How to Reach CEOs Online

One of the most daunting tasks for any media planner is reaching CEOs, CIOs, VPs, and top-level executives. In the traditional marketing world, you might rent a direct mail list specified by job title, advertise in a magazine like Fortune or Forbes, or cover business journals, trade shows, or industry periodicals. But as you might expect, in the online world, the rules are slightly different.

The plain fact is that CEOs don’t have time to spend surfing around, reading the articles, downloading software, and “digging around” the vast quantities of information online. And they especially don’t have time to spend clicking banner ads.

Most top-level executives go online with a specific mission in mind. For example, a CEO might go online to view a competitor’s site, look up their company information, read the daily headlines, and check a stock price or two. These people are trained experts at blocking out everything that is not absolutely essential to their mission.

As a marketer, you have to strike quickly and directly. In the two seconds that you are given when they glance at your ad, you have to convey the extreme importance of your product–enough to divert them from their specified mission.

As you might have guessed, this is by no means an easy task. However, new technologies also mean new and creative ways to reach your target audience, and CEOs are no exception.

Trade Publications

Many of your favorite traditional publications for reaching CEOs now have online versions, with some even offering “executive tracks” that may or may not have an offline counterpart. For example, Forbes has “Executive Edge” online, an area dedicated to the needs of CEOs and top executives. Many traditional publications will discount or value-add online advertising when purchased in conjunction with a print advertisement. The price to advertise on these sites ranges from $60 to $100 per thousand banner impressions.

Email Lists

Email marketing is the hot topic these days–with good reason. It is direct, personal, one-to-one, and can be extremely targeted. It’s not unheard of to receive a 15 percent response rate on a targeted email campaign.

Keep in mind that email marketing is still very new, and people have not learned to block it out yet. For the same reasons, email marketing is still a very sensitive issue for most people. They view unwanted email as an intrusion and invasion of privacy. For CEOs, these issues are even more pronounced, so it is critical to use only “opt-in” email lists and keep your messages brief.

Similar to direct mail, email lists offer a number of selections for reaching your target market. Some publications, such as CIO Magazine, allow you to rent their subscriber lists and select by job title, industry, purchasing power, and company size. For a highly targeted list, you might pay as much as $450/M. But, compared to the costs of producing a direct mail campaign, this is still relatively inexpensive.

And the nice thing about email is that it can be forwarded along. So if your message hits the guy just below the CEO, and he thinks it’s important enough, he’ll forward it along to the top.

Email newsletters

Another great way to reach CEOs by email is through email newsletters. These “push” emails are sent out on a regular basis, usually in conjunction with a particular site or magazine.

For example, Red Herring offers its “Catch of the Day” email alert, which brings breaking news and articles to top executives each morning. A short, three-to-five line text ad at the top of these email newsletters is an excellent way to reach this difficult target audience.

Special Interest Sites

If you’ve ever watched a golf tournament on TV, then you are familiar with traditional ways of reaching CEOs. Hit them where their interests lie. Golf sites, luxury automobile sites, and financial sites are all good candidates.

With the growing popularity of online trading, stock sites seem an obvious choice for reaching top-level executives. The only problem with advertising on these types of sites is that you cannot be sure that you are reaching the very top of the food chain. Now, thanks to the web, what was once reserved for the elite few has become the mainstream.

Take online trading for example. It is now so inexpensive and easy that nearly everyone is beginning to dabble in the stock market. Advertising on these types of affinity sites works for a more general campaign, where the target market spans mid-level managers up to the CEOs.

Go Vertical

I’ve noticed a recent trend on the Net where sites seem to be gravitating to two poles: Those that try to be everything to everyone and those that are extremely niche-oriented. The niche sites are far more interesting when it comes to targeting CEOs.

A great example of this type of site is VerticalNet; a network of sites that cater to top engineers and executives in 30-plus vertical industries. Within the network are sites like,, and

Needless to say, these visitors are not just browsing. They are there to gather important business information, and they are probably decision-makers at their organizations. If your company sells products that cater to specific vertical markets, then this is a great way to target those professionals.

Ad Serving

Many third-party ad-serving solutions now offer advertisers the ability to serve specific banners to specific target audiences. Through the use of such technologies as cookies and IP address lookups, banners can be served based on geography, industry SIC code, company name, platform, and so on.

So, for example, if you were trying to reach CEOs at computer companies in Texas, you could target banners to Dell employees that say, “A Special Offer for Dell Executives” and banners to Compaq that say, “A Special Offer for Compaq Executives.”


Some ad-serving networks like DoubleClick offer ways to retarget audiences, based on their actions. So, for example, if someone clicks on your banner, visits your site and leaves, you can send them a banner that says, “Come back to our site and receive 10 percent off.” Or if an executive checks a particular stock on your site, you could target a banner to them that says, “Hey, your stock just jumped 10 points!”

Sites For CEOs

A number of sites have popped up that are designed specifically for CEOs. For example, is a site that offers links to the web’s most useful sites for top executives. Hoover’s offers top-level company information for executives doing research.

Many CEOs set up a customized version of these sites for their own start page. Based on those preferences, advertisers may then target. For example, “My Yahoo” asks questions during the registration process, such as job title and geography, and then advertisers may turn around and target banner ads based on that information.

Out Of The Box – Literally

Advertisers are now coming up with new and creative ways to reach top professionals — beyond their desktop PCs. CEOs now use PDAs to organize their busy schedules. Before getting on the train to attend that important meeting, they might download the news of the day to their PalmPilot. Within that information comes advertising. This same philosophy is now being applied to cell phones and pagers, with new ways to advertise coming out daily.

In summary, it is not necessarily harder to reach CEOs online; it just takes a slightly different strategy. As technology progresses, so does our ability to serve CEOs exactly what they are seeking online. And when advertising does that, it is viewed as a service, not an intrusion.

Anything that helps a CEO save time and do their job more effectively is not only welcomed, but also appreciated.

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