Events haven’t gone anywhere—they’ve just changed a little.
And right now, a dedicated strategy for stirring up interest in your events is more critical than ever.
As marketing director for Pinnacle Global Network, Keith Cunningham knows how to market an event—virtual or otherwise.
Here’s Keith’s advice on how to put on a successful virtual event, plus what it takes to build strategic partnerships for a more rewarding community.
Keith Cunningham’s San Diego Start
Historically, Keith has collected more than two million paid event participants, primarily through two methods:
- Strategic partnerships
- Digital marketing.
Keith really knows his stuff in both of these departments, which gives him some serious expertise in virtual events.
Let’s just say he’s come a long way since his days as a club promoter marketing through MySpace and HTML email.
After 12 years running San Diego’s own VAVi Sport & Social, Keith figured out what it takes to put on big, bold events. His work on VaVi’s Electric Run, ROC Race and more all helped foster a community from a strong network—and some events even scaled across the United States.
“With that, we really learned how to market to the masses and connect communities in the process.”
Now, Keith is with Pinnacle, which is a high-level business coaching, mentorship, and mastermind organization. It was created by an entrepreneurial force named Allison Maslan, who has her own massive following and decades of experience.
Keith Cunningham: “You Need to Always Be a Forever Student in Marketing”
If there’s one thing we know about marketing best practices, it’s that they evolve with every passing hour.
If your business doesn’t keep up with the latest trends, it will fall behind. You’ll fail to reach your target audience and, ultimately, suffer a loss.
That’s why Keith keeps one thing in mind:
“You need to always be a forever student to the marketing game.”
If you don’t continue to learn, you’ll miss out on what everyone else is learning. That includes new social platforms, new ways of communicating, and new tools to help you achieve your goals.
For Keith, this perpetual state of learning is addictive.
“When you have some big success and you have that lightning in a bottle moment, it’s kind of addictive and you want to keep doing it. You want to drive more sales, more success.”
Keith first saw this success with VAVi, and it’s only expanded with his growth at Pinnacle. A committed team that steps on the gas makes marketing fun, and Keith is all about picking up speed.
Here’s What It Takes to Put On a Successful Virtual Event
Virtual events can be great for businesses. At Ignite Visibility, we do a quarterly webinar to keep our community engaged.
Since the start of the pandemic, virtual events have gone from convenient to necessary.
Pinnacle used to put on masterminds for high-earning CEOs in their city. For now, they’ve moved those in-person roundtables to the virtual landscape, and Keith says he’s seeing just as many (if not more) breakthroughs.
“The fact that we were still able to maintain our community with these virtual events in a very challenging world—that was a testament.”
According to Keith, putting on a virtual event can be just as tricky as a real live event. But if you do it right, you have even more opportunities to get conversions.
Here are a few of Keith’s key tips on how to market an event virtually:
- Find relevant talent. This is true both offline and online. Your talent for the event (speakers, comedians, what have you) still needs to be relevant to your target audience right now. With COVID-19 in mind, this might mean something different now than it did in 2019.
Keith says it’s actually easier now to find relevant talent. Because of changes with the pandemic, he’s seen more talent become available because they don’t need to fly or clear four days in their schedule just to access a single event.
- Use good technology. This is a really important point. For smaller events (less than 100 people), you can probably get away with a platform like Zoom. In fact, Zoom has some cool features that your guests can use (like being able to chat individually during an event). It’s usually reliable when you’re dealing with smaller groups of people.
As for larger events with attendance in the high hundreds or thousands, you may want to look into a custom platform. There’s nothing worse than hosting a massive event just to have it crash. You might have thousands of confused, upset attendees voicing their concerns on your public Facebook page before you know it (and Keith has seen this firsthand). A reliable production partner goes a long way.
- Have a backup plan. Keith says he always plans to have three speakers on at once, just in case someone’s internet goes out. This keeps the conversation flowing, even in times of stress.
“Technology may not be on your side, and there is nothing you can do about it sometimes so you just have to plan for the worst.”
- Build a 360-degree experience. People attend virtual events in their homes. Sometimes, they’re in their pajamas with their kids and dogs running around in the background rather than a conference hall.. Because of that, Keith recommends going above and beyond to build a holistic experience.
This might mean doing giveaways during live events to keep people coming back (or sharing future events with their friends). It might mean providing worksheets so guests can download blueprints to follow along in the conference. Or it might mean mailing guests a gift box ahead of time, including things they can use during the event (this just so happens to be a great opportunity for strategic brand partnerships—more on that later!).
- Build functionality into your custom platform. If you decide to take the custom platform route, consider building out useful functions.
Keith says Pinnacle offers a function for guests to leave testimonials on the dashboard at the end of each event so they can capture it for future marketing.
- Prioritize digital marketing. Pinnacle has a large email list, an impressive social media following, and a network that’s 10 years in the making. CEO Allison Maslan has a strong audience, too. Plus, the company tests out different ad platforms, from Google to YouTube. All this digital marketing helps activate their community and set the stage for successful events.
Keith says you need to grow your network before focusing on growing your events. Start small while simultaneously prioritizing your online community. He adds, “You can build the greatest event, but if you aren’t good at digital marketing, it’s going to be tough.”
Whatever your strategy, Keith wants people to know the true opportunity that virtual events hold. You get the chance to go into people’s homes, even if through a computer screen.
“Because of that, the barriers have been brought down with a larger net for marketing. That has the opportunity to have seriously increased conversions. Everybody wants to get in someone’s home and now you’re able to do it through virtual events.”
Keith Cunningham on How to Activate Strategic Partnerships
Strategic partnerships are kind of like sponsorships. You work with a brand that has something your audience needs, but you’re providing that brand with some sort of value, too.
These audience-based strategic partnerships are a great way to help build your events—plus, they’re a great opportunity for brands.
Keith says you should consider seven factors before approaching a brand:
- Consumer value (Where is the win going to be for the consumer?)
- Brand value (What’s in it for them? You need to have assets to sell against.)
- Relevance (Are they relevant to your audience?)
- Alignment (Are your values aligned?)
- Relationship (What’s your “in” with the brand?)
- Runway (Has the brand already planned marketing budgets for the next year?)
- Creativity (Come with creative ideas.)
You can see all this exemplified through a couple of Keith’s past strategic partnership wins.
One such partnership was Gatorade.
When Keith worked with VAVi, he activated multiple markets by handing out Gatorade’s new sports stick and protein bar. They also filmed on-site and published highlight reels by the end of the day, making sure to tag people who were in the shots.
Today, Keith’s work with Pinnacle is super smart. They have more than 200 high-earning CEO clients, and they cater to more than 2,000 CEO event attendees each year.
Early on, Keith recognized that Pinnacle’s audience is interested in getting financing so they can continue to invest and grow. That’s why Pinnacle partners with financial companies like banks and big credit cards. These brands can help provide their members with financing, which in turn helps everybody’s business grow. The brands might be part of Pinnacle’s livestreams, masterminds, podcast episodes, and more.
“All of the people we’re working with, they have payroll services and they’re all looking for new, creative ways to get in front of people.”
Keith Looks Ahead to the Future of Marketing
Back in October 2020, I talked about how YouTube may transition into an e-commerce platform. Keith talked about the wildness of this potential evolution, and noted that it’s the perfect opportunity for strategic partnerships, too.
“If you look at it as a partnership integration opportunity, I could have our CEO Allison Maslan speaking while wearing Kendra Scott jewelry doing a deal with her. She could be drinking Hint Water doing a deal with them.”
Virtual event builders have this potential integration opportunity to layer on top of all their other integrations. And since the pandemic, even more brands are looking for new digital opportunities.
Whatever the circumstance, you can trust that marketing will take a new form with each passing day.
Keith Cunningham reminds us that it’s crucial to stay on top of it—that is, if you want to know how to market an event the right way.