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Friday, August 08, 2008

The power of sharing

Fellow SMPS member bloggers Mel Lester (left) and Tim Klabunde discuss the finer points of blogging at the SMPS conference in Denver.

We left the SMPS conference at noon today, for a day at a High Country Club condo in Keystone, CO, about 100 miles west of Denver. Through the relaxing day tomorrow (before we return home on Sunday), I'll have more time to reflect on the conference, and provide some observations.

The single most important lesson suggested by several speakers is that successful marketing in the AEC world is all about sharing, giving, returning the favour of our good fortune, and relationships. In that regard, I succeeded at the conference even though I cannot track a dollar of direct business from attending, despite paying about $1,000 in conference fees, plus airfare, hotels, rental car fees, meals and so on.

The reason for this positive perspective is that I appreciate that really meaningful business (on a longer term scale) is measured not in days, and immediate Return on Investment, but in the connections, knowledge, and understanding of what it takes to be successful in this business. This is especially noticeable because I haven't yet had the privilege of linking closely with the foundation of SMPS success -- the local chapter.

Ontario will soon have Canada's first SMPS Chapter, and we have a modest business in North Carolina, where the association indeed has vibrant local chapters in the Research Triangle and Charlotte. But while North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm can connect with the North Carolina Chapters, at present my place within the organization is just one of 13 Canadian members at large.

Fortunately, I decided to take some action and apply the first basic principal of marketing success -- engage in activities which you enjoy, are passionate about, and relate to your marketing objectives. I am a writer and journalist. So I started this blog. Then I proposed and wrote an article about blogging for The SMPS Marketer, the association's national magazine/journal. A few months later, I proposed a story about social networking. Then SMPS Editor Randy Pollock (who has been doing this work for the past decade), invited me to work on the Marketer's editorial committee, and this year, I've been assigned or initiated a collection of stories. (I am writing a piece about Public Private Partnerships for the next issue, with a deadline in just a few weeks.)

Yesterday, after the first working session where Randy Pollock hosted a panel discussion Navigating Uncertain Times: An Executive Briefing on What to Do Now, fellow blogger Tim Klabunde greeted me. We decided to have lunch, and on the way (talk about co-incidence), we met the third known SMPS blogger, Mel Lester (who gave his own presentation later in the day, Marketing the Experience.) Finding a spot in the exhibit area, as we ate our box lunches, we explored the whys and wherefores of blogging. Our mutual conclusion: This is very much a worthwhile activity, but we are doing it because we really enjoy it, and not because we are expecting any immediate business from it. (Though we can track business advantages and utility in the exercise.)

Yesterday evening, Randy Pollock invited Marketer contributions to sit at a special table at the SMPS Awards Gala, as several SMPS leaders received recognition -- including the founders, who created the organization from scratch just 35 years ago. (Today there are about 7,000 members). Other members received recognition for service to the association, their chapters, or their marketing communications materials. My rewards were, of course, less tangible, but no less meaningful.

At dinner, I asked Tim Klabunde what motivated him to start his excellent CofeBuz blog. He said, without hesitation, it was my blog. Seems I recognized one of his solid Marketer articles in a blog entry some months ago, and he decided to start his own blog. Tim certainly gets the message and shares it wherever he can -- networking is not about plastic phoniness, it is about real, lasting relationships, and the ability to give rather than worry about the take. The rewards arrive in due course.

These observations, I realize, do not help someone struggling to get by; especially some smaller-scale contractors in the residential sector, hammered hard by the spin-offs of the current crisis. I'm reading the stress of one contractor I know about in a closed forum; and it is disturbing in a way -- this contractor certainly cannot afford to fly to Denver, pay conference fees, and be told that you must patiently give and contribute, with the hope that you will find longer term relationships and business satisfaction.

Then again, however, I review this blog's history -- and its start a little less than two years ago when the business seemed to be hitting bottom, and (but for some fortunate chance occurrences) turned around; almost miraculously. I realize the start of this blog also coincided with a complete values shift in the way we relate to our clients. The troubled contractor is asking for help, and indeed is receiving support from his peers on the closed forum. This is right. Because giving and generosity do not preclude our right -- in fact our obligation -- to ask for help when we really need it. I will also work with him to help him overcome his crisis.

I sense next year I'll be giving a presentation at the conference; we will network with colleagues and businesses where we indeed have a direct business relationship, and that the excitement of contagious success will lead to mentoring, relationships, and even more business. For now, I'm happy that I can be part of an exciting, intelligent, and success-focused community; one which shares common values of mutual respect, sharing, generosity, and career satisfaction.

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