The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) is principally responsible for the observance of "Administrative Professionals Week/Day" each April. According to the organization's website, the "event" was launched in 1952 with a Young & Rubicam PR executive named Harry Klemfuss and a group of office-product manufacturers.
Rick Stroud, IAAP communications manager, says Klemfuss was inspired by the Rosie the Riveter icon. He believed that women in the secretarial ranks also needed to be honored for their contribution. "Through the years, it has become one of the world's largest workplace observances," Stroud explains.
But though it is widely recognized, the annual event still fails to live up to its original purpose. "The goal is to have this as an educational event, to educate the public about the value of what administrative professionals bring, and also to attract students to pursue it as a career," Stroud says.
However, the fact is that the flowers and candy "stakeholders" long ago hijacked "Administrative Professionals Day." Bestowing a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates on an administrative assistant hits exactly the kind of patronizing note that prevents the role from being truly understood or valued. The IAAP has been trying to rescue the day from the Hallmark holiday mentality for years, but it faces a battle to win over the hearts and minds of executives, who too often resort to the cliché. The IAAP asks bosses to focus on career development, but that message is not getting out there at a meaningful level.
Unfortunately, the persistent commemoration of the day reflects equally persistent preconceptions about the role itself. It is not seen as a great way for young people to get into a company and work up the ranks. An organization for which I once worked re-dubbed administrative assistants "coordinators" because it couldn't attract qualified people to do the job. But several of these individuals moved up to senior levels in the organization, so any perception that the job was a kind of career ghetto should have been put to rest by precedent, not nomenclature.
Stroud says that he has had plenty of media interest in his message, but it is still a challenge for a nonprofit like his to combat the power of the other marketing engines that fight for a piece of the action. This year's event has passed, but maybe next year PR agencies and departments can help the IAAP get its message out more clearly. If nothing else, they should lead by example within their own companies.
Berardino will bring key insight to PRWeek Forum
I heard Joe Berardino, former CEO of Andersen Worldwide, speak at a club in the Bay Area not long after he left the firm. Berardino is our keynote presenter at the PRWeek Forum in June. It was because of the value of that session that he was invited. The session was off the record, so I can't say much about it, but his observations about the complexities of professional-services relationships were incredibly insightful. It reminds me that we need to constantly seek the perspectives of other professional-service disciplines to better inform our understanding of PR.
For more information and to register for the PRWeek Forum, June 7-9 in Pinehurst, NC, log on to www.prweek.com and click on Events.