The following is an interview with Ken Shapiro, who along with his partner Tom Livaccari, have grown The Livaccari Shapiro Wealth Management Group at UBS through the judicious use of Marketing as Service. This interview focuses on their event series called Media & Technology CEO Summits which I’ve attended many times and always found useful. [This interview is also the basis of my upcoming post on FastCompany.com.]
DN: Tell me what you call your event series and how it came into being?
The program began when more than one client asked us during the 2008 downturn if it was better to fire employees before or after Thanksgiving. Having struggled with the question ourselves when we were entrepreneurs during the internet crash in 2000, we suggested that we facilitate a roundtable discussion on this topic with a few other CEOs facing the same dilemma. They found this so valuable that they suggested other CEOs that they thought could benefit from similar discussions in the future. As this grew to 50+ CEOs at an event, we decided calling it a roundtable was a misnomer so we renamed it the Media & Technology CEO Summit.
DN: Describe the basic structure of these events.
The CEO Summits consist of a networking breakfast and then an interactive panel discussion consisting of industry leaders such as those that built Gilt Group, DoubleClick, About.com, Take 2 Interactive, and, Omnicom, to name just a few examples.
DN: What were your original goals for this program?
Our primary goal was to provide a forum that would help our clients be more successful and to reinforce for them that we go far beyond the norm to help them achieve their goals.
DN: How did you decide on your niche and what distinct value are you trying to bring to your target?
In the 90s we were both entrepreneurs of internet and tech companies ourselves and saw that we had needs that wealth management professionals were not fulfilling in a way that was of value to us.
Principally, having much of our wealth tied up in the illiquid and risky stock of our own companies, we always wished we could find an advisor that would in essence partner with us to not only conservatively manage the money we had already made, but as importantly be an additional member of our extended team of core advisors to help us think through the myriad of issues we faced while trying to build and maximize the exit value of our companies. These included everything from sophisticated wealth planning, to having a sounding board to help us think through critical business and personal issues to selecting the right M & A advisor to ultimately help us sell our companies.
Because of our experience [as entrepreneurs] we realized that if this was a problem for us then it likely was for many others. We therefore narrowly focused our practice on entrepreneurs and executives building digital media, marketing and technology companies and architected and built every component of our practice to provide them the comprehensive advice that we were not able to find when we were in their shoes.
We were confident that our unique perspective and approach would enable us to be an uncommon partner to these individuals and enable us to provide such distinct and value-added advice that would separate us from our competitors.
DN: What do you think these events say about your practice?
These CEO Summits have been a great way for us to foster a sense of community amongst our clients and other leaders in these niches. Clients tell us that these Summits have helped them stimulate meaningful ideas, make valuable connections and in one case even initiate a conversation with a party that later acquired their company.
DN: Have you been able to meet prospects and ultimately gain new customers as a result of this program?
Because our clients derive so much value from our CEO Summits they often ask if they can invite CEO friends who would similarly benefit. This ends up being a great way for new prospective clients to be introduced to us and our way of thinking. Ultimately, people hire us because the trust us, like us and believe that having us by their side with our differentiated approach will help give them the highest probability to achieve their personal, family and professional goals.
These events are an excellent way for us to provide prospects a window into the way that we interact with clients, put their needs first and help them with a wide array of issues that are not commonly addressed by others in our field. From these events prospects often begin a dialogue with us, as their situation dictates, regarding whichever matter is most pressing to them and over time this often leads to them becoming a client as they gain comfort with us and our thought process.
DN: How do track down your speakers and persuade them to come?
Speakers include clients, friends and other notable industry leaders. Because our attendees are amongst the most important and dynamic leaders in their niches, we find that speakers welcome the opportunity to participate and engage in a dialogue with them.
DN: How hard is it to get your target to show up to these events? Does it beat cold calling?
Because the content and the other participants in these events are so relevant to our clients’ and prospects’ lives we find they are eager to join us. This leads to these events being excellent icebreakers which enable people to experience first-hand our consultative and value-added approach.
DN: Seems like these events must be time consuming to put together, especially when you consider all the pre/post event follow up you do. Is it worth the trouble? And if so, why?
Though these events take a tremendous amount of time and effort to organize and run, we feel they differentiate us substantially from others and are well worth the effort.
DN: How have you been able to keep the hard-sell out of these programs?
We begin each day thinking about how we can be most helpful to those with whom we interact. Because of our problem-solving mentality we never think in terms of sales cycles. We know that as long as we put our clients’ needs first then over time they become our best sales force as they share with their friends the positive experience they have had.