In our third installment of our hybrid event blog series, Hartmann Studios is pulling back the curtain to show how we are solving a fresh set of event challenges, and recognizing new standards for event success, using sophisticated virtual solutions that will inform hybrid event strategy for the future.
In How Hybrid Strategy Is Influencing the Next Generation of Events we revealed how our event experts are viewing virtual and hybrid event strategies as the new frontier. Then in What’s Next When Your Events Go Hybrid we shared expert insight for ensuring you get the most out of your hybrid events, as they incorporate all the best that the digital transformation has to offer.
Now here is where the practical rubber meets the virtual road. Our team discusses recent breakthrough virtual and hybrid events that helped clients leverage the need to go entirely, or partially, virtual and expand event impact in ways that will stand the test of time.
Hartmann Studios director of event production, David Schwalbach, remembers Mar. 13 of 2020 as “the day our live event world stopped.” He adds, “but business can’t afford to stop—not even when the world does. At the time, we were gearing up for The Home Depot's Halloween and Holiday Product Showcase, which is an important vehicle for generating product excitement with media and social influencers around Halloween and holiday-themed products. It was planned to be an intimate, 100% in-person, immersive event in Manhattan with an interactive DIY show which required a lot of custom-built scenery; we were hard at work when it became obvious that 100% in-person was not an option.”
“...we were able to invite more people ‘in.’”
“So, we got busy creating an online program in our COVID-safe Atlanta studio, which we outfitted to meet all of the stringent guidelines needed at the time. There were still many scenic elements, featuring the now infamous 12-foot skeleton The Home Depot was offering, and a limited in-studio audience. But the real value was we were able to invite more people ‘in,’ expanding beyond the initial audience to a broader—virtual—one. Immediately our reach quadrupled and, as a result, our impact also increased exponentially.”
Partnering with MSL Group—our client’s PR agency of record on this project—we added some high-touch components such as swag boxes that brought physical elements of the event to the remote attendees. We also linked audience members together with engaging two-way virtual connections to help them direct the conversation. This PR event was so successful it doesn’t appear we will ever fully return to a strictly in-person program.”
“This event was so successful it doesn’t appear we will ever fully return to a strictly in-person program.”
David’s experience with The Home Depot underscores how hybrid events can outperform their in-person counterparts when approached from a fresh vantage point. The necessity to create meetings differently has pushed the proverbial envelope in a number of directions.
Entirely virtual events have enormous innovative implications for where hybrid events are headed next. Lauren Bradley, senior account manager for Hartmann Studios, is adamant that the unique dynamic of a virtual incentive event can deliver maximum impact even without the physical destination component. “The key to successful incentive events,” she tells us, “Is to make the attendees feel incredibly valued and extraordinary. Traditionally, it was natural to take them to a destination that created that very experience. But with lingering travel concerns, we were challenged to think outside the destination by one of our clients, Illumina.”
She laughs, “We love a challenge. With attendees from all over the world, different cultures, languages and time zones, we honed in on some magic that appeals to everyone—music.” At that particular point in time, Broadway was shut down, and their talent was looking for creative ways to stay connected to their audiences.
“The attendees applauded the final result: We provided close-up, private performances…that explored common experiences between business and Broadway.”
“The attendees applauded the final result: We provided close-up, private performances of musicals like Hamilton and Phantom of the Opera, where attendees could interact with the performers in Q&A sessions that explored common experiences between business and Broadway. We touched on topics like how to pivot and thrive, goal-setting and work ethic, perfecting one’s craft, and what personal success looks like. It was a win all the way around.”
It only added to the experience that attendees, watching in their homes, could easily share these unforgettable moments with their families. And to prime everyone for the event, they had received a luxe welcome box with opera glasses, a playbill and all the fun trappings of a night on Broadway.
Company leadership was also very involved—staying on for all the performances—a fact that did not go unnoticed by the attendees. That was just a reinforcement that the event, in many ways, was more intimate and more meaningful than the destination version, a sentiment that shone through in our event survey data.
Kelly Farrell, a seasoned Hartmann Studios event producer, agrees how meaningful virtual components of hybrid events can be. “They can be very emotionally focused. Take our LinkedIn client’s holiday party, for example. In past years, this event was a big opportunity to meaningfully connect their employees, and they were in need of a way to do that—but this time, across long distances. How do you virtually replace 16,000 people being together? That was our task.”
“This ability for virtual and hybrid events to tap into the emotions and the culture of an organization is one of the emerging strengths of the reinvented event.”
She emphasizes: “We honed in on the company culture and values, and created inclusivity by focusing on the individuals themselves. The result was a series of three broadcasts, featuring a host and the CEO’s remarks, but the rest was all about the people. We invited them to submit a personal video or photos with narratives expressing their accomplishments, joyous occasions or trying moments, they overcame through a very tough year. Over 250 submissions came in and they loved it! Attendees felt inspired and connected at an emotional level that really set the bar for future events like this.”
This ability for virtual and hybrid events to tap into the emotions and the culture of an organization is one of the emerging strengths of the reinvented event. Born out of an immediate need, these far-reaching approaches have become indispensable for many organizations now.
We can’t say enough about the way virtual events have amplified the already strong culture for another client, Sleep Number. Checking back in with Lauren Bradley: “We exceeded our client team’s expectations and levels of interactivity for their first ever all virtual version of their annual anchor program.
“We took it to a new level with gamification built on making the core content 100% irresistible. We wove in games, such as photo activations, customizable music playlists, and curated content like 30-second tips and tricks which attendees could put into practice right away.”
“Nothing was random, or added just for the sake of ‘something to do.’”
When asked how these high-engagement activities tied into the meeting content, Lauren shared: “Nothing was random, or added just for the sake of ‘something to do.’ Each piece of music, every book excerpt and photo submission topic was selected to reinforce the main takeaways for the event, so all of the messaging was truly cohesive and immersive. We added another layer of continuity by bringing in an event host, who helped guide attendees on taking full advantage of what was on offer, and built a thread of continuity between every activation and every presentation to create a total experience.”
She adds, “This event required a fairly complex video delivery plan which included audio, graphics and dynamic mixed media. The virtual format has to compete with all the distractions coming at attendees. And I would say we managed to do that really well.”
“Keep in mind, this was all part of a much larger conversation;” Lauren is quick to add, “we began event engagement well in advance of the event itself. And when registration opened, over 40% of the attendees registered in the first three hours. Anyone who hosts events will understand how remarkable that is in our last-minute world.”
“...when registration opened, over 40% of the attendees registered in the first three hours.”
“So, they were eager for the event—even given the virtual nature—because they saw what fun it was going to be. Afterwards, we built an on-demand library, including new tips and tricks, work-related video training, and content that will continue to receive a quarterly refresh. When a virtual event like this one wraps, it keeps on providing great content and an on-going connection that keeps culture strong, even in a world with distanced participants.”
As an agency that has been intimately involved in helping our clients pivot and succeed at greater levels with hybrid event strategies, we have witnessed a full spectrum of new possibilities. We’ve stepped outside of the limitations of space, crossed cultural and language divides, brought tens of thousands of people closer together, and built a foundation for even greater growth as a result.
As we initially shared in How Hybrid Strategy Is Influencing the Next Generation of Events: “In many ways, what’s next is what has always been next: customized solutions for every segment of an audience that continues to surprise and move audiences to action.”
What that looks like for each organization is as unique as their culture’s DNA, but we are certain there is a hybrid event strategy that will work brilliantly for you and your organization.
When you’re ready, let’s find it together.
Reach out and Contact Us today.
We also invite you to see our first and second installments in this hybrid event blog series, as well as taking a look at our downloadable PDF on Customized Hybrid Experiences: The future of engaging with your audience in-person & online.