Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM President & CEO Rhino PR
Presented at the annual SMPS Boston Awards Gala on June 9th, the Marketing Professional of the Year Award honors an A/E/C marketing professional who has significantly contributed to the success of his/her firm and actively participates as a member in the SMPS Boston Chapter. I was flattered and honored to be this year’s award recipient, and grateful to Chuck Raymond, CPSM, of Geosyntec for nominating me. In case you missed the SMPS Boston Awards Gala, I would like to share my thoughts on lessons learned over the last 12 years since founding Rhino PR.
Build a support network
I must confess. I never set out to have my own company. I guess you could say I am an accidental entrepreneur, but I could never have done this without the love and support of my husband and son and the dedication of my staff. A support network is critical to the success of any endeavor. There are so many other people I would like to thank, and I hope you know you are. I am grateful for all their support and encouragement.
Be true to yourself
It has taken me a long time to learn this lesson: be true to yourself. I have learned to trust my intuition. Sometimes it’s necessary to say no to a potential client because it doesn’t feel like a good fit or to coach a client out the door when the relationship isn’t working the way it should. I have learned to trust that change will make or leave room for something better. Life is too short to work with people who don’t treat you – and your team – with respect.
We all make mistakes. I try to remind myself that no one – including me – is perfect, and we are all doing the best we can at any given moment. When things aren’t going the way I planned or expected, I stop and ask myself: What do I need to learn from this experience? I still beat myself up, but the key is to learn from it and not make the same mistake twice.
Recognize you don’t know everything
Know your strengths and weaknesses. Hire people who are strong where you are weak. If you don’t like doing something or aren’t good at it, it’s actually cheaper in the long run to hire someone who is good at it rather than doing it yourself. Save yourself the aggravation and angst and put your energies where they are needed.
Remember this, too, shall pass
I was going through a particularly tough time with the business a couple years ago when I called my dad to cry on his shoulder. He had been president of an architectural firm in Connecticut before he retired, and he told me about going from 150 to 50 employees during the 80s recession. Talk about stress! I told him what was happening with Rhino and he said: “Susan, this, too, shall pass.” I was pretty mad when he said that, as it wasn’t the response I was looking for, but I have come to realize he was right and it did pass. But let’s be honest – it still sucks while you are going through it. Which is why you need to …
Have a positive attitude
Some of you know the story behind the name Rhino. For those who don’t, the short story is that I used to sell life insurance door-to-door and read a lot of motivational books. One was called Rhinoceros Success. Here are a few thoughts from the book that caught my attention:
- Rhinos are intense, passionate and focused.
- Rhinos see where they want to go and start charging, knocking down everything that gets in their way.
- Rhinos get things done.
- Rhinos have two-inch think skin.
After reading this book, I decided I wanted to be a Rhino! Stay positive – your attitude determines everything.
Pay it forward
I was 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 would have never happened in high tech. 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.
Never stop learning
I have never stopped learning – even if I am not taking formal classes. I am a voracious reader of books, magazines and newspapers and try to attend as many conferences or workshops as I can fit into my schedule. And I learn from my peers and my clients every single day.
Set personal goals
My name is Susan and I am a workaholic. When I started Rhino, I worked from home and my husband threatened to put a lock on my office door because I worked all the time. As anyone who knows me well knows, I am very goal oriented. Last year I realized that all of my goals were related to Rhino, so I set some personal goals. If you had told me years ago that at the age of 49 I would complete two sprint triathlons, try and love zip lining, and get certified to scuba dive, I would have said you were crazy. But that is what I did last year, and I am very proud of that.
Take time for fun
What’s that expression? No one on their deathbed ever says they wish they had spent more time at the office? Yes, we could be connected 24/7, but we need to unplug and take time out to relax and recharge our batteries. We are no good to anyone if we are completely burnt out, so make time for fun.
While I never thought I would run a company, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I love what I do and am so glad I found SMPS. Thank you again to the SMPS Boston Chapter for this wonderful honor.