Wanted: Better Conference ROI - New Study Shows 44% of Communications Professionals Have No Process for Placing Senior Executives at Conferences

- C-Suite Conferences Held Steady Despite Economic Crisis -

- Twitter Most Effective but Under-Utilized External Communications and Engagement Resource by Senior Executives -

Jun 16, 2010, 08:45 ET from Weber Shandwick

NEW YORK, June 16 /PRNewswire/ -- Senior executive participation at business leadership conferences has held steady or grown since the start of the global economic crisis, according to nearly three-quarters (73%) of external communications professionals surveyed online by global public relations firm Weber Shandwick and executive communications journal Vital Speeches of the Day. Driving this rise in executive visibility are CEOs themselves, who consider speaking engagements prime channels for communicating thought leadership platforms (61%), attracting new business and cultivating customer relationships (58%), and defining or redefining brands (52%). Despite the growing demand for, and strategic value of, elite conference placement, 44% of professionals responsible for making these important placement decisions have no formal process for identifying the optimal placements.

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20100616/NY21474-a )

(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20100616/NY21474-a )

The online study, "From Guessing to Planning: Placing C-Suite Executives in the Most Strategic Forums," examines how executive communications professionals evaluate the leadership forum landscape, stay ahead of trends in thought leadership, and ensure they put their executives in front of the best audiences with the right messages.  Several dozen corporate communications executives and executive speechwriters from North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East were polled during April 2010.

"As the economy slowly recovers and companies reposition themselves for growth, executives are increasingly looking to engage more publically with key constituencies and industry peers," said David Murray, editor of Vital Speeches. "Communications professionals who support C-suite executives are under a lot of pressure to identify the best forums and get their chiefs placed strategically and successfully."

CEOs Have High Expectations for Elite Events

Weber Shandwick and Vital Speeches asked communications professionals and executive speechwriters which types of business leadership conferences their CEOs are most interested in speaking at today.  The top three are (in rank order): top-tier business media events (44%), public policy conferences (41%), and business school gatherings (31%).  Jennifer Risi, executive vice president of Weber Shandwick's Global Strategic Media Group and leader of the VOICEBOXX™ suite of services that identify and position high-level executives at conferences and forums, says: "Essentially, this new data validates what we've been saying to our clients. While financial media continues to be the preferred outlet for enhancing corporate reputation by executives, the strategic use of high-level speaking opportunities is steadily becoming a close second. As engagement with external audiences grows in importance, companies need to marshal their resources and navigate the complex landscape of leadership events to secure senior management visibility and positioning."

The survey also asked respondents to identify the one event they believe generates the most positive word-of-mouth in the global business community. The leading conference, by a wide margin, is the World Economic Forum in Davos, identified by 44% of communications professionals as the most buzz-worthy event.

Placement is Art, Not Science

With substantial risk for making a bad recommendation about an appropriate executive conference, communications pros depend upon various resources to confirm their suggestions. In fact, half (50%) use two or more means to guide decisions. Ultimately, however, these professionals admit that they need to do their own research including networking, monitoring event Web sites, conducting media searches, leveraging agency expertise, and "cold-calling" conference organizations for their schedules.

Despite acknowledging that it is the job of executive communications professionals and executive speechwriters to identify the best venues for their executives, a large 44% report that they have no related processes in place.  Of the remaining 56% who say they have a process, confidence in their system is evenly split -- exactly half are confident and half are not.  Clearly, the executive conference marketplace could use better metrics and insights to assure that executives are using their time well.

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20100616/NY21474-b )

(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20100616/NY21474-b )

Communicators should follow a four-step process to conference selection: 1) audit where their own company and competitors are speaking; 2) rate conferences on performance criteria (overall reputation, audience composition, past speakers, topic affinity, media opportunities); 3) score conferences on clearly defined strategic criteria (Will new or current clients will be present? Will business and positioning will be advanced?); and 4) assess whether conference opportunities are extendable to other audiences and third-parties.

C-Suite Tweeting Under-Leveraged

In addition to business leadership conferences, the survey addressed the use and effectiveness of online communications for conveying C-suite messages to external audiences. The results show that online channels are not being used today as effectively as they could.

  • The tool most widely used to communicate externally by the C-suite is posting written messages on the company web site (66%). Despite its widespread usage, executive communications professionals do not regard C-level web statements to be among the three most effective ways to communicate externally. Instead, the #1 most effective channel, according to respondents, is recorded video on the Web site, followed by live webcasts and blogs.
  • Among the social networking tools, Twitter is considered more effective (25%) than Facebook (19%) and LinkedIn (16%) for external C-suite communications. Yet Twitter is woefully under-utilized. It is reported by only 6% as a means that the C-suite uses to communicate now with external audiences.

Online channels…

Used by C-suite for

Rated as effective
(rated 4 or 5 on 5-
point scale)

Written message posted on your company's web site


36% (#4)

Recorded video posted on your company's web site


55% (#1)

Live webcast over your company's web site


42% (#2)



42% (#2)



32% (#5)



19% (#7)



16% (#8)



25% (#6)

None/Don't know



Weber Shandwick's chief reputation strategist and executive communications expert Leslie Gaines-Ross remarked, "Video is a preferred communications channel today because of its ability to viscerally humanize executives. Twitter has also has the added advantage of being immediate and customer-centric. We expect that these online channels of executive communications will grow over time as executives recognize how they complement, not replace, traditional means of communications."

For a copy of the executive summary, please go to http://tinyurl.com/23z54r9.

About the Research

"From Guessing to Planning: Placing C-Suite Executives in the Most Strategic Forums" polled several dozen corporate communications executives and executive speechwriters from North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East during April 2010. Due to the small sample size, these results must be considered anecdotal rather than empirical.

About Weber Shandwick

Weber Shandwick is a leading global public relations agency with offices in 76 countries around the world. The firm's success is built on its deep commitment to client service, our people, creativity, collaboration and harnessing the power of Advocates - engaging stakeholders in new and creative ways to build brands and reputation. Weber Shandwick provides strategy and execution across practices such as consumer marketing, healthcare, technology, public affairs, financial services, corporate and crisis management. Its specialized services include digital/social media, advocacy advertising, market research, and corporate responsibility. In 2010, Weber Shandwick was named Global Agency of the Year by The Holmes Report for the second year in a row; an 'Agency of the Decade' by Advertising Age, Large PR Agency of the Year by Bulldog Reporter, and Top Corporate Responsibility Advisory Firm by CR Magazine. The firm has also won numerous 'best place to work' awards around the world including "Best Multinational Firm to Work For in EMEA" by The Holmes Report and a "Top Place to Work in PR" by PR News. Weber Shandwick is part of the Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG). For more information, visit http://www.webershandwick.com

About Vital Speeches of the Day

For 75 years, Vital Speeches has collected the best and most important speeches in the world in a monthly magazine. Its website, www.vsotd.com is the center of news, tips, conversation and training for the executive communication professionals and speechwriters around the world. And Vital Speeches sponsors the annual Cicero Speechwriting Awards for excellence in the composition of oral communication.

Jennifer Norton

David Murray

Weber Shandwick

Vital Speeches of the Day





SOURCE Weber Shandwick