"It is very important for us to be top of mind and in front of these executives," said Steve Pacheco, director of advertising at FedEx Corp., which uses a mix of TV, print, online and sports sponsorships to reach C-level decision-makers. "We are watching very closely the media consumption habits of the C-suite. We think they are changing, and more of them are going online and relying on nontraditional forms of media."
However, he added, "Traditional media also continue to be very important. C-level executives are still watching their favorite shows, including a lot of sports."
Therefore, sports sponsorships continue to be an important component of FedEx's marketing strategy to reach C-level executives. The company is an official sponsor of the NFL, sponsors a NASCAR race team, and this year sponsored a new PGA Tour event, the FedEx Cup.
"The FedEx Cup was very successful in helping us with outreach to what is typically a very hard-to-reach target audience," Pacheco said.
FedEx has also launched several online programs to reach C-level executives, including a new Web site at www.fedexstories.com, showing how FedEx goes above and beyond the call of duty to serve customers.
Other marketers say a mix of online and offline vehicles is proving to be most successful in reaching C-level executives.
"The conventional wisdom a few years ago was that C-level executives wouldn't be browsing the Web that much," said David Webster, general manager-brand and marketing strategy group at Microsoft Corp. "We don't believe that today."
However, he said, while more C-level executives are going online, "It's very unlikely a CXO-level exec is going to download a trial version [of software]."
Therefore, Microsoft shows how its products and services can address business problems and issues that are relevant to top-level decision-makers.
"We orient our communications so they are relevant to the C-suite," Webster said. "We don't make use of jargon, and we pitch our dialogue at the outcome level."
For example, Microsoft's "People Ready Business" campaign, which was introduced last year, uses TV, print and online to show how people are able to get their jobs done better using Microsoft products.
"We want to be able to tell these stories in a way that gets [business decision-makers'] heads nodding," Webster said. "Then, when the field force goes calling, they are more likely to be successful."
Agency executives agreed that while C-level execs are beginning to use more technology to access information, they still rely on traditional media.
"What we are seeing is that there is a migration to technology in terms of media use," said Carl Anderson, CEO of Doremus, New York, pointing to a research study the agency conducted with the Financial Times on the media habits of more than 600 senior executives (see story, page 38).
Appreciation of print
"While there is a migration to technology, there is still a real appreciation for the value of print in terms of in-depth analysis," Anderson said. "Recognizing how the C-suite is still traditional in many ways, we look to use traditional media in nontraditional ways, creating arresting and unique media units in business publications."
For example, Doremus created a cover wrap for client Russell Investment Group for the premiere issue of Conde Nast Portfolio aimed at C-level executives.
It also created an insert for client Sandler O'Neill+Partners, with a pocket containing the business card of Senior Managing Principal James Dunne III below the headline "The Power of Plus." "The ad is 3-D, it is informative and it provides a device you can take action on," Anderson said.
Courtney Buechert, president of San Francisco marketing agency Eleven and former exec VP-general manager at McCann Erickson San Francisco, said he's noticed a shift in how clients are marketing to the C-suite.
"Years ago, C-level executives were perceived to be impenetrable by marketing," he said. "People did not use to go after them as aggressively as they do now."
One of the most effective ways to reach C-level executives, he said, is to treat them as individuals, not as job titles.
"When C-level executives are in the business environment, they have their guard up, and it's very difficult to get in to them," Buechert said. "If you treat them as people, you can reach them in other environments, such as sponsorships of sports events and other topics that interest them."
Another marketing strategy is leveraging the strong peer networks that often exist among C-level executives.
"There is a connectivity of shared experiences among C-level executives," Buechert said. "If a CFO is facing a distribution problem in Asia, he may call a fellow CFO who may have faced that before."
Marketers can capitalize on this by using online communities and other networking opportunities to facilitate a sharing of experiences, he said.
Jeff Winsper, president of Boston-based b-to-b marketing agency Winsper, said one strategy to reach C-level executives is through virtual events.
Virtual events an option
The agency created a virtual event for client Cognos, a performance management software company, targeting CFOs, controllers and other C-level executives. "Historically, Cognos liked to conduct face-to-face events, but getting the C-suite audience to take the time to go to events is sometimes challenging," Winsper said.
So Winsper helped create a virtual finance forum aimed at C-level executives in about a dozen vertical industries. The virtual event included presentations and allowed attendees to interact online.
"It's just like interacting with the brand at a real event," Winsper said.
Other effective ways to reach busy C-level executives online include targeted e-mail, newsletters, webcasts, thought-leadership forums and information-rich Web sites.
"Fifty percent of C-suite executives research the competition and industry trends as a core part of their daily routine," said Dani Nadel, exec VP-managing director at Publicis Modem East, New York, pointing to agency research on the media habits of C-level executives.
The research found that the majority of CXOs start their day online, accessing preferred sites and online information sources for industry news.
"In the consulting services area [one of Publicis Modem's client areas], one of the most important things we've found is that the best way to target the C-suite is with proof," Nadel said. "That means the content must be relevant, engaging and, in a lot of cases, focusing in on the industry sector."
Publicis Modem has worked with clients to develop thought leadership content that can be packaged and distributed across multiple online sources, including partner Web sites, e-mail, newsletters and online communities.