How to launch a community from nothing – podcast

on August 25, 2008

Episode five of the “Be the Voice” podcast stars Pete Krainik, who is the CEO and founder of “The CMO Club.”

The CMO Club

Summary (Pete Krainik):

  • The CMO Club filled a pent up demand for top level marketing executives that were looking for peers to lean on for advice.
  • The CMO Club’s brand has risen to be defined as “content for conversation, not content for presentation.”
  • Keeping CMOs interested means finding topics of discussion that cross industries.
  • Launching a grass roots organization requires touch, meaning face-to-face communications, not mass mailings.
  • Creating an organization means you’re going to have to take on the branding role of “the connector.”
  • Competition in a very green industry is good because it provides more editorial where there is none and raises the profile for the entire category.

Full article:

Pete Krainik is the CEO, CMO, and founder of “The CMO Club” an organization for only top level marketing professionals to engage in high level discussions and concerns that CMOs are going through (CMO stands for Chief Marketing Officer, not Chief Medical Officer which is what my father, the doctor, thought it stood for.)

Hey, want to join my exclusive club? Please?

Pete KrainikKrainik has been very fortunate to have worked in a variety of high-level marketing and executive positions at many organizations including M&M/Mars, Seybold, Avaya, and DoubleClick. The idea for The CMO Club came out of his own frustration not being able to meet any of his peers. He’d go out to dinners at events and he’d be the only CMO. There was never an opportunity for a peer discussion. Conversations would either be very basic marketing 101 or they’d be sponsored-driven pitches.

Two years ago Krainik gathered six CMO friends for a dinner just to have that high-level discussion he was so eagerly seeking. It turns out his frustration is shared by others. Over the past two years The CMO Club dinners have spread to twelve cities with dinners every other month. Krainik had his first conference in NYC with 60 CMOs (Krainik hired me to produced editorial content at the event), and this February he launched The CMO Club exclusive site that already has 735 registered and approved CMOs.

Krainik attests the early success to just good ‘ole fashioned hard work which requires meeting and calling CMOs, personal conversations, and word of mouth recommendations. Plus, his dinners are not pay-to-play sponsored dinners. People are invited because he thinks they would provide valuable content and conversation.

Oh yes, you paid for dinner, so I guess I have to listen to your company pitch

The benefit of his events is that they cut through traditional hidden agendas, said Krainik, and CMOs can address issues that affect them like rebranding, going public, and dealing with PR issues. “Who better to help me as a CMO understand the issues I have, the challenges, or the strategies I’m about to unfold, than someone who is a peer of mine and been there,” said Krainik. Everyone comes looking for those few nuggets of advice from someone who has gone through these issues and let’s them know “don’t do this, do this” or “here are some people I recommend.”

And it’s these conversations that have become the most powerful for the attendees. Krainik’s “voice” is that of the facilitator allowing those conversations to happen. In fact, the feedback he got from his first event in May was “Great event, but we want even less speakers,” said Krainik, “They wanted more discussion.”

In fact, one of the CMOs coined a phrase that’s become the moniker for The CMO Club: “It’s content for conversation, not content for presentation.”

Krainik’s success proves there’s pent up demand for a CMO support group. The role of a CMO is tenuous they cycle through companies quickly. Eighteen months at one organization for a CMO is considered a lifetime. The high turnover is not because they’re getting fired, but rather because they’re fed up and want to move on.

Benefits of The CMO Club from Jen Sanning, CMO Rainbow Rewards

CMOs can get bored quickly, so keep them interested

At this point in the conversation, Krainik and I shifted roles and I began to question him more about the issues he’s having growing The CMO Club and the brand. His number one challenge is to come up with topics and vehicles to get CMOs to want to participate and share their insight beyond the dinners. He truly wants to differentiate his organization from similar high-level executive organizations.

Topics that cross multiple industries do very well, said Krainik. For example, How do I keep great marketing stars? How do I influence change at the C-level? How do I approach social media and how do I think of it as being connected to all my other components? How do I manage globally?

At the end of each dinner Krainik sends a recap out to all the attendees. It’s an excellent way to build relations and provide extended value from an event. But he has to keep this recording of information to a minimum because one of the values of his dinners is the privacy of information.

One way he’s maintaining balance is by conducting short video interviews with a Flip camera asking CMOs at the dinner what was their number one takeaway. It has two-fold value: it respects the CMO’s time (it only takes a minute) and other CMOs love to hear what’s on other CMO’s minds. The response to these videos has been very positive.

All projects must be measured from Phil Clement, CMO, AON

Everyone loves the life of the party

This type of connecting that Pete Krainik is doing reminds me of what Ken Rutkowski and Jeff Pulver who have become known connectors in the tech industry, hosting dinners and introducing people. Both are very creative with intriguing ice breaker conversation starters at their events. Rutkowski requires attendees to bring a piece of juicy gossip nobody knows to share with others, or at the last event you had to mention someone else you just met and plug their company. Jeff Pulver turns people into human tagging and taggable objects. You write tags on stickers to describe what you think a person is like and you stick it on them.

You’ve established a brand and editorial, how do you monetize it?

Krainik is constantly thinking of ways to monetize and also bring interest, traffic, and community to his site. One way he would like to do that is through a recommendations section where CMOs can recommend talented vendors, people, products, and services. Based on some advice I received from a former colleague, I suggested Krainik put recommendations in his regular mass emails to attendees. Let them see that a specific CMO recommends this vendor, and put in the quote as to why he/she thinks that vendor is so great. That way, over time, CMOs will start to associate The CMO Club with this recommendation service.

Where is your audience?

Krainik has a very unusual issue in that there really isn’t a single area online or in the offline world that all CMOs go to. That makes it very difficult to message or reach them all. He’s trying to build a community where a community hasn’t existed before. In such situations, competition is actually very helpful because conversation and communication on the topic raises the profile of the entire industry and everyone benefits. One such competitor to The CMO Club is the CMO Summit from the CMO Council and I suggested Krainik open a dialogue with him.

When I used to work as a stand up comic, we would see this happen in the comedy industry. A new comedy club would open in town and do a lot of marketing or would get a huge headliner. The initial reaction was to think, “Oh no, this is going to destroy the smaller club.” But quite the opposite would actually happen. Smaller clubs in town would see a jump in attendance at their clubs as well because the public’s interest in the category of comedy had been piqued.

The reason people come back, said Krainik is that people are looking for those one or two valuable nuggets of information. If they get just a couple of those great nuggets or connections, then it’s all worth it.

Starting a community from scratch

For other organizations looking to create a community, Krainik said you have to start with the touch. Face to face in the beginning is critical, said Krainik. Start from that rather than thinking, ‘How can I create the site to get millions of eyeballs?’ Instead said Krainik, “Start with the touch, and then move back.”

“Marketing Health vs. Healthcare” from Leo Tokar, CMO Kaiser Permanente

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