Reaching the C-Suite

Author: Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes       

“Buyer Relations Specialist.” It’s a title common among retail events like MAGIC, Outdoor Retailer, and SuperZoo. Their job is to identify buyers with purchasing authority and a significant open-to-buy budget, and then employ a personalized sales approach — vs. mass marketing — to invite them to their event.

Kimberly “KC” Coerr, mdg’s VIP program strategist, essentially takes on the same role for a variety of clients across a swath of industries, targeting prospective attendees in high-level roles. “Essentially,” Coerr said, “I am in charge of VIP marketing. These are often C-level executives, industry influencers, or other high-value prospects, and they often have gatekeepers who filter out unpersonalized communications, making them hard to reach.”

Many marketers spend time figuring out how to get around gatekeepers, but Coerr said she doesn’t focus on getting around them as much “getting through to them.” For example, for one client, she markets an event to C-level hospital and health-care executives. “When I’m speaking to their gatekeepers,” Coerr said, “I explain the event at a high level and do a little name-dropping so they know that their bosses’ peers are participating.” She then subtly underscores that if this opportunity to attend isn’t presented to their boss, they will likely be unhappy about missing out. “It’s important to figure out a strategy that will help you be successful when communicating with gatekeepers,” Coerr said, “rather than just trying to bypass them.”

Scaling Up
That kind of approach might seem like a lot of work for a niche audience, but Coerr has been able to scale her VIP outreach, specifically for an annual conference for U.S. News & World Report focusing on STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, and math) as pathways to jobs. “The content tries to incorporate topics and speakers that are locally based, but nationally relevant,” Coerr said. “With this understanding, I formed a regional ad hoc committee, inviting leaders from government, nonprofit, industry, and academia to participate. I worked with them to identify ways they could use the event to advance their own initiatives. Through face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and personal outreach, we found ways to align our collective missions. I helped make them feel invested in the event and then encouraged them to invite their professional networks to attend as their guests.”

The result was significant: the host committee referrals represented 52 percent of total attendance last year, leading to an overall 17-percent increase in attendance from the prior year.

Coerr said there are three things to remember when marketing to the C-suite. First, she said, make sure that the prospects you are targeting through these high-touch and labor-intensive methods are worth all of that effort. “Otherwise,” she said, “your marketing dollars are likely better spent on tech-driven or other mass-marketing tactics.”

Secondly, allow plenty of time to execute this kind of program. “If you can’t nurture your leads and really work the process,” she said, “your results will suffer.” The STEM event approach, for example, was successful because Coerr started having conversations with leaders at the same time the content for the event was being planned. This gave them a sense of being invested in the event, “rather than just asking them to promote a fully baked conference to their networks,” she said. “The ownership they felt in the finished product made all the difference.”

Finally, Coerr advises conference marketers not to leave the execution of this strategy to just anyone. “Too often,” Coerr said, “event organizers hire minimum-wage telemarketers to have conversations with VIP prospects. You need someone who knows the industry or who at least can speak to prospects at their level.”

Those conversations are critical, Coerr said. The value in having a two-way dialogue, she said, is that she ends up learning so much from the conversations she has — “about the psychographics of the audience, the kinds of messaging tactics that resonate, industry hot buttons, and more.”

To read more about how to keep that two-way dialogue going via email, click here.

Learn more about the 2018 U.S. News & World Report STEM Solutions conference at

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