“Elementary, My Dear Watson!”

By Jennifer L. Stutts, CPSM, RS&H

After that infamous Friday afternoon, so eloquently reminisced in our first blog post of this series by Jennifer Nix McGerald, Marketing Coordinator at Cardno, it was time to get started.

So what’s the first step to develop an image campaign, you may ask? (And as trained and educated marketers, I expect all of us to know this answer.)

You got it – research! It was time to put on our detective hats and channel our inner Sherlock Holmes.

It began with a SWOT

We started with an internal strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. Our strengths included the educational opportunities and resources we provide our members, while our weaknesses included communication and lack of awareness in the architecture, engineering and construction (A / E / C) community. We identified opportunities, such as partnerships with other industry organizations, like the American Institute of Architects, as well as threats, including the rising cost of membership and competing demands of our members’ time.

Through our SWOT analysis, we recognized two things:

1)   As marketers, we needed to do a better job of marketing ourselves and the value we provide, and

2)   We must demonstrate that value OVER cost.

A review of the demographics

Our next phase of research included a review of our demographics. We found that the chapter was fairly evenly split between marketing coordinators (43%) and managers/principals (38%), along with business developers (19%).


We also found that the chapter was equally diverse by size of firm and industry sector. 

The chapter’s average retention rate was a strong 85%, just at the national SMPS average at the time. And in the year prior, we had grown in membership by 7.6%. This data gave us a great baseline for getting started and markers for improvement.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic uncovered was the tenure range of our members. At the time, 27% of our current members had joined within the last year. Expand that range, and we found slightly under half of our members, or 43%, had joined within the last three years.

That was big news. Research conducted by our national SMPS tells us that the likelihood of members dropping their membership significantly increases in their first three years, and is at the highest in their first year. The key to retaining members is early engagement in these first few years.

Were we at risk? Could this be our biggest threat – or quite possibly our biggest opportunity? 

All of a sudden, there was a sense of urgency. We knew we needed to demonstrate our value and engage our members now before we lose them. So how do we reach them? What do we say?

These questions led us to our final phase of research – we asked them…

Online member survey 

For our final phase of research, we knew we needed to roll up our sleeves and dig a little deeper, leaving no stone unturned. We couldn’t be afraid to ask members what they really thought of SMPS Tampa Bay – and use that insight to take positive action. So we conducted an online survey of members. 

The survey received a 36% response rate and the demographics of our respondents were also consistent with the demographics of the chapter, indicators that our data was an accurate representation of chapter perception. (Thank you again for taking the survey.)

We asked our members to rank what they valued most or what they were looking to gain out of their membership with SMPS Tampa Bay, then asked how the chapter rates in each of those areas.

Education and networking tied for the top slot as the most important membership drivers. Career growth came in second, while mentorship and business development tied for third. We rated average to excellent in the top three areas, and average to OK in the other two.

Giving back or service-oriented events ranked last on the list. This doesn’t mean our members are adverse to charitable/service opportunities – in fact, we know they support service events. Rather, we interpreted this to mean that our members are simply seeking these opportunities through other organizations. It’s not a driving factor in their desire become or remain a member of SMPS Tampa Bay.

These initial key questions helped identify which benefits our members valued most, which showed us what areas we should reinforce in our actions and communications – education, networking, and career growth.

With such great data, we knew we were on to something here. If we could figure out how to demonstrate our key membership drivers and communicate those values, then we’d be well on our way to increasing member engagement and growing our chapter.

Next up, we’ll look at how we took these key insights and turned them into something real. Stay tuned…

Jennifer L. Stutts, CPSM, is the Director of Marketing, Communications & Strategy at RS&H. She’s a seasoned marketer with 12 years of experience in the areas of corporate communications strategy, branding, media relations, integrated marketing communications, and management.

Jennifer has also served on the SMPS Tampa Bay Board since 2008 in a variety of positions, including two terms as President.  

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