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Past Presidential Thoughts: Getting Out of SMPS What You Put Into It

SMPS Boston is celebrating our 35th anniversary in 2016-2017, so we’ve invited a slew of past presidents to reflect on their experiences with the chapter. This edition comes from Susan Shelby, President and CEO of Rhino PR and SMPS Boston president for the 2006-2007 program year.

I worked in high tech PR until the dot-com crash in 2001. Both my husband and I lost our jobs within a four-month period; we had a mortgage and a one-year old son. I was fortunate enough to find a job with Vanderweil Engineers, and that was my introduction to the A/E/C industry – and to SMPS. I attended an event, became a member, and joined the communications committee. I was amazed that I could call anyone in SMPS, even competitors, and they would help me as I learned about A/E/C marketing. This never would have happened in high tech.

A/E/C marketing professionals know the irreplaceable value of relationships. That was never more true than in November 2004. After getting laid off from my position as director of marketing and business development for a local architecture firm just before Thanksgiving, I took a deep breath and decided it was time to launch my own PR consultancy: Rhino Public Relations. I immediately reached out to my network of friends, colleagues, mentors, and contacts to start some word-of-mouth business development efforts while I laid the groundwork for my new business.

Fortunately, in addition to great contacts and a strong SMPS network, I had great timing as well. Barbara Hicks from Margulies & Associates (now Margulies Perruzzi Architects) knew me from my volunteer work with SMPS Boston. She forwarded my information to her boss, Virginia Daffron, who coincidentally, had worked at Vanderweil Engineers right before me. I planned to use December to continue my business preparations to hit the ground running in January. No chance – Virginia needed me to start immediately. In less than one month, I had two clients – and we still work with MPA today. Since then, the bulk of Rhino PR’s new business has come through word-of-mouth referrals or the SMPS network.

I sometimes joke that SMPS Boston is group therapy for marketers. Many of us work at companies where marketing is misunderstood or not a priority. Being able to attend educational and social events, or just reach out to fellow SMPS members for advice or even a supportive shoulder to cry on, is extremely helpful. SMPS National – and its web site – is also an amazing resource.

I firmly believe that participation in various professional service opportunities – and specifically SMPS – has enhanced my career and enabled me to absorb new ideas and network with so many exceptional peers and colleagues. More importantly, it’s given me outstanding opportunities to give back to my profession through service and mentoring activities.

Since joining SMPS in 2001, I’ve had the privilege of serving in numerous capacities on a local, regional and national level. After I finished my term as SMPS Boston Chapter President, I founded the Past Presidents’ Club (officially called the SMPS Boston Founders and Past Presidents Advisory Board) to create a greater level of continuity for SMPS Boston and keep other past presidents engaged. Rhino PR has been a corporate sponsor of the chapter for many years, and we submit monthly articles to the SMPS Boston blog as well as feature pieces to The Marketer.

Today, I am often called for career advice from students studying PR or people just entering A/E/C marketing. As much as possible, I take time to talk or meet with them to offer advice and answer their questions. When they thank me, I ask them to do the same for others coming up behind them just as others have helped me over the years.

SMPS Boston wouldn’t be the organization it is today – one of the largest chapters nationally – without the commitment and effort of its volunteers. There are so many people who are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience with others. I try to attend as many events as I can because I get so much out of seeing old friends and meeting new members of SMPS Boston. And I always encourage new members to join a committee and get involved: you get out of SMPS what you put into it. You will build lifelong friendships on a local, regional and national level, and have fun at events like Mix@6, the golf tournament, and the annual awards gala.

For me, SMPS has provided numerous opportunities for networking and professional growth, and offered an equal number of opportunities to give back to the organization. In many ways, Rhino PR’s success and longevity in the A/E/C industry can be attributed to my involvement with SMPS. SMPS Boston will continue to be a source of support for me and Rhino PR.


Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations, a full-service PR and marketing agency focused on meeting the unique needs of professional services firms. Rhino PR offers customized services based on each individual client’s goals and budget. Susan received the 2016 SMPS Boston Marketing Professional of the Year Award, which honors marketing excellence in the A/E/C industry. Follow her @RhinoPRBoston or visit for more information about how Rhino PR can help you take charge of your PR.

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