Apr 02, 2013 C-Level Event Marketing: Interview with Sharon Gillenwater of Boardroom Insiders
Know your client is a common mantra at Wilsonwest. But nobody knows people better than Sharon Gillenwater, CEO of Boardroom Insiders. So we spoke to her about C-level event marketing, the best way to invite C-level executives to corporate events, and how to develop content for the C-suite.
Wilsonwest: Hi, Sharon. Tell us a bit about you and Boardroom Insiders.
Sharon Gillenwater: I specialize in marketing strategy and a lot of what I do is around events. But I’ve developed my expertise around C-level marketing – targeting high level executives like CEOs, CFOs, CMOs… the top echelon of the company.
C-level executives have specific marketing requirements. Their time is valuable. They get invited to many many events, more than they can possibly attend. So it’s important when you communicate with them about the event, you aim for 100% relevance rather than sending a generic pitch and leaving them to figure out whether your event matters. [tweet this]
WW: How would you go about this?
Sharon: You could research what issues your generic target audience is concerned about. But we recommend that instead of using general demographic information, you focus on the individual. And that means learning exactly what each participant cares about.
So we’ve developed a database of Fortune 500 executives. Our database subscribers can access it and see information about an individual’s background, hobbies, business “care abouts,” likes and dislikes. And our clients use that information to shape the content of their events, as well as to shape the event communications and invitations.
WW: Tell us more about “care abouts.”
Sharon: In order to develop “care abouts,” we read interviews with C-level executives and scour quarterly conference call reports, looking for what – in their own words – they care about. So it could be anything from international expansion to a cost-cutting initiative that involves a lot of IT investment.
“Care abouts” help you tailor your pitch. For example, you could send a personalized e-mail or note to your contacts saying, “I just read your company is doing XYZ. We’re having a speaker at this event talking about XYZ, and we’d love to have you attend. We’d also be happy to set up a one-to-one meeting with the speaker afterwards.”
WW: What questions are event planners asking you?
Sharon: Recently, a client asked which executives are doing something really interesting around the topic of big data. They were trying to come up with a list of potential speakers. Rather than reach out to existing customers, they wanted to proactively identify Fortune 500 leaders doing something really innovative.
So we mined our database and came up with the fact that one company recently hired a Chief Data Scientist. This is a new and emerging title, and demonstrated this company’s commitment to big data. That person was identified as a potential speaker.
Often in the event industry, someone speaks and does a decent job and may be asked to speak again. Or someone is out there promoting themselves as a speaker. The result is, you can run into the same speakers again and again, and the content becomes a bit stale.
Using our database, we can help clients come at content development from a different angle. Going back to the big data example, we identified who I call the “father of big data.” He came from an academic background and did early big-data work on loyalty programs in the mid-80s. Now he is the CEO of a casino which relies heavily on big data.
WW: What else would you like to add about event marketing?
Sharon: C-level people expect and respond to increasing levels of personalization. [tweet this] It’s hard to do with events, especially those that attract hundreds or thousands of people, but personalization can really enhance the experience.
For example, research shows the most common reason people come to events is networking. [tweet this] But even for outgoing people, it can be tough at events to start conversations. But if you can tell the audience a little bit about themselves in aggregate, it helps to break the ice.
I know Cindy at Wilsonwest uses this data to do seating charts, and I’ve seen her create an icebreaking game with it at a table. For example, she’ll let them know that everyone at this table has one thing in common, and they need to figure out what it is. This type of facilitated networking is big.
And from a content perspective, you can improve the event by knowing what the audience cares about. This goes back to knowing something about the individuals at your event, and using that data to drive the event itself.
WW: Thanks, Sharon!
For more information about Boardroom Insiders, download a free case study here.