Although agencies use thought-leadership events to promote clients, they're also finding that sponsoring these forums can yield high dividends for the firm.
"We do a variety of small events where the objective is to create awareness around a particular subject matter, and for Text 100," says Aedhmar Hynes, CEO of Text 100 Public Relations. "It's a great platform to meet and directly interact with clients."
The agency's most recent seminar was on new-media strategies, where they invited Chris Barger, chief blogging officer of Text 100 client IBM, and Joe Trippi, political internet strategist, for a discussion.
"These events are also about education," says Hynes. "They're about bringing together leading thinkers on a particular subject matter, geography, or industry."
He adds that the events also serve to educate Text 100.
"One of the [other] reasons we do it is to make sure what we're thinking [about how issues] resonate," Hynes says, adding that doing otherwise would be like "taking a product to market without beta testing."
Edelman, another agency hot on the small-events circuit, has also been promoting its new-media research.
"Our goal has been to convene panels that can opine on that data, providing [context]," says Derek Creevey, Edelman chief of staff.
He stresses the importance of framing the forum as a learning experience, rather than a chance to reaffirm relationships with existing clients or foster new ones with potential clients.
"If you're going to take an hour out of a senior executive's day, it needs to add value," Creevey said. "No one is coming to hear a pitch; they already know about Edelman. They're coming to participate, be involved, and learn."
Yet Creevey notes that the events do help buoy the overall perception of firms in clients' minds.
Edelman, which released results from its Trust Barometer survey two weeks ago, is planning to have over 30 local events around the globe regarding its findings.
"What we do builds the pie for PR," Creevey says. "The more we can share and move the discussion forward, the bigger the PR market will be."
While roundtables may require a small audience in order to best facilitate a focused and robust debate, today's technology allows others to easily access the results of the discussion.
Text 100 is in the process of creating podcasts of its events, in order to share the discussion with the overall marketing community.
Blogging isn't the only hot topic for these forums. Mike Swenson, president of Barkley Evergreen & Partners, notes that the agency is discussing cause marketing at similar events.
He also describes the forums as a way to increase involvement within the agency.
"We have people in our group that listen in on seminars," Swenson says. "We find it's a
great way for our people to learn and be exposed to what others are doing."
When space is limited, Swenson notes that you need to make a list of potential attendees who are going to be good for the agency's business.
"If you're on the agency side, [you're looking for] current and potential clients," Swenson said. In addition, "anyone who will educate you in a way that makes your team smarter" is also a good fit.
Keep an audience small in order to facilitate a focused discussion
Try to make the take-away points and/or audio and video available to the public at large
Let the quality of panelists speak to your firm's work; don't make it a pitch session