By Michael O'Connell Posted July 16, 2009, 9:00 AM EDT
As executive engagement manager at Microsoft’s New York office, Rosalind Murphy is something of a social liaison between her account managers and the Fortune 500 clientele they serve. She produces activities and meetings to develop brand relationships, with guest lists often limited to C.I.O.s and other I.T. executives—not surprising in the tech sector. But Microsoft desires to deepen its business ties, and part of Murphy’s job is to increase her company’s contacts within its client base.
Used to working with male-dominated technology departments, Murphy expanded her brand’s network with a series of quarterly events just for women. In the two years since she introduced the Women’s Executive Forum, she has already established it as a popular event series, buoyed diversity at other Microsoft functions, and increased contacts within clients such as Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Sony.
What sparked Microsoft’s push to seek out more female clients?
We just wanted to reach out to women. The staff at Microsoft is about 75 percent male, and one of the things we found in our accounts was that when you get to the customer base, the chief information officers are also typically men. We wanted to develop other executives, so we made this a push to find people beyond the normal I.T. roles in different areas like marketing and finance. We wanted to seek out the developing female executives, women who might be in director or vice president roles now but are up-and-coming in our client base.
How did you settle on the programming?
It’s just an extension of our relationship program. In other regions we have annual events like C.I.O. forums, but I thought just having this once a year wouldn’t be as helpful as a quarterly series. Consistent touches have really allowed us to develop relationships even more. I didn’t want it to be about Microsoft selling, so we came up with the theme of passions—cultural events that played off areas like food, fashion, sports, and art.
What value has the series given Microsoft?
If we go out four times a year, and we can get that V.P. of JPMorgan Chase or the C.F.O. of Johnson & Johnson to come back more than once, we’re developing that relationship. We’ve managed to get 50 percent of attendees to come back to multiple events in a given year. What we’ve found now in having our fifth outing is that women were inviting their friends and inviting other women executives at their companies. Developing additional lines of business contacts is important to us.
How do you identify the women you want to attend the forum?
Our first step was to have our account executives send out invitations to the senior women in their accounts, but one of the problems we encountered was that there weren’t a lot—which is why we started this. We ended up reaching out to women’s organizations—like Women in Communications or the Executive Women’s Golf Association in New Jersey—and then we went through articles about female executives in a few publications.
Has recent scrutiny of corporate spending affected your approach?
Yes, it definitely has, and I think it’s been in a good way. We keep the event budgets between $15,000 and $20,000 for each forum, and there are a lot of ways we can be creative while being conscious of that. It’s about creating an experience—women aren’t coming to these for something extravagant.
We’re also looking at bringing on more partners, because there are plenty of companies looking to develop their women’s audience and doing more entertainment education programming.