Last month, as people across APAC started to express hesitation about travelling but we in Australia weren’t yet seeing borders close or airlines cut flights, our client Salesforce flipped live events upside down.
“So…” You’ll know that pause; it’s the one from pregnancies and resignations. “So, World Tour isn’t going ahead in-person.”
To be fair, it was big news – Salesforce was 10 days out from having 12,000 people at the International Convention Centre in Sydney and had planned more than 100 conference sessions.
And if you’ve ever been to a Salesforce event you know it’s not just 100 sessions. It’s a circus. I’ve seen Codey the bear, onstage, dance on his goddamn head. Notice I’m not pointing out that a bear onstage at a corporate event is weird? I’m so past that point here – I’m three World Tours and two Dreamforces in, and I dread the next corporate event I have to attend that isn’t run by Salesforce.
So there it was – two weeks to turn World Tour into an all-day live broadcast.
And we weren’t sure whether Billie Jean King was still coming.
How did they pull it off?
At lightning speed, and to be honest few teams could’ve.
While the news was being communicated to attendees, partners and sponsors, as well as to agency partners like us, Salesforce was already forming work streams to:
- Develop and manage the live broadcast platform
- Rework the content plan to suit a virtual event
- Create studios, sets, all things to stream live
- Ensure two-way interaction and a sense of community
The people leading those work streams were empowered to make decisions. They were supported by team members that were all-in, leadership that cleared the way to success and agencies that jumped at the chance to do something different. Salesforce’s VP Marketing APAC has written a great round-up of the entire event pivot here, and we’re going to run through what we learnt from being involved in it.
What Mahlab learnt
We sat in that content bucket alongside marketers and content marketers. By this point, we’d been working with Salesforce’s content marketing and marketing teams for a few years. Up to this point, we hadn’t squished onto half of their desks each day to collaborate on production plans, scripts and studio schedules, or roped their execs into donning mics for back-to-back live performances while loud-whispering last-minute briefing notes at them. But we knew what they needed to achieve, where we could be useful and how they needed us to work. We jumped in.
Each morning and afternoon for the next two weeks, the senior Salesforce team held scrums to clear roadblocks and make fast decisions. In between, we learnt new things and adapted our plans to suit. We learnt that there would be four content ‘channels’ running concurrently, and that the content marketing team we work with every day would be responsible for one channel.
We planned segments and sessions. We started scripting.
We learnt that we would be broadcasting in between conference sessions – those ‘back to you in the studio’ moments we know from breakfast television. But while breakfast television tortures viewers for half the morning, we were to entertain them all day.
We looked for on-screen talent and kept writing scripts.
We learnt that the video team we’d planned to work with recording interviews at the in-person event was an absolute gun live broadcast team.
They made a studio schedule. We thanked our lucky stars for them and kept writing scripts.
We learnt that an experienced host would be coming from the US.
We added her name against the scheduled segments, thanked our lucky stars again and kept writing scripts.
We learnt ‘carnival atmosphere’ was the baseline expectation.
We recruited two more hosts from the ANZ team and added a dance battle to the schedule. We pencilled in a game show segment with an AI vs a human (we were a bit tired!). And we kept writing scripts.
We scheduled rehearsals, we shared scripts, we talked about how this would look on social and how the hosts could get the social audience involved.
We talked about live polls on the streaming platform and on social. We added them to scripts.
We woke up on World Tour day so excited. We watched Billie Jean King share leadership tips one studio over while we kept an eye on the clock for our next live segment. We watched the bear lose the dance battle – didn’t even dance on his head! We gasped at the news we’d hit a million views. We sighed relief at the news we were trending #1 on Twitter. We didn’t shake any hands. And 12 hours later, we celebrated.
Can you run a virtual event? Should you?
Salesforce World Tour Reimagined was incredibly successful, with more than 80,000 live views on Salesforce’s own video platform Salesforce Live, and more than a million more across social livestreams.
But this doesn’t mean every marketing team should now host an online event. We’re platform-agnostic, channel-agnostic – perhaps even commitment-phobic when it comes to content types.
So, ask the hard questions.
- Go back to your objectives. What did you want to achieve from your in-person event? Is it still possible to achieve that right now? With an in-person event out of the question, what’s the best way to achieve it?
- Assess the risk to your brand – there is little risk to postponing, outside the (very important) loss of marketing pipeline. There’s opportunity in flipping to a virtual event, but there’s also the risk of damaging your brand if the event doesn’t meet expectations.
- If a virtual event is your best choice, look at your content with a very critical eye. Shorten each session, and choose only those that will be engaging enough to keep attention from people who don’t have to get up and sneak out of a conference hall, but only to click over to a new tab.
- Look at your resources with a very critical eye and scale your plan accordingly.
- Find yourself an agency partner that has worked on live broadcast television – we met people on rehearsal day and on World Tour day who we’d trust with our lives. You need those people at your side.
Finally, plan for what might be. We were lucky: timing meant that there were no travel restrictions and those few people onsite – restricted to speakers and crew – were quite safe.
It’s now downright irresponsible and likely illegal to have even that many people onsite in a studio. You might need your speakers to join a panel from their home offices. They might only be allowed a half-hour-long hairdresser appointment ahead of the event. They also might not have spoken with a real live human in a little while. You’ll need to be comfortable with making plans, knowing they’ll change.