To Build Business: A story of travel economics

smps build business
The SMPS Build Business web page

Tomorrow, I’ll be travelling to Philadelphia to attend the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) annual Build Business convention. I’ve attended several SMPS conventions in the past decade to gather?some valuable intelligence and insights. The more challenging question (from a budget perspective): Do they provide a suitable return on investment for the time and travel cost?

I think for most active architectural, engineering and construction marketers (in the ICI rather than single home residential sector), SMPS can make a great “value” story — if only because the organization combines human with marketing/technical insights. So if you are an AEC marketer, and aren’t familiar with the organization, I encourage you to connect with your local chapter.

At first sight, SMPS would seem to be a great business relationship resource for us. After all, AEC marketers (and vendors marketing to the marketers) would seem to be logical people to know and support for?our regional trade?publications.

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. One of our revenue streams, pay-to-play editorial profiles, gets a thumbs down from association members any time the idea comes up. This negative response in part is quite justified. Some?publications push the supplier/supported features in an abusive manner and do not offer good value for the members.

Although I’ve enjoyed good friendships and relationships through the association, and made some sales from these connections, the yield for time and effort is on the low-end of the effectiveness spectrum for me.

The question then: If we’ve given it a fair shake, without success, should we give up our membership and pull away from SMPS? This is always a reasonable question to ask about any marketing initiative and practice. For example, does the industry trade show you have attended for eons provide real value, or is it just an excuse for an expense-reimbursed break?

With SMPS, the story is somewhat more complicated. While there?may be limited financial returns for my business, there is knowledge, connections and community.

The challenge, then, is to figure out ways to burn down the budget to achieve the desired goals.

First step, I have applied?my media status to obtain a media pass rather than pay to attend the conference (a $900 fee). SMPS has no problem with this idea, because in return, I am expected to spend an afternoon judging the association’s marketing communication awards to find the “best of the best” — ?a worthy opportunity in its own right to learn about innovative marketing ideas.

The conference fee includes most of the meals while I am in Philadelphia, but I still need a place to stay and have to get there. Air Canada Aeroplan points reduced the air fare costs. And with a little creativity and help from AirBNB resources, I found a self-contained apartment about 15 minutes from the conference hall by public transit for $260 CDN for three nights (less than one night’s cost at the Marriott Hotel.)

While I’m “cheap”, I would have spent more and even stayed at the expensive hotel if my wife was travelling with me — we have the personal financial resources to enjoy proper vacations and the ability to write them as legitimate business expenses is always appealing. However, travelling on my own, I take into account own internal business budget constraints — I will reimburse the company out of my own funds (repaying part of my shareholder loan for earlier advances) for the hard costs of this trip. If it is successful, I will also set the standard for the company’s employees; if we can find clean, comfortable accommodations for 1/3 of the cost of conventional hotels, we should make this a habit, not an exception.

Overall, I expect to spend perhaps $500 cash for the three days conference, an experience that would have cost close to $3,000 if I had followed conventional business travel models. Assuming a discretionary expense ROI metric/multiplier of seven, this suggests I would need to earn $3,500 in sales/revenue for the conference to pay for itself in hard cash; an attainable objective, and not such a big budget breaker if I don’t get there. I doubt we could expect $21,000 in revenue from the event, however.

Have you discovered or implemented resourceful cost-savings in your marketing initiatives? You can comment or email me at If you will be at Build Business yourself, drop a line if you wish and we could connect for a meet-up.

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