SMPS Nation: Golden Gate Crashers
Ramblings on making (and remembering) most of the 2012 SMPS National Conference
By Evan Ross
For many a local SMPS chapter dweller, the annual rite of summer known as the SMPS National Conference (a.k.a. Build Business, a.k.a. thousands of marketers running amok in a strange city) is the opportunity of the year to experience the organization we know and love on a national stage and in full regalia. It’s where national and chapter leaders, movers and shakers, and industry veterans and newcomers alike meet on neutral ground to get educated, exchange ideas, build new relationships and renew old ties, discuss trends and opportunities and, of course, stay out late.
As the week unfolds for each attendee, the value of the seminars and networking opportunities begins to reveal itself and the cumulative benefit of the experience draws more into focus. Simple introductions lead to business connections, particularly poignant workshop nuggets inspire a plan for action, and a few too many stops on the local pub tour create some lasting bonds (if hazy memories). And as the conference nears its close on Friday, reflections on the week evoke a unique experience, which is part of the allure that draws the believers back year after year.
It is those thousands of individual experiences that constitute a diverse and dynamic National Conference. Here we discuss with a few San Diego SMPS denizens, and Build Business regulars, their thoughts on the 2012 edition of the event, held July 11-13 in the City by the Bay (that’s San Francisco for the townies out there).
Nearly all of the responses that came back were from Conference lifers. No one had attended less than three times and seven appearances was the average. This may speak to the idea that the more you put into the conference the more you get out, and the more you attend the more you understand where best to place those efforts to maximize your experience. To that end, here’s what your fellow chapter members had to say about their experience:
In general, how did you feel this year’s Conference compared to past conferences in the areas of education, networking and professional development?
Carina Theissen (Brown and Caldwell, Incoming SMPS San Diego Chapter President): I didn’t walk out of any sessions this year. Just kidding! I thought the sessions were better than past conferences but I think Nationals has been raising the bar for the Conference in the past few years.
Antoinette Sanchez (Southern California Soil & Testing, SMPS San Diego Chapter President): I was very pleased with the educational sessions I attended with the exception of one. In my opinion the networking could have been better. I’m not sure if this was due to the location, but the networking pavilion was not heavily populated on the three visits I made during breaks.
Kelly Michajlenko (Architects Mosher Drew, Incoming SMPS San Diego Chapter President-Elect): Education: About the same. Networking: Better. Since the conference was in California, there were a lot more California companies with which my firm has done or could do business with.
Olga Fisher (Randall Lamb, Active SMPS San Diego Chapter Member): I really enjoyed it this year—keynotes were entertaining, and all the seminars I attended were worth my time.
As it relates to the conference (as opposed to the many tempting watering holes about town), what was your primary reason for attending? How were your objectives or expectations met?
OF: Twofold: 1) To reconnect with colleagues I have gotten to know from various chapters over the years and 2) to refresh and rekindle enthusiasm for next year. Mission accomplished!
CT: My reasons were to not only get information from the sessions but to reconnect with people I have met and worked with on the Pacific Regional Conference, National Staff, and my PLS [President’s Leadership Symposium] class.
KM: CEUs. Registered, attended, and earned credit. And to see how the bigger firms are doing things. The value of the information shared in the sessions can sometimes be beyond measurable. The sessions on Knowledge Management and Competitive Intelligence were that way for me. They provided me with a glimpse of the best practices that are used by the larger firms.
What did you hope to take away from the conference? Upon returning to the office, were you able to implement any learned techniques, strategies or processes?
KM: I love the sessions that give tools! Charts, templates, suggestions, tips, lessons learned. I scheduled time with the owners [of Mosher Drew] to debrief them on several key takeaways and shared some of the handouts/presentations. By doing so, I also received buy-in for a couple of my ideas about how to incorporate non-owners into the marketing process. The owner’s mentioned my recommendation at an all staff meeting and the next step is now on my “to do list”.
CT: The relationships I have made with local people at Nationals and others throughout the U.S. and the knowledge and stories that they share.
OF: “Water the Bamboo”. Love that Analogy. I especially enjoyed “[Fat Free] Gracewriting” by Jen Hebblethwaite and “TRUTHSelling [An Uncommon Approach to Increasing Your Profitability]” by Terry Whitaker. The former discussed writing effectively with fewer words; the latter being your authentic self in business development.
What stood out to you at the conference this year?
AS: I noticed sessions had preferred/reserved seating for CPSM’s.
OF: I enjoyed the personal testimonials of the SMPS Leaders; each so different yet the enthusiasm for the industry so similar. This was particularly important for the newbies – hearing the importance of SMPS for its members and the lifelong relationships made.
KM: Was there a juggling theme? Ok, that’s not important. But it was funny.
If you are a San Diego Chapter Board Member, what sort of beneficial information or practices can you extract from this conference and apply at a local or (concerning something like the Pacific Regional Conference) regional level?
KM: I spent a lot of social time talking to past presidents of other chapters…about the challenges they faced and how they managed those challenges. In doing so, I was able to gain a lot of support from other San Diego chapters before committing to the President Elect role.
Favorite SF moment not related to the conference?
CT: Late night sightings and run-ins at the hotel bar.
AS: For sure it had to be those scrumptious drinks at the Tonga Room! OK, maybe not. Actually it was drinks at Bourbon & Branch – very creative cocktail menu with a transcendent atmosphere.
OF: Having Dinner with Friends, old and new.
KM: Attending the open house for Hinman Consulting Engineers. Good People, Good Times! California Academy of Sciences – the birds and butterflies in the bio-dome are beautiful and amazing!
What would you like to see changed, expanded, added or omitted at next year’s conference in Orlando?
OF: Not a fan of the annual gala – to long and too formal. It would be just as effective as a lunchtime event; leaving the evening for attendees to enjoy the city they’re in.
CT: Maybe having Nationals go outside the box and solicit to other industries and the cutting edge technology, programs and ideas they are using.
AS: I was extremely disappointed that Nationals had a workshop entitled, “The Basics of Business Development in the A/E/C Marketplace”, which they charged a separate registration fee of $345.00 for early bird member registration. The amount companies pay to have Marketing/BD staff attend the conference, without taking travel and lodging expenses into account, is already difficult to justify.
KM: Omit the humidity. Add Mickey.
Well, there it is. As illustrated above, just as each individual is unique so are their Build Business experiences. And whether it’s making that lasting connection, learning a strategy that revolutionizes your BD process or simply discovering the best craft beer City in the U.S., the Conference offers something worthwhile for almost everyone.
Oh, and if your motivation to attend is actually to discover the best craft beer city in the U.S…well you’ll just have to wait until 2015. That’s when the conference will be held here in San Diego. Cheers!