"I've been working with S3 for years. They have a solid bench of speakers and always think creatively."
- Deputy Director of Programming, Conferences, Wall Street Journal
Resourceful Speaking Programs Are Key to Integrated Communications Success
Publisher: BMA - Business Marketing Association
Author: Jeanne Tee and Lori Zetlin
For communications executives battling the high volume of news releases and product launches each day, putting in place a targeted speakers bureau program may seem like a secondary priority or a “nice-to-have” component of their corporate communications program. Some companies think they can’t afford the time and resources to put a dedicated speakers bureau program in place – especially if they can’t guarantee its success. Others are scared off by the high cost of conference sponsorships and the “pay-to-play” system, which makes coveted speaking slots available only to companies willing to spend large sums of money.
While the potential barriers to establishing a successful speakers bureau are certainly valid, the good news is they can (dare we say, easily) be overcome and provide huge value to communications programs across the board – from brand building and executive visibility to thought leadership and media/analyst relations.
Benefits…And More Benefits
First let’s look at the benefits of a speaking engagement. One speech can reach an enormously valuable audience of clients, prospects, employees, media, business partners, analysts, and shareholders. It is a captive audience that is willing and eager to hear what your company has to say –a coveted situation that is difficult to attain through other communication and marketing vehicles. To this valuable audience, your company is positioned as an industry visionary and your executive speaker as a credible thought leader (even more so if you are not a conference sponsor).
But by “valuable audience,” we don’t just mean the conference attendees who hear your speech first-hand. We also mean the audiences you reach beyond the confines of the convention center when you leverage a conference appearance and speech to its fullest potential. By publicizing the speaking engagement to non-conference audiences, repurposing speech content to create new marketing and communications vehicles, and leveraging executive travel schedules to reach important constituents in person, your company expands the reach and impact of one speaking engagement by multitudes.
And you enjoy all these benefits for much less time and money than it would cost you to sponsor – or even exhibit at a leading conference.
Getting Started: Focus on the Fundamentals
This all sounds great on paper, but how can you ensure a communications success story for your own company’s speakers bureau program?
The first step is to ensure that the basics are in place. Your initial focus should be on targeting the right conferences, building relationships with conference organizers, and cultivating strong speakers and speech topics from within your company. Spend time meeting with and talking to the people who manage and select the speakers for your target conferences; don’t just rely on email. Join the planning and advisory boards of some of the key conferences for your industry. Your efforts will help you understand what organizers need to deliver a successful conference and hone your pitches and abstracts accordingly. They’ll also help you create a pipeline of future speaking opportunities (without the ususal legwork) as your conference contacts come to you with requests for speakers.
Strong relationships with the executives and subject matter experts that will serve as your speakers are also important. Make sure they are properly trained to deliver compelling and objective speeches that address the key trends and issues in your industry. You need speakers who will be thought leaders, not salesmen, at the podium.
Once you’ve conquered these fundamentals, you can begin planning and pursuing integrated communications activities around the speaking engagements.
Public Relations Bonanza
Speaking engagements deliver a great deal of bang for your marketing and PR buck. One of the most effective tactics is to issue a press release with the news of your upcoming speaking engagement. This is a quick and easy way to reinforce your brand and promote the accomplishments of your executive team and subject matter experts. By including insight on the speech topic in your press release, you also advance your thought leadership agenda with key members of the press and analyst communities.
Prior to a speaking engagement, contact press and analysts who are planning to attend the conference. In addition to inviting them to your speaking session, arrange one-on-one meetings with them at the conference. These in-person meetings help establish and strengthen relationships with your most important press and analyst contacts. They also help you generate media coverage – especially if you are using your speech to unveil a new concept, product/service offering, or client success story. And conference meetings are much less expensive and time-consuming than press and analyst tours.
One Speech = Unlimited Possibilities
Developing a compelling speech takes time and effort, but the opportunities to use the speech as a broad communications vehicle are bountiful. There are many ways to repurpose the speech and messaging for a variety of internal and external audiences. Consider the following:
All these efforts not only enhance the success of your internal and external communications programs, but also play a critical role in building and communicating uniform messaging to a varied audience.
Location, Location, Location
Leveraging the conference location is one the most important and beneficial things you can do to make sure you are getting the most mileage from your speaking engagements. We hear from clients all the time about the people they meet, the exposure they get, even the deals they close as a result of a conference speaking engagement. Use the conference environment to your advantage. Be sure to attend all the networking events that the conference sponsors – consider sponsoring a small one of your own for clients and key influencers such as press and analysts. Invite locally based clients and prospects to attend your speech.
Beyond the boundaries of the convention center, leverage executive travel schedules to conduct client meetings, branch office visits, and employee recruiting activities in the area. All these measures will ensure your company and your brand get the maximum exposure possible from each speaking engagement.
In an increasingly crowded marketplace, a resourceful speakers bureau program can make your company standout. By taking advantage of the complimentary marketing, communications, and relationship-building opportunities that speaking engagements present, you can reach the right audiences with the right messages – for less time, money, and effort than you think.