Behind the Curtains of a Global Events Strategy: Meet Sarah Reed of ZenDesk

March 1, 2022

Kelly Cheng , Head of Growth at Goldcast

Welcome to Event Marketers Live! Every other week, we’re sitting down with top Event Marketers to pull back the curtains on the industry’s most impressive B2B events. 

We were honored to have Sarah Reed, Senior Director of Global Strategic Events at Zendesk, as our inaugural guest. 

Sarah touts over 20 years of marketing experience, though she only recently pulled all of her skills together for an Event Marketing role. She’s been at ZenDesk for the past seven years and has taken their global events to an entirely new level. She joined us to chat about ZenDesk’s global events strategy, how to create alignment and scale events, and how event marketers can prove their worth in the workplace.

How has the event marketing space changed? 

The traditional “event planner” role at B2B companies is evolving into “event marketing.” That’s where the industry is going. 

Not to disparage event planners at all—there is a place for these folks. But in the B2B context, what you need is event marketers. 

The big difference is, event planners are all about the overall event management. But marketers are also responsible for both the event management and also performance-based components. It takes a lot of strategic thinking. 

Event Marketing is way more than making sure the event looks flawless; it’s more than making sure that every function is seamlessly executed; and it’s a lot more than project management. 

A lot of companies hire “event planners,” and that often means they can pay you less. So, how do you raise that visibility so you’re actually getting paid for the work that you do?

Ben Hindman from Splash wrote a piece a few years ago about how you change your mindset from being a planner to marketer, and how you get your organization to see the same thing. 

In it, he talks about four specific shifts where event marketers can differentiate themselves:

  • Project management to performance-driven marketing
  • Procurement to providing value
  • Attendee acquisition to prospect and customer lifetime value
  • Pats on the back to “show me the data”

💡 Tip: Check out Ben’s article here

Tell us about the CX Trends event that ZenDesk hosts. How has this evolved? 

Our big event is centered around our annual CX Trends Report. We publish this report every January, and it includes benchmarks and insights based on our analysis of over 97,000 customer accounts. 

This event used to run independently from the events team. The campaigns team owned it, and there was no crossover. But everything changed in 2020, and it’s much more collaborative.

We start with the event agenda—we develop the scripts, the assets, the talent, and the recordings. Collectively, we decide which elements each region is going to use. 

For example, India might use 90% of the content we provide. Brazil might only use 50% of what we create because everything they do needs to be localized in Portuguese and there’s a lot of customization, but we help get them halfway there. 

This approach creates global consistency in our messaging and branding. Even though we don’t fly to each location, we can make sure there is that global look and feel across everything. 

We broadcasted the event 14 times around the world. And, we hit 105% of our registration goal of 23,000 people. 

ZenDesk is going all-in on digital events. We’ve tested a few small in-person gatherings, and we’re launching our first big hybrid event in May. 

How did you get to a point where you could scale the events team? 

Well, we didn’t always have a team, so we didn’t have much to scale. But, we now have a small but mighty team. 

At ZenDesk, we scale by having regional alignment. We work very closely with our four major regions to coordinate event details and share learnings. 

We also have robust event kits that we share across regions. These kits include scripts for keynotes, video examples, questions for panels and round tables, statistics to swap in and out for local flavor, creative assets, and more. We partner really closely with Brand and Creative so we’re creating one look and feel that all the regions can use. 

We actually have one person on our team whose entire job is to create alignment. This person sits in on all of the big regional team meetings. They talk about what components of the event kit they’re going to use and where they need help with audience acquisition. This role brings all of these regions together.

For example, one region might be working with a third-party and crushing it. They take those learnings and share them with other regions. We trade those learnings constantly. 

We also equip our regional teams to do as much as they can independently or with local agencies. 

Remember—you can’t do it alone. Our team is six people, but we constantly tap into resources across the company. We pull all of those fabulous ideas together. 

How do you create alignment between global teams? 

One of our learnings was recognizing that we can’t have the same executive producer on every large anchor event. Before, one person would run a Q1 anchor event and then turn right around and plan the event for Q2; they never had any breathing room. 

Now, we provide a quarter of softening. So, the Q1 producer is also the Q3 producer. They have time in between to really build the entire campaign and anchor event. 

We also rely on the individual regions to get up to speed and empower them to be our allies in these events because we can’t be everywhere and do everything.

I would also suggest hiring a content lead. I was running content and experience design for all of our events, and I couldn’t keep up. We brought on a content lead last year and it was an absolute game-changer.

A few event producers, a content lead, and someone who is regionally aligned. Those are the core roles that we have. We also supplement with contractors and agencies. You typically need outside support to make these things scalable. 

In a world of virtual events, how should we celebrate our wins? 

When we have these virtual events, whatever your role is, we should take the next hour to ourselves. Block it off, and give yourself a chance to just enjoy what just happened. 

And then, we should put together those debriefs. An hour or two later, get together with other folks involved. No slides and notes, let’s just talk about what happened. Those are the moments that we’re really missing right now. 

What is ZenDesk’s event marketing strategy? 

As event marketers, we’re very performance-based. We look very closely at pipeline and bookings numbers associated with events—but we weren’t always good at that. 

Over time, we discovered where those touches and opportunities are. Since we are in such lockstep with the campaigns team, we collectively have a number that we have to reach this year.

We use that team target to back into regional team performance goals. We now know that events are influencing 75% of the pipeline for all of our campaigns. So, each region is responsible for a specific number of attendees, registrations, pipeline, and bookings. 

That’s how I know how we’re having an impact on the business. 

Thanks so much for joining us, Sarah! We’ll see you soon for our next episode of Event Marketers Live.

Prove your event ROI. Try Goldcast for your next event.

Request a Demo
An orange coloured arrow.

Let's power your
online event