Annual Conference

Thank you our attendees and our sponsors for making this year's event a major success!

Here's a quick recap, courtesy of Jessica Gilette with christopher consultants:

Opening Keynote: Bossy Isn’t a Dirty Word – Be Assertive Without Sounding B!tchy

The morning of February 20, 2020, started with a continental breakfast and mingling amongst attendees. Once everyone had full bellies and got their networking fix, Jennifer Danforth of Woolpert took to the stage for the opening keynote. Jennifer discussed an issue many women still face in the corporate world – stereotypes. Men still make up a high percentage of leadership in our industry and are praised for speaking their minds, whereas women come off as “bitchy” the minute they stand up for themselves. But luckily, this archaic way of thinking can be solved with effective communication and education. Jennifer believes the best place to start is with a DiSC Assessment to understand your natural behavior in your work environment and how best to interact with colleagues of different behavior and communication styles. By education, Jennifer means making sure you are the most educated on the matter at hand before speaking out, and the same for the person(s) to whom you will be speaking. The keynote was engaging, insightful and resonated with our female-dominant audience, making it the perfect kickoff to the conference.

How to Retrain Your Dragons (To Write Better Proposals)

Consultant, author and doer-seller trainer Jim Rogers was up next to tackle an issue almost the entire room faces: working with dragons during the proposal process. By “dragons”, he means the colleagues that are resistant to changing proposals despite evidence that they can, in fact, be improved. He instructed that having standard guidelines is step one to creating better proposals. What fonts do you use? What is the protocol for who signs the cover letter? How many images should you use? And so on. Your standard guidelines are unique to your company and will assist in keeping your proposal organized and easily discernible. Next, schedule time with your clients to speak with them about what they like and dislike about proposals. It would be tough for your dragons to go against what the client says they want. To save you some time, Jim stated the obvious for us that is true for all clients: they want to know what’s in it for them. Stop spending so much time talking about your firm in the cover letter. Focus on the client’s intention(s), issue(s) and how you’re going to approach them. Every firm says “we’re a [discipline here] firm with x number of employees with over y number of years in business” – skip that and tell the client how you’re going to help them achieve their goals.

Finding Your Sweet-Spot for Video and Content Marketing

After a buffet-style lunch, we all reconvened for Asa Eslocker of VMDO’s presentation. Asa, a two-time Emmy award winner, uses his videography background to create visual and engaging marketing content relative to the AEC industry. He started his program by giving a direct quote from the SMPS Marketing 2022 Report: firms not using video “may struggle” with relevance as their competitors increasingly employ video in all aspects of marketing – including proposals and presentations.” Additionally, 70% of firms plan to employ video marketing by 2022. Video types that firms are currently addressing are project spotlights, culture videos and firm expertise/thought leadership. Asa then showed us his extensive collection of video gear but warned us that we don’t all need that much equipment. Start by asking yourself several questions about the purpose of your video content before purchasing gear. And don’t forget to ask your SMPS peers what they use! We then broke into groups of two or three for an exercise in creating video content. We were challenged with writing down several ideas that could be developed into video. Most of the audience came up with endless ideas! With a bit of creativity and time (and research if you are unfamiliar with video), your firm can be a part of the video trend in no time.

From Millennials to Gen Z: Reaching the Next Generation of Decision Makers

Ida Cheinman of Substance 151 ended day one with a bang. With the lines between B2B and B2C becoming blurred more and more each day, Ida says we need to have a “B2me” mindset. Millennials are known for being brand loyal and making purchases based off how it affects them personally and emotionally. Combined with the fact 73% of millennials are involved in B2B purchasing decisions, the shift to “B2me” makes sense. In order to reach this next generation of decisions makers, we as marketers must ask ourselves how we can create an emotional experience at every step of the client’s journey. A good place to start is delivering content that is immediate and engaging; it must “edutain”, and in the world of millennials and Gen Z, it needs to be short and to the point. In short, if you are trying to reach future decision makers, keep in mind that experience is everything.

Day one of the conference ended with a fun networking event at Circuit Social. The unique environment, with arcade games and a pour-your-own beverage format, allowed for attendees to socialize in a casual setting and discuss the day’s programs. Some chose to explore the offerings of downtown Norfolk once the reception ended while others retreated to their rooms to get ready for day two.

The First 90 Days: Navigating Career Changes like a Boss

Conference go-ers were met with a warm continental breakfast on Friday morning before Susan Dawson of GHT Limited and Karen Cotton of HITT Contracting started the day’s programming. In their session, they gave a detailed overview of the book “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins. The presentation focused on taking on a new role or starting with a new company, however it proved to be beneficial for marketers at all levels, even if you’re not currently in the midst of a career change. So, what’s special about the first ninety days of a new position, either within your company or with a new firm? On average, ninety days is when you start providing as much value as you’re consuming. Susan and Karen went through the ten steps listed in the book while giving personal accounts of their lessons learned while rising to their leadership positions. The first step really stood out, as many people don’t do it: prepare yourself for the transition, both educationally and mentally. Another anecdote that stood out is it’s your responsibility to change to meet your supervisor’s needs and management style. The information sparked a lively Q&A portion with several members coming up to ask more questions afterward. You can purchase “The First 90 Days” on Amazon.

Creating Cultural Buy-In

Dana Lancour of Barton Malow gave us an in-depth look at her company’s ideas and strategies that have attributed to their award-winning culture. First, ask your boss and your team what a win looks like, who can help and how does it align to your firm’s goals? Starting each initiative with this process is one of the best ways to determine if it’s worth pursuing and if so, ensuring its success. Communication, of course, is essential to gaining cultural buy-in. However, take time and evaluate who should do the communicating. Find someone people trust and want to listen to; find your “star”. Ask for feedback on your culture-building efforts and adjust accordingly. Always remember that good things take time. Efforts may go unnoticed at first, and there will always be nay-sayers, but this is very common, so stay positive! Additionally, releasing content on multiple platforms is vital to reaching a variety of generations, which is necessary to gaining as much cultural buy-in as possible.

Mindfulness in the Workplace and Dismantling Overwhelm

Certified Life Coach Ellie Burke ended the conference with her session on Mindfulness in the Workplace and Dismantling Overwhelm. Mindfulness, Ellie explained, is the practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment – not an easy task with today’s busy lifestyles. Ellie focused on how understanding how the brain works can make us better equipped to deal with the stressors that bombard our senses every day. Ellie guided participants in how to take charge of your body’s reaction to negative thoughts and respond to the world in a more purposeful and constructive way, allowing you to decrease stress and be more mindful at work and in your everyday life.