Exclusive conferences are like first jobs -- you need connections to attend, but you need to attend to gain those connections. It can feel like an infinite, impenetrable loop.
In my capacity as a celebrity wrangler and super-connector, I frequently attend invite-only events such as TED Talks, Wall Street Journal Digital Live, and Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit. At each, I can mingle with the "who's who" of tech and entertainment, which is my client base.
No matter who the titans are at your industry's luminary events, you need to be there.
Making Your Presence Matter
Before you can find success in getting invited to exclusive events, you need to be an actual industry leader with solid experience. In my 30-year career bridging Silicon Valley and Hollywood, I have accumulated the track record, reputation, and credentials these events require.
After you've established your credibility as an industry insider, your goal should be to help organizers make the event even better for all participants. Your own connections are key. You can not only use them to provide more value to the organizers (by inviting influential colleagues), but the relationships you form with those organizers also often prove to be valuable and vital for you going forward.
When I want to be involved with a specific event, for example, I often reach out to some combination of the organizers and the people in my network who may already be involved; share my background and credentials for context, if necessary; and then express interest in participating (including why I feel I should be present). I can usually add value as a speaker or a moderator or by connecting more luminaries to the event as speakers and/or sponsors. These initial conversations with organizers are usually editorial and curatorial in nature. By weighing in on topics or speakers that I think could make the event more successful, I'm often invited to participate actively in some capacity.
If you genuinely seek to provide as much value as you possibly can to the event organizers, you'll find yourself being invited to more and more exclusive events.
Scoring Those Exclusive Invites
Building your pedigree is a feat in and of itself, but once you have it, you also have to be comfortable sharing it with others. People won't know who you are and what you can do if you don't tell them.
1. Brag about your publications.
Develop an audience and a following by publishing content on topics that are relevant to the event. This helps organizers view you as a thought leader and an industry expert who can add real value.
Publishing my book, "The Magic and Moxie of Apple -- An Insider's View," reinforced my reputation as a longtime industry insider and expert to the organizers of Digital Music Forum and Digital Hollywood -- both events that are squarely in my area of focus and well-attended by peers and prospective clients alike. Knowing I could assemble impressive panelists and ask provocative questions as an insider and a thought leader in the space, they have invited me to moderate panel sessions many times over the years.
2. Highlight your community involvement.
Your associations within the industry will be invaluable to organizers. Offer to contribute to the event's success by inviting other notable industry influencers in your network who can add prestige and impact to the event.
When I wanted to attend Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit, I studied how the inaugural event went and who had been honored. Then, I sent an email to the editor in chief (who was also the event organizer). After introducing myself and sharing my background, a few select connections, and ideas for improving the next event, I was offered an invitation to attend. I had a blast rubbing elbows with the captains of industry in my world, having insightful conversations and engaging as peers at this elite event.
3. Research the organizers.
Get to know more about them, their track records, and what they value. Remember, your main "in" to the scene is your ability to help them out. Learn what matters to them, and then approach them with the respect and confidence of a peer who has a sincere interest in their success.
I applied to attend the invite-only inaugural Harvest Summit in Sonoma County in 2016, for example, knowing I would meet the kind of peers and prospective clients with whom I feel most comfortable. However, I was so blown away by how special and unique the event turned out to be that I approached the organizer at the end to share my observations. She so appreciated my enthusiasm and invited me to join the advisory council to help with programming and lining up influential speakers for this year's event (a real honor, as far as I'm concerned).
4. Know the landscape.
It's not enough to be familiar with your industry landscape. Look at it from an organizer's perspective by attending and studying similar events. You'll be able to speak intelligently about the market, which is another way to add value. By sharing observations and insights into her approach versus that of others in the space, you can help her event stand out.
Here's the gist of it: If you want to be invited to participate in exclusive industry events -- and you should -- the name of the game is providing as much value to the event's organizers as you possibly can.