How Salesforce Australia scrambled to reinvent the live events model in 10 days - many will follow
Two weeks out from their annual flagship Australian event, expectations were rising that Salesforce ANZ CEO Pip Marlow and her team were about to kill months of planning for the annual World Tour Sydney at Sydney's International Convention Centre (ICC).
Salesforce's Singapore unit was already working from home as COVID-19 spread through Asia and the company had decided to pull from the Mobile World Congress in Spain, where the entire event was ultimately cancelled. A few days earlier, Cisco Live in Melbourne was pulled.
So as the small group of Australian and global executives dialled into a conference call on Sunday February 16, it was clear what was about to happen and many feared. The World Tour, with 15,000 people set to hit Sydney on March 4, was spiked.
What happened next was about as good as you'll get in overhauling an entire live event to a broadcast and streaming service in two weeks.
After "Decision Sunday", a team of 50 local and Salesforce HQ staffers across four working groups immediately designed and deployed a 10-day plan in which the ICC space, sets and formats were reworked for speakers - but no crowds and no clapping.
Anyone who has attended the Dreamforce jamboree in San Francisco knows that Salesforce understands how to deliver big events, as cheesy as parts of it can be for Australian sensibilities. But any notion of cheese didn't stop the Australians or the recut World tour event. That 15,000 registered attendees for the physical event turned into 80,000 online registrations.
As the Salesforce communications working group started spreading the news of a "reimagined" online World Tour, the content working group started reconfiguring sets and creative treatments at the ICC exhibition space into nine broadcast-like streaming studios. Everything and everyone but the speakers, would be virtual. Another working group was plotting the overall customer journey and experience in a virtual streaming environment - which technologies and what was going to work.
Those studios ended up streaming more than 100 sessions across two channels - some recorded in the preceding days - along with two simultaneous Live keynote streams and an Online Expo.
With events continuing to fall like dominoes to COVID-19, the Salesforce World Tour was a rapid response template that many are likely to replicate in the coming months.
"This was really unprecedented," says Salesforce ANZ head of marketing, Renata Bertram, part of the executive team responsible for pulling the live event. "We had no certainty what the outcome was going to be. One of the first things we did was go out to every single individual that had already registered, tell them about the change in format and that they had to do nothing. We tried to reduce friction and reassure them that the program was going to be robust."
The speakers were up for it. But Bertram says the dynamics of shifting from a live crowd to empty broadcast-like studios was a major challenge.
"It's quite a different proposition to present to an audience - the way you can get engagement, how that full range of body movement in a live event changes when you're in broadcast session and often presenting direct to camera," she says.
Bertram says this was one of the two key lessons for Salesforce in what it will do differently and improve next time.
"Learning the art and differences between an in-person event and broadcast presentation was an important one," she says. "If I would change anything, it would be some user experience and navigation improvement on the day from a site perspective - had we more than 10 working days, we probably would have."
Still, even Salesforce was surprised with outcome. It live-streamed the event across LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube but ultimately encouraged people to tap the full experience on the Salesforce Live platform - and 80,000 did.
"We had 80,000 viewers on Salesforce Live and 1.5 million total views on all our social platforms. That 80,000 number is what we're really proud of," says Bertram.
So what's next?
"In the current environment we absolutely need to explore new digital formats for events," she says. "Whether they are full-day events or one-hour sessions or what type of engagement it is, that's something we are still going to experiment with, put no boundaries on and innovate. I think other companies are looking to do that as well. We don't have all the answers, yet, but it's definitely something we're going to explore."
LinkedIn ANZ Director for marketing solutions, Prue Cox, says the Salesforce World Tour is a lead example of where live events will head here and globally.
"We've seen brands shift to virtual events and adopt online marketing tools to help transition their activity from offline environments," she says.
"So far the experience has shown that companies have been able to reach new and broader audiences. As we continue to navigate these unprecedented changes in our industry, virtual experiences and content marketing are going to play an important role for the marketing community. It will provide learning on how they shape the future of events globally."