No one audience is more sought after for business events than the c-suite. Aside from the prestige of their attendance, the c-suite are the ultimate decision makers within an organization. Yet, while this group of executives are the most desired by marketers, they are also the most difficult group to attract. Their schedules are usually booked for months in advance and most won’t take time from their office and customer-facing obligations – unless they’re convinced that attending an event will provide them with significant value.
Roanne Neuwirth of Chief Content Officer magazine recommends focusing on three core elements to attract C-suite attendance and participation at an in-person or virtual event (we call them the 3 C’s – Content, Co-Creation, and Connection):
The agenda for an event must be tailored specifically to appeal to a c-suite audience. Some considerations:
- Include content that provides intriguing, surprising or useful ideas that address their most pressing business challenges.
- Provide unique and unconventional solutions that focus on outcomes and impact rather than benefits and features.
- Don’t give C-suite a sales pitch at an event. Instead, focus content on two or three ways they can create value now. When these ideas are shared in a story (e.g. a case study), they are more impactful.
This is the most effective method for creating a compelling executive event. By collaborating with high-value participants, you can create the type of agenda, content, and focus that attracts key speakers and other experts that can successfully lure an executive audience. Also, by contributing to your program, they share a sense of co-ownership that they will most likely promote and advocate for among their peers.
Connecting with C-suite peers and other experts lends credibility and relevance to a C-suite audience. Remember that executives tend to seek out and value insights from those they consider to be among their peer group.
In addition to enlisting presenters who are considered external experts that a c-suite audience will identify with as thought-provoking and inspirational, engage your own executive clients as presenters as well.
These elements are considered requisite for attracting C-suite executives to your event. But they may not be enough. If you don’t have a connection to your target executives, you may need to use some kind of hook or context. Neuwirth recommends the following for shaping plans and boosting attendance:
- Understand your target – What is the purpose for convening particular members of the C-suite? Do you know what issues they care most about? Do you have credible and fresh knowledge to share with them? Post-event, can your sales and marketing teams continue to maintain a relationship with them? Is the conversation sustainable? What is your value proposition? If your answers to many of the above questions are unclear, Neuwirth suggests reconsidering your target. For example, deputies of the C-suite or peers responsible for marketing technology may have more interest in your message and are better suited to engaging in a valuable dialogue.
- Connect to a core peer group – Once you have established the relevance of your event to a C-suite audience, Neuwirth recommends creating a steering committee of peer executives to serve as advisors on the program. You also can leverage a customer advisory board or council comprised of those peers to help in creating a compelling event agenda. “Obtaining early input and guidance is critical to turning would-be attendees into co-creators and peer evangelists,” says Neuwirth.
- Leverage your own organization’s C-suite – An effective tool for drawing other C-suite in and building credibility among them is to enlist your organization’s C-suite in hosting a peer conversation. Also, commitment from your senior leadership team “reinforces your focus on value-added exchange.”
- Start small – For those with limited or no experience in coordinating C-suite –targeted functions, start small by hosting small dinners or forums. Executives tend to value the environment these types of small events generate because they lend well to the exchange of ideas and the ability to network. For larger events, consider creating a special executive track or pre-event forum.
- Engagement trumps attendance – Focusing more on filling seats, or events that are more sales-focused, tactical and less focused on a broader, more strategic exchange of ideas rather than creating purposeful dialogue will make it difficult for you to attract these attendees a second time around.
The C-suite will likely only be interested in events and activities that provide them with real value. When you consider the cache and prestige they can lend to an event and eventually, your overall business goals, isn’t it worth the time and effort to create an event that is focused on the value you can offer them?