We’ve weighed in extensively on this blog about the value of full-services PR/communications, how the industry has rapidly shifted to meet the evolving demands of the digital age. With our expertise in marketing campaigns, social media and content marketing generation, we pride ourselves on effectively serving the interests of clients through a wide variety of forms – blogs, white papers, trade-press executive bylines, case studies, podcasts, Webinars, speaking opportunities, press interviews and more – to establish competitive distinction for these clients and promote their key executives as Thought Leaders.
Given this, here’s another format we like that’s gaining traction: the roundtable discussion.
This “discussion” may refer to an online meeting of the minds, or the various “Meet the Press” and other events we’ve helped organize with the Northern Virginia Technology Council. To best benefit clients, however, we’ve conducted many roundtables with high-profile media outlets to engage their readers/users with a thoughtful exchange. Most recently, we’ve assisted in arranging these for Network World and Search Security.
The primary goal here is to position the client at the forefront of a driving, industry topic. Not to sell a product or service. But to showcase that client as a respected authority on issues that matter, exchanging views with other Thought Leaders. We’ll arrange for vendors, analysts and customers/end users to take part, so a complete picture is presented. During the session, participants may convey contrasting perspectives and that’s more than fine. This will still advance the conversation and help readers better understand the challenges they’re facing. And, of course, shed light on how the client can address these challenges.
Assembling this kind of panel and making it work involves much planning and foresight. Here’s what I’ve found are essential steps to take:
Seek to educate. Every participant is going to have an agenda. That’s completely understandable. But you will fail to engage readers/users if you allow individual agendas to take over the event. Make sure all parties are on board with the priorities: Educate first. Promote second. That goes for the clients too.
Align all interests and experiences. The vetting of participants to verify that their backgrounds are a good match remains key. They can’t come to the table with the intention of discussing completely disconnected topic points. As you evaluate candidates, review their LinkedIn bios. Read what they’ve put out there in blogs, industry-press byliners, conference presentations, white papers or even Tweets. Before “locking in” on your first choices, inquire with them directly about the ground they’d like to cover, and get a clear sense of how much they’d have to offer.
Practice makes perfect. It’s not only allowable, but recommended, to conduct a practice session with the client, along with other participants if they’re available to do so. Think of all the questions that a moderator could ask, so there are no surprises during the “real thing.” Help them refine answers, but not to the point where they sound stilted and/or “over rehearsed.”
As with the many other communications/content projects we take on here at our high-tech PR firm, the roundtable presents a win-win opportunity – for the media outlet, the reader and the participants. But any success will vastly depend upon the work you put into it upfront. Then, by the time the event takes place, you’ll have helped create what everyone seeks: an enjoyable, informative conversation featuring smart people who are more than happy to share their wisdom and educate the audience.
Tony Welz is principal and co-founder of W2 Communications.