perform in this competitive environment, not less so.

    Second, while it’s true the media and social media landscape has changed, it’s changed through expansion, not substitution. Research shows that 80% of all social media content is driven by legacy media, so social media functions as a “commentary” zone for primary reporting from legacy, which includes TV, print, radio, and entertainment channels. That’s why companies continue to spend billions of dollars on PR firms and lobbyists, and now must spend billions more on all the various social media channels as well. One has not displaced the other; social media has just added another layer on top of legacy media.

    This is even more crucial when you are driving the debate, not just commenting on it. The authority of the association comes via the channel it was delivered. So we are taken more seriously on CNN and NPR than on Twitter.

    Our successful media program for ATA between 2002 and 2012 never involved our holding press conferences or sending out press releases, either. The last time that worked was when George H.W. Bush (senior!) was in office.

    Media involves active, aggressive engagement by pitching stories highlighting the importance of professional translators and translation directly to reporters, producers and editors. Convincing them to run stories about our profession that highlight our crucial role in global commerce and our clients’ success.

    The way we end up on the front page of the Los Angeles Times or (repeatedly) in Inc. Magazine or The Wall Street Journal or NPR or other media channels our clients frequent is by knocking at their door proactively and making a stronger, more compelling and more authoritative case for our members and the online services directory — where we drive work to the membership — than TAUS does for it’s “all translators are equal” argument, or that MT vendors do in suggesting that their products can replace human translators.

    There have been dozens of missed opportunities to deliver this message over the last two years, and Jeff identifies several of them above. In years past, we would be driving this debate and re-positioning stories away from the pro-technology puff-pieces you see now everywhere and redirecting them to consider how crucial professional translators’ work actually is.

    Long forgotten are the days when ATA members would go upstairs to their hotel rooms after a busy day at the national conference and find themselves on the local TV channel, which was covering all these interesting multilingual people visiting their city who work in the fascinating field of translation (this was not done through press releases — it required ongoing, grueling effort). Think of how many potential future clients saw this message over the years, and how it solidified translation as a special human skill. This used to be standard procedure for us in the ATA conference cities dating from 2001 (when we were on CNN nationally) through 2012.

    I would welcome a return to the days where we believed and worked very hard to assure that ATA was a prominent national organization that drove the debate on professionalism, public visibility, client outreach and professional development. I believe we owe the membership nothing less.

  9. Jeffrey. I think that I represent a huge portion of the translators/interpreters (although now I wear a hat as a trainer). I still have dozens of friends in the industry. I was never a member of ATA, because I did not need to be. I became a member only a few years ago, when it would look good on my CV as a trainer to be a member of ATA. This tells you two things: “regular” translators do not feel the need to be members of ATA – I did quite fine without being one for 30 years. Second, being an ATA member does carry a lot of weight when you want recognition – I became a member when I needed some “credentials” to support the work I had done during 35 years. What I have seen in the last three years of membership is that ATA does not really represent my interests as a translator/interpreter in the 21st Century. The issues being discussed and addressed are still 20th Century issues. I think that is the big gap to address. An one of the biggest changes is the digital mobile life we now face. As you say, publicity is now incredibly important. Why? Because all of us are “connected” to some sort of electronic device almost 24/7. We can discuss all the philosophical counter arguments of this, but that is a reality for any working professional. And from my standpoint, ATA has done very little to help the “great majority” of NEW translators/interpreters in the world address their CURRENT needs. There is a whole new generation of individuals out there that are “becoming” translators and interpreters in the new millennium. ATA is not addressing their needs. And is becoming increasingly more distant from the needs of those who used to be members and do not find value in the 20th Century topics addressed. If we do not forge the road, someone else will. Where does ATA see the profession in 20 years. Once ATA answers that question, we may start thinking it will still hold value in 5 years. It is a great name to carry on our shoulders. I hope it does not become a name of the past.

    1. Everyone sharing in the conversation all have one thing in common, passion for what they believe. This was my intent for this blog post.

      At the board meetings, I voiced my concerns about PR. I specifically mentioned that, in addition, social media could accomplish a great deal. I spoke about creating community service and educational videos that can be uploaded to YouTube (there exists an ATA YouTube channel). The members can utilize these recordings to promote our business, provide useful information about our industry, and promote ATA. This is a cutting-edge win-win. This paragraph was omitted from my blog since I tried to keep it very simple and relevant to the voting issue.

      I don’t believe I have a past mentality about ATA. I haven’t been a member that long. When I spoke about the past, it was through statistics I confirmed online or issues posted on social media by members. My interest is how to move forward. I don’t like to complain or dwell on past mistakes.

      I do believe that for some members it will be hard to put the past behind them until they feel satisfied it is addressed properly. The ATA is a very large organization and it runs on majority vote.

      On the issue of shrinking membership, I originally stated that nearly 2,000 members were lost. The actual figure is 1,598; almost 15% of the membership. That is a substantial figure. I believe Corinne pointed out that it has increased more since the last report.

      I’m not trying to stir the waters, but I have another question. With the Buddies Welcome Newbies, are we replacing seasoned experienced members with newbie members? I am all for bringing in fresh blood. However, I don’t want to lose experienced seasoned quality professionals that add to our industry while the newer ones are developing. It reflects the reputation of the organization.

      Finally, It is ok to disagree, I strongly believe that all nonprofits should run like profit businesses. That is my opinion, but in the big scheme of things, it’s no big deal. Everyone seems to agree that finance needs to get fixed. Isn’t that the point?

  10. Nice generalizations, Kevin, but your point is still the same: “I want things the way they were ten years ago.” You keep talking like the manager you are, as if this were an MBA class to turn around a failing enterprise. Your approach is combative and counterproductive. Why? I keep getting the impression that you like your social media pulpit. Have you been to the board meetings like Jeffrey? Have you spoken to the board members or written to them directly? Have you written a letter to the editor in the Chronicle to voice your strong concerns?

    By the way, you said I made a common mistake, but you don’t identify it and your 3 explanations go in circles not addressing this so-called mistake. I don’t mind being told I made a mistake, but I dislike weak arguments and circular reasoning.

    I am curious about readership metrics and I wonder if most ATA members prefer to read their copy of the Chronicle over reading our postings on LinkedIn. And many don’t even know about this blog!

    Jeffrey, about PR and upcoming board candidates, I propose this: how about inviting them to your blog to read it, read these comments and express what they think? Otherwise, we’re talking in a back alley, feeling all self-important about our ideas but blithely ignoring the voices that can actually effect the changes we seek. We don’t want to sound like those Argentine taxi drivers who think they know as much as economics as the sitting president.

    And speaking of circular reasoning, forgive me, Jeffrey, but you show it with “all nonprofits should run like profit businesses.” How? How is a nonprofit supposed to run? Are all nonprofits the same? Should their mission be making profit, be responsive to shareholders, keep a balanced budget? Shouldn’t we ask people who actually know how to run nonprofits first before running our mouths?

    I have missed the San Antonio conference last year, so I can’t comment on how the Q&A segment in front of the ATA board went. I do recall the one I was in San Diego, and I am dismayed at the format. Members are invited to stand in line, voice a question and then everybody waits for an answer from one or more board members. That’s another token display of involvement. Where’s the real dialogue? Where is the follow-up?

    I read what interests me in the Chronicle, but sometimes I want to know what board members are saying. They’re doing their best but I sense they’re talking behind a glass wall, which reinforces my impression that a) the Chronicle needs to be overhauled to be more interactive and b) we need a new Chronicle editor (with all due respect to Mr. Sanfacon) who has a different mindset about running the magazine. Perhaps this is partially what Claudia was referring to about 20th vis á vis 21st century issues?

    Speaking of which, Claudia, what are the 21st century needs that go unaddressed? What are the 20th century issues that are still being discussed? Can we be more specific? You make a passing mention to everybody being connected to a device 24/7. Where are you going with that? Can we be more specific, please?

  11. Thanks for your blogpost, Jeff. You make some very important points.

    @Mario, in your first response I was struck by how your points (1) and (2) cancelled each other out. 🙂 That is, you first argue against “living in the past” and then speculate about how PR might work, including a dismissive reference to ATA “running a press conference”. I guess Kevin has already replied to this, but frankly, unless you understand the *earned media* PR policy of the past (which Jeff describes briefly) you are missing the point. There was never any attempt to hold ATA press conferences (to express an opinion of current events? huh?) at least as far as I am aware. PR for our association didn’t work that way and I can’t see it working that way. Totally ineffective.
    On the contrary, we can (and must in my opinion) work [endlessly, all the time] with professional advisers who track developments and contact journalists behind the scenes to put them in touch with ATA experts — who in turn provide input to shape the stories as they are being written. With our message (about the importance of expert human translators). That’s how the media relations process operates at national and regional level, assuming you have articulate, well informed experts to do the interacting. As we saw last year in a “case study” on the ATA Business Practices list, translators who are earnest, even passionate, but who do not have media training will consistently hit the wrong points. They will not connect with the press; our messages and story will not get out.

    The challenge is for the whole process of providing information to the press to go to so smoothly and look so natural that journalists, their readers, government officials, businesspeople who use our services, etc. etc. don’t see it as some kind of commercial pitch — rather as useful, pertinent information; insights that catch their attention. And — assuming we keep it up in a sustained, persistently upbeat, informative way — insights that go on to shape their policies. Including the purchasing of translation and interpreting services.

    In passing, I also think that having ATA be the “go-to place” for journalists seeking information to inform their coverage of current events, and having ATA’s name in the press in that context, appeals to members’ pride in their profession and association — and can actually attract new members. Imagine that.

    If all that was not clear to you, I’ll go out on a limb again and say — hmm, yes, you really should go back and read a bit about the past. 🙂

    I also agree 100% with Jeff that a non-profit organization *must* be run along business lines.
    There are certain times when decisions have to be made; there is an urgency.

    I particularly appreciated Ted’s stepping in early on in the comments thread because as treasurer he is taking a long hard look at many of the issues Jeff raises. To take just one example, the idea that collective dues can be used to subsidize individual services (e.g., if, as now, the conference, certification and training are all operating at a loss, and ultimately subsidized by dues, it means that everyone’s contributions are benefiting only those members who can attend the conference, only those individuals who sit the certification exam, and only those people who sign up for training). There is something wrong with that picture both philosophically and ethically. Not to mention economically (!). Surely those activities should be self-financing, no?

    By contrast, things like the association website and online directory and newsletter (which are true member benefits since *everybody* uses them) can and should be subsidized. No problem there. Although I am clearly not the only person to consider that the print Chronicle should be at the very least suspended while we look into alternatives, including expanding the online version and ramping up the content. As several people have said, times have changed. ATA should, too. On my estimation, we would save $75,000 or so in just six months by deciding on such a temporary suspension while a task force does its job (collecting member feedback and analyzing new options) — plus generate fresh enthusiasm for a revamped, more member-needs attentive association magazine. I actually do see this, too, as a way to bring in more members.

    Let me add in passing that I am running for the ATA board this year, and would be happy to discuss all of this privately or publicly. Re the campaigning business, I’ve read the excerpt posted in an earlier comment but after some discussion with ATA listserv moderators have been led to understand that campaigning on those lists has caused issues in the past and is discouraged. Which is fine with me; I gather there is the question of equal exposure, etc.

    I look forward to seeing you guys in Chicago, in any case!

  12. Hello everyone, and just a couple of follow-ups:
    -I replied privately to Jeff with a detailed response to his post. Because I am cannot speak for the entire Board, I don’t want to post that reply here, but I did respond in detail.
    -Correct, there is no open discussion forum at the conference where you can ask an in-depth question and get an immediate answer. With 1,500+ people in attendance, that isn’t logistically possible. However there are lots of ways that you can give ATA your feedback: The Chronicle welcomes letters to the editor and every staff member and Board member’s direct contact information is on the ATA website. You can also, as Jeff did, attend a Board meeting and speak during the member comments section. You can give feedback to any Board member and it will be posted on a flip chart during the member comments time. You can also speak to Board members directly at the conference.
    -Also please remember that although we really welcome your feedback, your constructive criticism, your suggestions for new directions and programs, etc., every Board member is a volunteer who donates a huge amount of unpaid time to serve the association. We are freelancers just like you, except that on top of our full-time workloads, we serve ATA as well. And I would hate to see a situation where Board members feel so much criticism from members that we cannot get good people to run. That would hurt the whole association in the end. So, definitely keep the feedback coming, but please (please) always ask yourself if what you’re writing is something you’d say to a Board member in person, say if you met them in the buffet line at the conference. If not, then please don’t put it in writing.

  13. Hello, Chris, good to see you here. I reread my first statements about PR, namely:

    “1) The “ATA used to be this or that” mentality has to go. Enough with living in the past.
    2) Mr. Alonso forgets that the communications dynamics have changed. Back when the older PR program was in full swing (more than a decade ago), there was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook. As for those “missed opportunities,” let’s be realistic. What is the ATA supposed to do, run a press conference and say what? Duplicate efforts? I don’t think so.”

    Allow me to clarify. First, I am familiar with what was done more than a decade ago, when Kevin was the spokesperson. Second, in my second point, I’m being facetious about the ATA running a press conference. Sorry if that didn’t come across clearly. So, I don’t see my points cancelling each other out like you said.

    While on the PR topic, I support it for being at the forefront, but the ATA can’t all be about PR. Public relations is just one of the functions of an organization like ATA, and it cannot be its only top priority. And I stick to what I said before: let’s stop living in the past and complaining about the good old PR times. I am happy to hear that you are running for office this year; that’s putting your words into practice.

    Now, for everyone, I don’t approve relentless bashing and sterile criticism directed at the volunteers who run the board. Whenever I disagree with something the ATA board is doing, I write to them and propose alternatives. If I feel unhappy or displeased, I let them know, but I offer options, not loud rants.

    I support Corinne’s gentle suggestion at the bottom of her latest posting: if what you want to say in writing is something you wouldn’t or couldn’t say to a board member to his/her face, don’t put it in writing. That’s good advice all around.

  14. Speaking of public relations, here’s an idea I suggested to Corinne last week: a new ATA logo contest.

    Why? Glad you ask. Here are some reasons:

    1) The current logo is outdated; so outdated it makes the Ford logo cool.
    2) The contest should be open to everyone, although some ATA members double as graphic designers or have a strong background (James Kirchner comes to mind); not to toot my own horn (but I’ll do it anyway!), I an a graphic design student and a typography enthusiast. I design my own logo & graphics.
    3) We could get AIGA involved. Maybe you know this, but AIGA is the nation’s oldest organization for graphic design (founded in 1914, now has 22,000 members). AIGA has chapters everywhere, and I can envision inviting AIGA members as the logo contest judges. I am an active member of AIGA, by the way.
    4) The publicity that this logo contest could generate across different economic sectors and industries could only be strongly positive. Imagine the questions, queries, the tweets and blogging that could go on to help put the ATA back on the map.

    I’ll be happy to volunteer in some capacity to make this a reality.

  15. Just a quick few clarifying points.

    Mario, the PR program was not in place “10 years ago.” It was 12 years ago that we launched it, but it ran for a decade and it was a scant 2 years ago that I resigned after the Board defunded the program. So I was still doing PR and media on behalf of ATA as recently as the year 2012. Two years ago. Not 10 years ago. My use of the word “decade” refers to the duration of the program, not how long ago it ran.

    In response to your question as to whether I engage with Board members directly, the answer is “absolutely, of course.” I also engage with them indirectly, via phone and email and through various group efforts where one team member has the responsibility of being Board liaison. We also post to common lists like the ATA Business Practices list, where we read each other.

    Much of the recent media success ATA has had — and it’s only been one or two articles in the last two years — reflects direct input from me personally, including the most prominent quote used to promote the most recent piece, which also came directly from me. So I am confused by your characterization of my words as “loud rants” when I’m already engaged with the leadership in various ways, have mapped out and advised on the various attempted re-boots of the ATA PR program, and have pretty much remained engaged to the extent that it’s humanly possible to get the ship turned around and steaming ahead in the right direction.

    And of course nobody has ever suggested in any of these discussions that ATA become solely focused on PR. But I have noticed that the discussions here and on LinkedIn demonstrate that it has very solid support from those making comments and not one single person has objected to ATA pursuing a more aggressive strategy on PR and media. So far, all those commenting on it all support it. A 100% buy-in is exceedingly rare on any activity and I think it’s yet one more piece of evidence that it needs to be prioritized based on what the members themselves have repeatedly said they support.

  16. More in my favor, Kevin. If you are already engaging ATA board members and sharing with them your PR expertise, why the need to toot your own horn every single time the PR issue comes up? You keep saying it’s not about you, yet your own words say otherwise.

    I don’t get you. On one hand, you spend a great deal of time making the case for a stronger PR stance from ATA while criticizing ATA board efforts in that regard, how they have neglected PR since you resigned (again, it’s about you). On the other hand, you are working with the same ATA board that you so openly criticize. So, which is it?

    So I made a 2-year mistake. Big deal. That’s nothing compared to the image you keep pushing about ATA losing members as if it were an ongoing decrease, but you offer no month-to-month or year-to-year figures to support your claim. There you go again, sowing negativity towards the ATA board’s way of managing membership and a sense of fear among those of our colleagues who are not so well informed.

    To me, presenting claims without supporting data is irresponsible. Presenting claims about a moribund PR approach at ATA while working with ATA to restore it is, at least, a bit unethical in my view. If you are so supportive of what the current ATA board is working on to increase PR efforts, say so, stop blasting them.

    @Corinne, maybe you could invite those at the board in charge of PR to share with us what is being done? I’m tired of hearing a solo act every time we turn to talking about public relations.

  17. Mario, this is actually pretty simple, so I’m puzzled by your continuing combative and angry stance. It seems like you’re determined to contradict me, or at least to challenge me, no matter what I say, and especially when there’s no reasonable grounds for doing so at all.

    So to clarify for you, yet again.

    Yes, I am engaged in trying to get ATA PR rebooted, as are multiple other people. The fact that we collectively are making a strong effort with very (very) small victories does not mean that we are happy with the LEVEL of success that has been achieved. There is a limited role for those “advising” compared to those who make the funding and policy decisions.

    Right now ATA is not even in the same galactic cluster of where it needs to be to best represent the membership. We’re light years behind where we were in the 2002 – 2012 period when we — meaning ALL of us working media on the PR Committee, NOT just me — drove the debate, promoted our members’ skill sets, re-directed press stories to favor translators, improved rates paid to translators on government contracts, paved the way for countless translators in certain languages to work in new careers and put a lot of work and money in the pockets of our members through media-driven client referrals to the online directory.

    It is possible to both work very hard and persistently to enact change (which I’m doing, as are others), and to simultaneously be frustrated that it doesn’t come to fruition at the level it needs to (also true).

    So in light of the latter, public exhortations are one way to inform the membership that their votes matter, and that they are best served by electing candidates who share their priorities so we can return to the days when we measured success in millions of people hearing the ATA message, clients seeing and appreciating the role of professional translators and interpreters and going to the ATA online directory to find them, and a corresponding reduction in the volume of articles claiming all translators are equal or are irrelevant because of new technology.

    Reaching out to the membership and discussing these issues constitute 100% of the reason for Jeff’s blog post right here, which I wholeheartedly support.

    It’s also true that a large group of people — about 25 total, actually, including crucial leadership from Chris Durban and Lillian Clementi on Client Outreach, the Client Outreach Kit, School Outreach, the Red Cross collaborative program, on-site host city pro bono projects in 12 ATA conference cities, the list goes on and on — who worked together over many years to build up ATA PR during that same 2002-2012 period. I’ve written this out virtually every time the issue comes up, including describing their roles, so I’m not at all sure how it’s about me “tooting my own horn.”

    This is especially true because I’m the one guy who’s already publicly and very visibly taken himself out of the running for assuming the media reins once we get the program back on track.

    It’s going to be other people taking the lead, not me.

    What I’m working to do is encourage the Board to enact a program that we can all be proud of as a worthy successor to the monumental PR successes of previous years — something I think we ALL want for all ATA programs, wouldn’t you agree?

    So let’s focus on electing candidates who most closely share the priorities of the members shared on this site and other venues where this discussion is ongoing.

    1. Thank you Mario and Kevin for your thoughts. I would love to hear what other members have to say. If you have made it this far down the stream and haven’t commented yet. It’s obvious you are interested in this subject. I had one person tell me privately that They didn’t hold such a negative view of the ATA. This tells me that the conversation has gotten a little negative and critical causing some people to not want to weigh in. Please feel free to express yourself even if it different than everyone else.

  18. Jeff, many thanks for your thoughtful (and obviously thought-provoking!) post.

    I believe that ATA elections could become much more effective—immediately, no bylaw changes required—if everyone who ran for the board used her candidate statement to talk more about ATA’s future and a little less about her own past. Many statements are essentially resumes, and while it’s important for candidates to present their qualifications, even the most impressive list of accomplishments says nothing about a candidate’s goals for ATA—or even whether she has any at all. That’s one reason why it can be hard to for voting members to make a choice.

    In 2013 Evelyn Yang Garland won a seat on the Board on her first run. Her candidate statement provided a quick profile but also highlighted the two core areas—public relations and mentoring—that she wanted to work on. I believe that her issues-oriented approach is one reason she was elected, and I’d love to see more ATA candidates follow her example. It could well make all of us more action- and solution-oriented.

    Thanks again, Jeff, for sparking the conversation, and special thanks to Corinne and Ted. By my lights, both of them are working hard to move ATA in the right direction, and I’m grateful.

  19. Jeffrey, yes, I have read the whole stream (and your subsequent posting). I don’t think you need to apologize for instigating a lively discussion, for obviously caring about the direction of the ATA, and for doing your homework (e.g., attending board meetings) so that you are speaking from a position of knowledge.

    My two cents, (hopefully) in brief:

    1) PR is clearly important to our membership, and we should support candidates for whom it is also important.

    2) There is nothing wrong with using our past PR successes as a benchmark, while recognizing that the path to similar success today might differ because “the times, they are a-changin’.”

    3) Ad hominem attacks (such as Mario’s comments to Kevin) bring nothing constructive to this discourse. We can freely disagree with each other, and disagree strongly, without impugning each other’s motives. (It reminds me of those political debates in which each side accuses the other of not being sufficiently patriotic.)

    4) It is my perception, as a fairly active but still rank-and-file ATA member, that there is not sufficient communication between the board and the membership. In addition to the opportunities for members to contact Board members that Caitlin cites, I would like to see more active and clear communication in the other direction. For example, I would propose a report be sent to the membership after each board meeting summarizing the debate and the decisions made, current goals/focus, etc. Maybe this information is getting out there somehow, but I’m not aware of it being made available so directly. (I do regularly read the Chronicle and look through any ATA-related emails, but I might be missing something. But if I am missing something, then probably so are others.)

    I have attempted to put my money where my mouth is on this – recently I interviewed our President-Elect, David Rumsey, aka this year’s conference coordinator, about how various decisions are made about conference venue, etc. The resulting article will hopefully be published in the near future – I have left the specifics (blog post, Chronicle article, etc.) up to David. This was my response to vague grumblings, suggestions, and rumors that I have heard floating about – much of which were based on an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of how the conference is set up, funded, etc. My thanks to David for taking the time out of his undoubtedly insane schedule to do this with me.

    For Corinne, Ted, and other board members reading this posting – I live in northern Virginia and would be happy to take on the task of attending local board meetings and writing up a summary for the membership. I would also be willing to do the same based on minutes of out-of-town meetings, though I think a person actually present at the meeting could better capture the flavor of the discussion.

    5) There are a lot of great concerns being raised regarding the direction of ATA, finances, loss of membership, PR efforts, future directions, etc. My take on any of this is that if you are not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. It is easy to find fault with the leadership in any organization. It is harder to suggest specific solutions or changes, and yet still harder to offer your own assistance on some level to bring those changes about. Our progress depends not so much on how well we do the fault-finding, but on how well we proffer specific solutions and work for them.

    I have gotten a tremendous amount out of my membership in ATA…I can certainly see areas for improvement and directions I would like to see the organization move in. So count me in.

    1. It is a little hard to find, but the minutes from the board meeting are found on the website. I’m not sure if this link will work because you have to be signed in to see anything.
      https://www.atanet.org/governance/minutes.php
      Go to About us, who we are, Governance, How ATA works, Board Meetings. Click on all that and Bingo! you can read all you want going back years. I personally only reviewed the last three years.

  20. Hi, Jeff!

    I agree with you with many of the points you’ve stated because it is important to keep spreading awareness not only about ATA, but also as professionals we need to create awareness on the importance of our role in this society. You know, at first I didn’t feel like having the right of giving an opinion because I’m not very involved with the ATA and I’m just an individual member, but then I said “Why not?”. So, here I am!

    Finances:
    I don’t have a very concrete opinion in this aspect because I’m not an expert on the matter, but, as far as I know, the FIT is one of the most expensive T&I conferences worldwide! Maybe there are more affordable ones, who knows? Discontinuing the print version may be an ecologically-friendly (as economic one as well) option, ‘though there’ll be a many translators that will be pissed off about it (I personally love the printed version but, as you said, sometimes we have to make sacrifices for something better). Increasing prices on other programs wouldn’t be a great idea because many of us are in a budget and it’d be a discouragement for us. For the revenue-generating method, sponsoring would be a great option. I think for conferences like the IAPTI might be a good one.

    Public relations:
    Yes, definitely needs a bit of work on that. I was expecting last year’s conference to appear on the news, but nada. Not many people knew about the conference. No TV news, no newspapers, nada. Some of my Texas colleagues said exactly the same thing.

    Everything else:
    -The Chronicle: I think it’d be cool to have articles from guest colleagues once in a while. I don’t know if you do that already and I’m not aware of that, but many of us have different ideas and experiences that we may share with others.

    -The ATA Buddies & Newbies program: I’m glad to know that this program exists for first-time attendees, but I expected this program to help ALL first time attendees (e.g. those attendees who couldn’t make it at certain date and time). Sad. Last year it was my first conference, but I couldn’t make it to that session because of my travel schedule. I sent a message to one of the ladies in charge of the program, asking her if she could give me a hand or if it was possible for her to help me to pair me up with any buddy in a day I wasn’t going to make it. Well, it took her forever to reply a message and she replied my message like 2 days before the conference just to coldly say “Sorry. I cannot help you”. I wasn’t expecting anything crazy or out of ordinary, I just wanted a bit of help. Maybe it wasn’t possible to organize a 2nd buddies-newbies session or pair me up with someone just as a favor, I know, but people must be a bit nicer and write something like “My apologies. I may not be able to help you with that, but what about if we meet up and have a coffee?” or something a bit more socially polite. Thank God I could manage it and met a lot of great people in the conference :).

    I’m glad you’re going to this year’s ATA conference. I wish I could make it, but due to personal and medical reasons I won’t be able to attend. Hope you have a wonderful time! Learn so much, have fun, and don’t forget to share pictures and tweets!

    Have a wonderful day!

    Kind regards,
    Brenda Galván

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