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    The Shortlist

    In Review: The Pinnacle Experience 2020

    As with most in-person events, the fourth annual Pinnacle Experience in November pivoted to an all-virtual format. Specifically geared towards senior marketing leaders, the conference focused on key issues facing A/E/C marketers today with the “new normal” dominating the discussions. I asked LCA Architects Director of Marketing and dedicated SMPS SFBAC member Denise Youmans to share her insights on this year’s conference for The Shortlist.

    The virtual aspect aside, was there a prominent theme at this year’s conference?
    The community of participants was genuinely excited about the conference. There was a strong sense of commonality and connection that came through, probably enhanced by the current situation, and there was a shared sense of “brave new world” and how leaders could maximize opportunities for new ways of doing business. Much content was framed as “virtual is the reality of the future” and how to integrate it into our corporate strategies. So, besides being a virtual conference, the main theme was how to use digital platforms to continue to build relationships, promote brand awareness and instill loyalty among customers and employees alike.

    What were some of the key takeaways from the sessions that really left an impression on you?
    I believe that the Virtual Interview is here to stay, especially in the public sector where it is a challenge for agencies to populate and schedule selection panel participants. The sessions that dealt with mastering this medium as well as building and maintaining relationships through virtual and social media channels were very helpful. It is particularly beneficial to have video content to share with seller/doers with whom I’ve faced challenges in emphasizing the necessity of screen presence and making a connection with the audience. We’ve come a long way since our first virtual interviews in March and the content shared at the Pinnacle Experience will have a positive influence.

    Were there any topics that you thought could have been addressed or emphasized more?
    I expected some degree of interaction among participants other than sharing written comments in the chat, etc. There were community rooms but mostly folks just entered their contact information. The breakout rooms SFBAC hosted for the Annual Meeting were great fun! I would like to see every virtual conference have some sort of “Happy Hour” time scheduled.

    There was an inordinate amount of “transition” time between sessions, all conducted by the same person and all one-way communication. This time could have been used for those who wanted to “stick around” and discuss what was just presented – like we would do in the hallway at an in-person event.I also would have liked to see some focus on what the A/E/C industry will be facing regarding the economy, changing business environment, staffing, etc. – more specific challenges for our industry versus the rather generic leadership topics. Given the stature of the participants, I would expect we’ve all had a good bit of exposure and would benefit more from practical, more business-oriented topics. 

    While there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction, what were some of the positive aspects about attending an all-virtual event?
    Aside from the energy previously mentioned, virtual is an efficient way to participate. I don’t have to travel or spend several days out of office. There’s a positive impact to the bottom line. I think, as organizers improve on the framework and continue to engage top-notch presenters, I would encourage more participation within my firm. Right now, it’s such a crapshoot as to quality for most virtual events that I generally share a recording if the content is worth everyone’s time. 

    As a 20-year veteran of SMPS, what advice would you give our members in these unprecedented times? What makes this crisis different from the ones our industry has faced in the past and what can we learn from it?
    A/E/C is not going anywhere. The industry has been a force for millennia and will continue as a potent contributor to society. It is, however, changing dramatically. I believe, while humans crave connection, we are also prone to taking the path of least anxiety. Virtual meetings are going to remain a prevalent way of doing business because it’s easy, less time-consuming, and less emotional than person-to-person contact. This means it will be harder to develop and maintain strong relationships and customer loyalty. For instance, I am finding that the content of debriefs are not as valuable. It’s easy for clients to give pat answers and I can’t interpret the body language or listen for the clues that lead to revealing follow-up questions through the virtual format. The crisis lies in our firm’s leadership not embracing this reality and evolving.

    Phillip Gangan
    is the firm-wide Marketing Knowledge Manager for Sustainability at HOK. As a former journalist, Phillip brings his editorial expertise to HOK’s marketing, research, and public relations endeavors. He serves the SMPS SFBAC Communications Team as a writer and editor.

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