In an exclusive Convene roundtable, four corporate event marketing professionals talk about what they do, how it's different from meeting planning — and what every meeting professional can learn from it.
Sara Leeder originally worked in third-party event management. Wendy Baker's first job was with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Patricia Garner has been with her company for more than 17 years, but started out in sales. And Liz Lathan, CMP, leveraged a journalism degree into a position in marketing communications.
None of the members of the Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA) who participated in our roundtable conversation about their profession jumped right into the field. But at some point they were all driven by a desire to be a part of something bigger. Not just events, and not just marketing. Event marketing. A seat at the table. A hand on the wheel. Creating live programs that are an integral part of their company's mission — its brand, its culture, its sales goals.
“We're charged with demand-generation tactics and collaboration with the rest of the marketing teams and sales teams,” said Lathan, director of event marketing for Dell and president of the CEMA Board of Directors, “and then on the strategic front, consulting on the right presence that the company should have at a particular show, and sometimes even recommending shows for consideration if the business isn't aware of them and we may have heard about them from an event side.”
Sound like a big job? It is. And Lathan and three of her colleagues had plenty to say about it — including a number of takeaways that can be applied to every meeting and event.
What exactly is corporate event marketing?
WENDY BAKER: I would define it as marketing through industry, proprietary, and thought-leadership events. Our goal is to provide opportunities for our sales teams and executives to connect with our customers and partners and then, in turn, provide the best possible event experience for our customer and partners.
LIZ LATHAN: Part of corporate event marketing is, of course, the tactics of meeting planning and logistics execution on the full portfolio of marketing tactics that happen to be face-to-face. It ranges from executive programs to trade-show booths to branded events like road shows and user conferences. But in addition to just the execution, we're charged with demand-generation tactics and collaboration with the rest of the marketing teams and sales teams, and then on the strategic front, consulting on the right presence that the company should have at a particular show, and sometimes even recommending shows for consideration if the business isn't aware of them and we may have heard about them from an event side.
What is the scope of your job?
SARA LEEDER: I oversee any of our large corporate sales events that take place. So that is, for instance, our annual sales meeting, partner meetings, anything on that end.
LL: I lead the third-party event team, so we manage all of Dell's programs at our third-party trade-show events, the industry events, and the like. But then I also manage Dell World, which is our global user conference, about six-thousand attendees so far, and that has a number of ancillary activities, an executive piece, advisory councils, etc. I also have a finance team that works in coordination with all of the business units and our internal marketing teams in trying to help find savings and leverage cost efficiencies while executing all of these events. I have a colleague that manages our executive programs and our conference programs, and then another that manages our content — from our large events we create content kits that can be used globally for all of the smaller-event execution — and then I have colleagues in Europe and Asia. Amongst us all, we're executing our 750 to 1,000 events.
PATRICIA GARNER: I'm part of the marketing organization. My team has responsibility for global events, which are the UC [Users Conference] we have in San Francisco in March or April. We have a media UC event in fall, and that moves around Europe. And then we have a global technical event that would stand alone at the end of November that's now being merged in with the UC, and that's going to change effective 2015. My team also has responsibility for the sales-kick-off meeting and a couple other internal events. And then the events people in our theaters — we have four theaters around the world that have dotted-line responsibility to me to maintain consistency in our other events around the world; so, trade shows, regional seminars that we conduct, any kind of presence we have out there in marketing.
WB: I work in event marketing communications, and our team came from the fact that there were so many events going on and the marcoms [marketing and communications professionals] that would support launches and campaigns and other things were then tasked with also working on all these events. My team kind of formed from there, just because of a need. I was in marcom.
That's how I fell in love with events. It's really nice to have a beginning and an end, and I think it's just fun and it's exciting and there's a lot of buildup. There's a lot of constant learning. Event-marketing communications, we pair up with what would be Liz's team, so there are program managers that manage the events and do a lot of the more planning side of the booth itself and the logistics around the event. My team, we create the event strategy to find the target audience. The goal is to create the customer journey and then, in turn, create the marketing-communication plan for the event. That's both internal and external. We work very closely with the event-marketing program managers, we work with the business units, we work with the executive teams — kind of all hands on deck in providing communications externally to our customers and partners around the event that we're doing there as well as providing communications to our field, so they're very well aware of, we're going to be at this event, this is what we're doing here, here are all of the customer and partner opportunities for you.
How did you end up working in corporate event marketing?
PG: I did not take a traditional path at all. I started working for OSIsoft 17-and-a-half years ago in sales, in a territory in the western U.S. And then I went from sales to OEMs [original equipment manufacturer relationships] and strategic alliances. Then I was responsible for a team called channel sales, and in conjunction with that responsibility, I got involved with our events, because we had partners participating [in the events] and I didn't think we handled them very well.
I was part of the team working on an event in 2007, and had gotten very much engaged and started to do more [in terms of] defining what the partner expo was going to be like and how long it was going to last and making some changes in how the booths were put together. The VP of marketing resigned during the event, and I ended up being the senior employee on the team. A lot of very creative, very good young people who were responsible for it needed somebody to answer questions, so I got much more involved in that event — kind of under fire.
Right after that event, we had one happening in Europe and I had a very good working relationship with the general manager for Europe. At that time our European office was not wholly owned by OSIsoft, so their participation in the users conference — they had a lot of discussion. We didn't control it, so they had to want us to do it. [OSIsoft was] very concerned about doing a UC without a VP of marketing managing it, so they agreed that if I would take responsibility for it — since they already worked with me with OEMs, and I had a reputation with them — that they would go forward with the event. So I was very involved in [an event] we had in Amsterdam. While that one