How to Get a Meeting with the C-Suite

by Stu Heinecke

Hollywood has always known how to take a meeting. Tinseltown tête à têtes are how movies get made, box-office records are broken and stars are born. In the business world, fate-altering meetings don’t happen in directors’ or producers’ offices, they happen in the C-suite. For those, that is, who can break through.

Thirty-three minutes and 13 seconds into the 2005 movie Hitch, we see a masterful demonstration of the power of creative audacity when seeking a meeting against great odds. It’s at that moment in the film when Hitch (Will Smith) unleashes a particularly bold tactic when asking love interest Sarah Melas (Eva Mendes) out on a date. A courier arrives in Sarah’s office with a package. She signs for it and excitedly opens the box to discover a walkie-talkie. It’s already turned on. She picks it up and says, “Hello?” Hitch is waiting on the other end, conversation ensues, and the meeting is on. Can such audacity be applied in the business world? Yes. I call it “Contact Marketing” — using micro-focused campaigns to support contact with high-value prospects, thus leapfrogging competitors and gaining huge swathes of market share. Often, that means breaking through to C-suite executives. The results generated by a campaign can be shocking, with response going as high as 100 percent and the current record for ROI set at 69,500,000 percent.

The secret to breaking through to the C-suite can be summed into three components: relevance, audacity and recognizing the critical importance of executive assistants. The relevance bit is obvious. A CEO’s time is measured in the thousands of dollars per minute. Their time should not be solicited unless the offering is strategic, timely and truly worthy of their attention.

The fun part is in the creative solution for breaking through. Among the nearly 70 stories of outrageous meeting success I chronicle in my book Get the Meeting! are the following:

  • When turnaround specialist Dan Waldschmidt wants to meet CEOs of distressed companies, he sends a sword in a beautiful wooden box with a handwritten note. The message: “Business is war and I noticed you lost a battle recently. If you ever need a few extra hands in battle, we’ve got your back.” His response rate? 100 percent.
  • When copywriter Alec Brownstein decided he wanted a new job, he crafted a simple Google text ad targeting the creative directors at the top seven ad agencies on Madison Avenue. Using personalized ads and the names of the creative directors as search terms, he fielded six calls, three interviews and one dream job. The cost of the campaign? Six bucks.
  • When a young startup wanted to break into brick-and-mortar retail with its Orabrush tongue cleaner, it set its sights on Walmart. The company ran a $28 Facebook ad targeting Walmart employees at the company’s Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters who had a college education and were between the ages of 35 and 50, using the provocative headline “Walmart employees have bad breath.” Within 48 hours, the company heard from Walmart, and eventually connected with the dental buyer. She asked, “Can you support an order for 735,000 units?” That $1.5-million order, and the subsequent roll-out across Walmart’s 11,700-store network, resulted in a 10-times multiplier in Orabrush’s market value. The ROI on the campaign? 69,500,000 percent.
  • When I send a cartoon to someone, the effect is magical. It’s something they’ll never throw away and never file away. I use oversize foam-core boards with a personalized cartoon on one side and a message from sender to recipient explaining why they’d like to meet. But it’s not necessary to be a cartoonist to be a highly effective Contact Marketer.

My introduction to Contact Marketing came early in my career, when I discovered my cartoons could be used as contact devices. My first campaign to two dozen high-value contacts at Condé Nast, Time, Inc., Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal and other top publishers resulted in a 100-percent response, a 100-percent conversion and the launch of my business.

I’ve found that for any C-suite outreach effort to be successful, it must be clever, on target and audacious. It must leave the recipient saying, “I love the way you think. We’ve got to meet.”
Some meetings come as a result of a request; others happen by chance, in person. But what happens next? Proffer a business card, connect on LinkedIn or note their details in one’s phone? That would be a missed opportunity to truly connect, as business cards are often tossed and LinkedIn connections on the fly are too inconsequential to create a connection.

Those situations are ripe for a Pocket Campaign instead. A Pocket Campaign starts with an engagement device that includes a jump offer that leads to a jump page —which then sets a tracking pixel that allows the marketer to run remarketing ads as a persistence campaign.

As an example, the Pocket Campaign might take the form of a business card-sized metal multi-tool that can be carried in the recipient’s wallet. Tool includes the marketer’s contact information but also has a link to a page with directions for the use of the tool. The recipient follows the link, watches the instructional video and leaves, but suddenly sees the originator’s remarketing ad throughout his travels on the Web. As a persistence campaign, the ads are meant to keep the new contacts engaged and leave them utterly impressed with the marketer’s digital footprint — who will look like a “national” advertiser with his ads appearing everywhere on the Web.

Executive assistants are often discounted as mere gatekeepers, which can be a fatal flaw in any plan to reach C-suite executives. Executive assistants should be thought of, instead, as talent scouts or even vice presidents of access. This is the second-most powerful position in the company. Like everyone else in the C-suite, executive assistants report directly to the CEO and are intimately tied into the CEO’s priorities. Executive assistants, therefore, should be included in a contact campaign plan. Ask for their opinions, ask for their help and ask for their referrals. Treat them as a partner in the bid for contact and watch how effective they can be. That might be the best advice of all.


Stu Heinecke is a Wall Street Journal cartoonist, Hall of Fame-nominated marketer and author of How to Get a Meeting with Anyone and companion edition Get the Meeting!, which releases this month. Heinecke is also the host and author of the “How To Get A Meeting with Anyone” podcast and blog, and founder and president of Contact, a Contact Marketing agency.

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