As a PR professional, there are a variety of ways you can deliver value to clients or executives at the company you work for. One thing that everybody seems to be after these days is speaking opportunities. Being up on stage with your headshot behind you in front of rows of engaged professionals can be a thrilling and validating experience for executives. Also, there’s a certain in-the-moment celebrity factor being on stage provides that can lead to new business leads and a quick spike in social followings.
We all know the benefits of placing executives into speaking opportunities, but the tough part is actually making it happen. Like most things in PR, going through the initial steps in the process here does not always equate to success. In fact, your typical outreach efforts will most likely fail. So, what are some ways you can go about this to get the executive you want up on that stage?
What’s considered a win for your client as it relates to specific conferences? Is it a big conference like SXSW, or a smaller more intimate setting with industry peers? This conversation needs to happen as early as possible so you can save time for you and your team when identifying what can be a fit. The client might not need a list of 30 conferences when they only really want to be at five that matter to them. Pro tip: your team, should proactively SUGGEST a refined list and explain why those are the best fit, showing that you get the clients' business objectives.
Be early, be often
If you take just one thing away from this post, it’s that you can never be too early when it comes to planning or conducting outreach for conference speaking opportunities. You’ll need time to identify the right contacts at publications, follow up and do a couple more insider tricks that I’ll get to in a bit. Let’s say a conference is in October/November, you should start your outreach in the January/February timeframe. Additionally, keep checking in on the conference page for key updates and additional information. If the page isn’t updated from the previous year, you’ll want to make sure you’re one of the first to submit a speaker when the opportunity presents itself.
Dress the part
To get selected for a speaking opportunity at a large conference, or even a local Eventbrite-type opportunity, the executive you’re pitching needs to be credible. Aside from the great work they’ve done at the company, they need to be active on social channels and have a portfolio of media that shows they’re capable of speaking in front of large audiences. Don’t have any news coverage? Contributed pieces are a good start. When all else fails, start using the company blog to post articles and videos!
Advance the conversation
Depending on the conference, tickets can cost upwards of $3,000. When attendees are paying a premium, they want ROI. This means that the panels and speakers have to be able to deliver NEW information. It’s a chance for a relatively small group of people to get insights that they haven’t read or learned anywhere else. So, when reaching out to organizers, make sure that the insight you’re pitching from your executive is original expertise, something that essentially nobody else is doing. THIS above all else is what will get you the success you’re looking for. This is what gets noticed.
Try the side door
So, you’ve emailed the conference email address and…crickets. You need to figure out another way to get to the decision makers. Check on other conferences or events that outlet is hosting – are they happening soon? If yes, go. This will give you a chance to see how things are organized and who’s running the show. Introduce yourself to the organizers and let them know that you’re interested in their other events. Showing face and expressing genuine interest will beat an email every time. Even if the person you meet isn’t the perfect fit, they’ll likely know who is.
Throw a party
Gary Vaynerchuk has a great analogy for this effort. Let’s say you’re the new kid in school, how can you make friends? Well, you can host a party! This will put you on the radar and give you instant credibility – the same goes for conferences. If you have a panel discussion and it goes well, you can share that video with other conferences you’re looking to get in. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the event that becomes the hot ticket!
Be ready for success
If that glorious email hits your inbox and your executive is selected, make sure you’re prepared for what comes next. This should be treated like a media opportunity – make sure the executive is properly prepped and is comfortable on stage. Practice makes perfect here, but don’t over script. Trying to remember lines on the spot will not happen, so it’s best to just stick to broad message points. Also, live tweeting, taking a bunch of photos and helping the company network goes a long way as well.
Final thoughts – like anything else in PR, make sure you’re thinking creatively and advancing the conversation when it comes to conference outreach. Make relationships and know that planning for next year is always right around the corner for these organizers!
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