How to Produce Can’t-Miss Executive Events
Banzai's Director of Customer Marketing, Corrine Stratton sat down with Argyle Forum’s Director of Marketing, Events, Sara Lopatin for a discussion on producing can’t-miss executive events. Argyle Forum hosts more than 200 live events each year offering attendees unparalleled networking and access to cutting edge best practices and innovative solutions.
Focused primarily on senior executives from Fortune 1000 companies, Argyle offers its members the chance to develop relationships, share insights, and identify solutions as they oversee transformations in their businesses. With two types of membership, Argyle brings together execs from companies with an annual revenue of $100M+ to meet and collaborate with tech company sponsors.
PART 1: Why executive-level events matter
Executives from Fortune 1000 companies are one of the hardest audiences to get time with. They don’t answer their phones, they get a ton of emails and they have very little attention to give. Executives are also the most valuable audience to get in front of because they’re the eventual decision makers.
Managers and other lower-level leadership positions generally have to go to the execs to get permission before making a decision or purchase, but at executive events you get to interact with the people at the top.
Events are also a great opportunity for you to educate the head honchos and showcase your product without having to deliver a sales pitch. Hosting an event gets you the direct attention of the most important people in the business.
PART 2: Event formats that work
Argyle Forum uses several formats for executive events and each has unique benefits.
Webinars typically last for 1 hour and can be joined from anywhere. This means execs don’t have to plan for travel and take extra time out of their day. Attendees can hear from amazing speakers on topics relevant to their work from the comfort of their desk!
A longer, more intimate format is a VIP dinner. These last about 3 hours and typically take place at high-end restaurants. With so many things vying for executive attention, a well-known, unique and classy venue can help drive registrations.
Some attendees may be on-the-fence about going, but they’re much more likely to attend if the venue has a pull of its own. The particular appeal of VIP dinners is the focus on networking over content. Executives want to meet people, make connections and discuss pain points and an exclusive dinner is often the best way to make that happen. As an added bonus, your team gets to be part of the networking!
Breakfast Think Tanks are another great way to get execs in a room collaborating. They should last about as long as a VIP dinner but with a different focus. Argyle’s Breakfast Think Tanks consist of breakfast (obviously) and panel presentation followed by roundtable discussions. The inherent set-up of the event provides ample opportunities for networking, but the focus is on content. Host a Breakfast Think Tank if you want to create an atmosphere where people can connect, share ideas and solve problems.
For a more content-focused event, try a full-day forum. Accompanied by dinner the night before, a breakout lunch, and a cocktail hour, attendees will feel like they’re at a networking event while they spend the day learning.
A full-day forum means not only travel time, but a day out of the office. If a high-level executive is willing to take time out of their busy schedule, they want to gain something actionable in return. Full-day forums are a great way to bring together networking and professional education.
The perfect combination of networking, learning and collaboration are two-day conferences. By providing dinner on day 1 of the conference, attendees stay in the conference mindset and make connections to further explore on day 2. Conferences offer great opportunities for sponsors to showcase their business and to host guests for dinner like their own mini-events. 2-day conferences are the only paid events Argyle hosts, allowing for a greater range of attendees, bringing in all kinds of professionals as opposed to solely tech execs.
PART 3: Event content to consider
The event you design, and the manner in which you present it should vary based on your attendee vertical and the event type. For example, your tone and method of delivery at an all-day forum should be much more direct and educational than it would be at a VIP dinner where a more fun and casual tone is appropriate.
This begins by defining your target audience. You need to know who they are, what they need and how you can help them.
Remember the importance of hosting quality speakers. Argyle puts on events for all kinds of verticals including marketing, finance, IT, security, HR, CX and more. For each event they bring in top tier membership speakers - subject matter experts in VP or C-Suite positions from companies making $100M - $1B/year. This level of speaker-expertise not only guarantees that the event will have worthwhile content, it actively helps bring in attendees. Consider the difference in appeal between one event hosting 3 IT managers as a panel speakers and another event hosting the VP of Boeing as keynote speaker. Executives will be much more interested in attending an event if you can advertise expert speakers from high level positions that share their same challenges.
PART 4: Messaging with an impact
The next step is designing your event content based on vertical and event type.
Argyle has found that who you’re speaking to determines a lot about how you should present it. Managers and Directors find value in presentations where they can take away concrete actionable insights. VPs and CXOs however find value in networking and exchanging ideas on how to fix their pain points.
Know what the event is about. If your attendees are there to network, don’t make them sit through presentation after presentation. If they’re there to learn, make sure they’re engaged directly. Execs go to these events to meet people and get ideas. Don’t let their attendance become passive. And remember, live events are a great place for sponsors to showcase their business without making a sales pitch.
Regarding marketing, remember that venue drives attendees. Focus on a unique location with something to offer. Argyle hosts their events at the nicest venues they can find in each city (check out the Banzai’s location guides). A nice venue will grab the attention of someone who may be passively reading the invitation and may be the determining factor for someone who is unsure about attending.
Executives are humans too and they want to be in the know and on the same page as their peers. Don’t underestimate the power of calling attention to “hot topics” and remember to play up who they’ll get to network with - capitalize on FOMO!
PART 5: Outreach channels
The final piece of the puzzle is deciding on outreach channels. Argyle has found that an omni-channel approach works the best for modern event marketing. When Sara joined Argyle Forum about 3 years ago they were doing strictly email outreach, but like every successful enterprise they’ve evolved with the market. Email is never going away and it’s important to put real time and effort into the outreach that will reliably bring in registrations.
Another avenue is paid social. Argyle uses LinkedIn because that’s where the execs are. LinkedIn is the modern business social media and it’s where executives turn for thought leadership and professional networking. While it is a paid option, doing outreach via LinkedIn guarantees your registrants will be qualified.
Argyle also used paid search like Google AdWords and Bing. Unlike LinkedIn, some unqualified leads will be collected but it’s worth casting the larger net - you never know what other event someone may be qualified for!
Organic Traffic sites like EventBrite and organic social like Twitter tend to yield similar results to paid search, bringing in registrants as well as some unqualified leads. However, paid search and organic traffic allow you to find leads who may not be qualified but may become qualified over time. For example, you may connect with someone who is a coordinator or a specialist and will one day become a manager or director. You may not have gained a qualified registration, but now you have that person on your radar.
A clever way to add to your outreach is to engage your speakers to advocate for the event. Something as simple as an email blast or a tweet from a highly acclaimed speaker could do wonders for your event attendance.
Finally, consider using a registration solution like Banzai to supplement outreach and help achieve goals for your professional regional events. Banzai has increased event attendance for Argyle Forum and has a consistently stellar show-rate. The major benefit of a registration solution like Banzai is knowing the attendees brought in will be qualified and will show up.