When Cisco pivoted its mega-conference, Cisco Live, to virtual in June, the approach behind each stage of the event planning process had to divert from what would have been done in person. As Kathy Doyle, director-global Cisco Live conferences, put it, “We didn’t just shift it and lift it into digital. We had to start from scratch.” Taking a nimble approach, the brand did everything from chopping content into bite-sized sessions to implementing social media challenges in order to engage a digital audience. To dive deeper into the strategy, we sat down with Doyle for some Q&A.
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Event Marketer: What was the goal for the in-person Cisco Live conference, and did it change when you pivoted to virtual?
Kathy Doyle: The primary goal for the in-person event is always to inspire that loyalty with our customers and our partners, and to amplify our messages and our brand, and that engagement that we have with them. So the high-level goals, as far as educating and inspiring our customers, didn’t really change. But what did change were the specific initiatives and the tactics on how we were going to get there, because we definitely had to do it in different ways.
EM: Did your event team handle the conference or was it all hands on deck?
KD: For Cisco Live, it’s always all hands on deck because it’s such a big and important event for Cisco that it really does take a lot of collaboration. However, with only 10 weeks to shift gears from in-person, we had to move really, really fast… The first thing that we did was to create these new cross-functional work streams and identify who the drivers, decision-makers and contributors were going to be, involving a lot of teams across Cisco. We felt like we needed that foundation in place as far as how we were going to be structured so that we could move fast.
EM: How did your strategy change from in-person to virtual?
KD: Something that really needed to be taken into consideration was resizing the events from what is in-person to digital. We had to redesign everything. Even though we had already had everything in place, we didn’t just take that and shift it and lift it into digital. We had to start from scratch from a program standpoint, because we were going from a five-day event with a thousand sessions to a two-day event. We had to prioritize. We had to make everything much shorter and make it something that was easy to consume. The strategy that we took was we’re going to make it two days, focus on content, and then extend that reach after the event.
EM: Tell us about your decision to postpone the event in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
KD: It was the evening before the show started. We made that decision in order to honor the Black Lives Matter movement that was taking place, as well as Blackout Tuesday that was taking place on the day our event was going to start. The decision was made late in the day and we had a couple of hours to shut everything down. We sent out communications to all of our customers and our partners, our analysts, all the internal teams across Cisco. We changed the website, we activated all the social channels and it just all happened at one time. It was the right decision to make. We received a lot of positive feedback from our customers and partners. Even though they were disappointed, it was the right thing to do.
EM: Technology is a critical piece of virtual events. Any pro tips?
KD: It’s so important to make sure you’re testing and testing and testing, and that you have contingency plans for everything. We had a pretty extensive document that outlined everything that could possibly go wrong and how it was going to be handled. And we had a plan in place so that we could mobilize quickly if we had any challenges. With these digital events, in most cases, a lot of the content is prerecorded and it probably takes longer than you anticipate. So give yourself a lot of time there, from when you do the recording to having it ready to go because there’s some editing involved and you have to stitch it all together into one program.