The insights and experience that come from interactive, interpersonal exchange — be it a salon, forum, conference, or a virtual roundtable — offer a unique experience that simply can’t be replicated in other formats and channels.
Getting the right people in the room is key to your event’s success, and no audience is more challenging than the C-suite. The group is highly desired by marketers, but also frustratingly tough to convene. Top executives won’t take time away from the office unless they are convinced they’ll get significant value, and they will readily punt an invitation to their team if the case is not persuasive.
In my work helping companies bring executive clients to the table, I have found three core elements to boost C-suite attendance and participation. The principles hold true whether the event is in-person or virtual.
Content — or your event’s agenda — is the primary hook and it needs to be tailored specifically to your C-suite audience. Executives seek intriguing, surprising, or useful ideas that address their greatest business challenges. They also crave solutions that push beyond common wisdom. Outcomes and impact matter; benefits and features don’t. Executives often shy away from events — particularly those held by vendors — because they fear the sales pitch. Keep the content focused on the two or three things they need to do to create value now, shared in the form of a story, and you will get their attention.
Co-creation is the most effective tool for creating a compelling executive event. What does it involve? Co-creation requires that you invest time and resources up front to collaborate with key, high-value participants; together you test, shape, and vet the topic agenda, content focus, speakers, and experts. Their advice will help you uncover the most timely and critical issues, and even develop a shared sense of ownership of the event. Co-creation also uncovers useful feedback to help shape the speakers’ presentations for maximum value. And participants who contribute to the program tend to promote and advocate for the event to their peers and colleagues, enhancing its appeal.
Co-creation is the most effective tool for creating a compelling executive event via @RoanneNeuwirth.
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Connection to peers and experts makes the case for relevance. Executives value insights from those they consider their true peers, and they appreciate the opportunity to listen to and learn from the source. Craft the speaker roster with peer leaders who can share their case studies and lessons learned, and take the opportunity to engage your own executive clients as presenters. Also consider external experts who participants identify as thought-provoking and inspirational. Keep in mind that this is not the time to parade your product managers across the stage; their messages likely won’t resonate with the audience and could detract from the strategic nature of the conversation.
These three elements are requisite for attracting the C-suite to your events, but they are not necessarily sufficient. It’s also important to take stock of why you want to engage executives through an event, and where you are starting from in making the ask. If you don’t have a relationship or some connection in your business to your target executives, getting them to care about your event will be a stretch without a hook or context of some kind. If you are relying on a third party to make cold calls to fill the seats, chances are you will find it a challenge to extend the conversation beyond the meeting, which won’t help your business.
How to Grab C-Suite Attention With Relevant Content
Consider these approaches in shaping your plans and helping boost attendance for your next executive event.
1. Understand your target
Ask yourself why you want to convene that particular set of executives. Do you know what issues they care about? Do you have credible knowledge to share to help them? Who in your own organization has a relationship to them? What do you want to come out of the event — and is the conversation sustainable by your sales teams and client executives beyond the event? The value proposition should be clear on both sides, or you may want to reconsider your target. For example, if you sell marketing technology, while chief marketing officers are on every vendor’s “must-engage” list, their deputy or peer responsible for marketing technology may be more interested in your message and better able to engage in a valuable dialogue.
2. Connect to a peer core group
One way we establish relevance with a targeted audience is to (a) create a steering committee of peer executives to advise on the program, or (b) connect the program to a customer advisory board or council composed of those peers. Obtaining early input and guidance on what makes a compelling event agenda is critical to turn would-be attendees into co-creators and peer evangelists.
Obtaining early input & guidance on what makes a compelling event agenda is critical via @RoanneNeuwirth.
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Engage the C-Suite Through a Client Advisory Board
3. Leverage your senior executives
Enlisting your own C-suite to help host a peer conversation is a great tool to draw in others and build credibility. If you are hoping to convene CIOs at your next event, for example, get your CIO to serve as the draw by sharing his or her story as part of the program. Commitment from your own executive team reinforces your focus on value-added exchange.
4. Start small and intimate
Given their interest in connecting with peers and exchanging ideas, one way to court executives and demonstrate your value as a convener is by hosting small events, such as dinners or forums. Seeded with the right content and attendee mix, these types of sessions create the kind of focused environments executives value, away from the throngs of attendees who flood larger events. If you’re trying to attract the C-suite to the large events you run, consider creating a special executive track or pre-event forum. As you build credibility over time, you will find it easier to bring in a larger C-level audience.
5. Think engagement, not attendance
I often hear from marketers that even when they can get executives to come to one event, the executives won’t come back to the next one. This makes it more difficult to use events to build relationships and create an exchange of value over time. With an executive audience, this tends to happen when the meeting team is more focused on filling a seat quota rather than creating the right dialogue, or when the content is salesy, tactical, and unconnected to a broader, more strategic exchange of ideas. Executives want to do things that bring them value, and will stick with you if you overcome these pitfalls. Viewing your events as one element of your more comprehensive engagement strategy will help refocus on what it takes to get traction with this audience.
The bottom line is that you can attract the C-suite to your events, and even make them look forward to coming again and again. But there are no shortcuts; convening worthy peers and valuable ideas is paramount. With the right strategy, setting, and audience, you will find your events C-suite worthy.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute