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Hybrid Special Events: Case Studies and Secrets of Success

Hybrid Special Events: Case Studies and Secrets of Success

The masterminds of hybrid special events share how they extend face-to-face meetings into the digital world.

Hybrid special events—which extend traditional in-person events with tools such as broadcasting and social media—are grabbing headlines. A whopping 70 percent of respondents to the latest online poll from Special Events say they either stage hybrid events now or are considering doing so.

In Part II of our study of hybrid events, we present case studies of hybrid events and why they succeeded:

hybrid event Sears Chef Challenge and Flash Mob

when July 31 , 2010

who AgencyEA, Chicago

Claire Pendergast, marketing manager, explains:

Our objective was to provide an exciting and memorable experience with three unique events all with a cohesive theme, a live stream format and open to the public.

The solution: EA partnered with Sears to organize a flash mob at Chicago's Navy Pier. The event's purpose was to drive consumer interest in the Sears Chef Challenge cooking competition, held at the brand's Kenmore Live Studio pop-up shop, as well as to spur social media activity around the challenge.

Amidst a bustling Saturday afternoon crowd at Navy Pier, Sears and EA produced a top-secret, surprise flash mob scene. Starting with 20 professional drummers and 10 dancers, the mob grew to include 200 trained volunteer dancers. The choreography incorporated Sears' kitchenware such as pots, pans and spatulas. Dancers tore off shirts and jackets to reveal branded t-shirts with a QR code on the back, which, once scanned by attendees’ mobile phones, contained information on the Chef Challenge event that night.

That evening, [TV station] ABC7's Steve Dolinsky emceed the semifinal cooking competition, which featured a summer farmer's market theme, a DJ, photo booth and interactive consumer cooking relays for the public to enjoy. The competition was streamed live on the Sears Chef Challenge website and other social media outlets as well as plasma screens flanking the outside of the studio.

One potential obstacle of the Sears Chef Challenge was that the physical event only took place in Chicago. Therefore, those who weren't located in the city could not experience the event. Live-stream video technology enabled consumers from other states, even countries, to become involved with the challenge. Sears received tweets from viewers across the world, including Los Angeles and Paris.

In addition to the video streaming, social media technology was also utilized throughout the events. Flash mob attendees captured video and pictures of the impromptu, surprise dance routine and posted them to their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Attendees used Foursquare to check in to both the flash mob at Navy Pier and the Chef Challenge at Kenmore Studio. In fact, the Sears flash mob received the Foursquare "swarm badge" for creating an event where more than 50 people checked in.

Results: The technology truly allowed the event to become a hybrid, one experienced through both a real life (physical) and online (digital) presence. The flash mob generated consumer attention in the physical space, but also prompted passersby to capture photos and video, which they shared on social networks. This word-of-mouth excitement generated greater attendance at the evening's Chef Challenge, which also incorporated an online presence. Live-streamed video and additional social media activity further extended the reach of the event. Finally, the online video of the flash mob promoted the subsequent Chef Challenges that took place through November.

An edited video of the flash mob and Chef Challenge footage was aired on 1,000 websites during a three-week ad buy.

According to Shawn Pauli, a vice president at Sears Appliances, "We started seeing the flash mob being tweeted and our Facebook followers saying they couldn't believe we pulled this off. One hundred and sixty-two people showed up for the live event that night at the Kenmore Live Studio, and 15,000 viewers tuned in via Ustream."

Photos by Josh Sears

Next Page: ESPN Upfront by Broadstreet

hybrid event: ESPN upfront

when May 17

who Broadstreet, New York

Mark Baltazar, CEO and managing partner, explains:

ESPN has been a client of ours for a half-decade. Among the initiatives we implemented in this year’s upfront presentation—at the Best Buy Theatre in [New York's] Times Square--was the full use of Twitter during the show.

The Twitter feed ran concurrently with the upfront. Running under the "ESPNAdSales" username, it was populated with content from ESPN brass, marketing reps and celebrities backstage. It was also fueled by interaction from media buyers in the audience as well as those around the country watching the webcast. We were lucky enough to pick up some audience from the general population, who had no idea the upfront was happening but had caught wind of the Twitter feed and followed it throughout the remainder of the upfront.

The Twitter ran as a live updated timeline next to the online webcast, allowing viewers to tweet from the same page. This put users in the middle of the conversation from sign-on.

This mix of elements was in the middle of ESPN’s wheelhouse. ESPN brands itself as possessing "the best available screen" to watch sports on – be it a television, computer, smartphone or tablet. Not only did our staging embody the "multi-screen" aspect, but now the audience truly had a choice. They could follow along on their smart phones, react and provide real-time feedback. The multi-screen accessibility, as well as the ability to participate in discussion, are aspects of ESPN that keep hardcore fans coming back for more.

The audience we targeted was media sales buyers. But as I stated before, there was run-off to the general population--which our client could not have been happier about.

Success via Twitter was not quantitatively measured but observed in the numbers of retweets, as well as tweets received from followers and fans. The tweets containing news about ESPN programming or scheduling outperformed all other categories of tweets--even those made by celebrities like Clay Matthews and Tony Hawk.

Success was more easily measured in the realm of broadcast viewership, where a simple, few-question survey on the landing page for the video allowed us to capture a multitude of data on who was watching, from where and when. Audiences that are already prepared for a fast-paced, high energy environment can adapt to whatever you’re throwing at them. No one goes into an ESPN upfront expecting to see stat sheets of ratings numbers and viewership demographic charts. They want that information--but in the ESPN style.

Quick-hitting, informative, interactive, direct, entertaining--if any of these adjectives are desired by those attending your event, a hybrid event is up your alley.

Webcasts and live video has been vital to us for years. We put on many learning and improvement workshops, and if required individuals can’t attend in person, they must have the information delivered.


Especially when dealing with conferences that involve certification, or a copious amount of legal layers, getting everyone the same information at the same time is not only vital, but necessary. In areas where just the PowerPoint will suffice, an interactive, up-to-the-moment website is also a necessity.

Twitter and other consumer-facing social media campaigns are reserved for less red tape, more red wine-type events. Even though there are privacy and restriction settings available on all social media sites, many legal teams shut down any proposal with the words "social" and "media" in combination.

Digital media used to create hybrid events offers better tracking and analysis than any optional-response survey or rigid "my-boss-will-see-this" interview. By accessing a link or clicking an app, an individual surrenders more personal information than he or she probably realizes. Add that with a short (very short, two- to three-question) survey on a landing page to access content, and an easy way to interact and provide feedback, and managers can feel the pulse of their audience like never before.

Next Page: Silicon Valley Bank Leadership Summit by InVision

hybrid event Silicon Valley Bank leadership summit

when Oct. 6

who InVision Communications, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Amanda Chartier, marketing coordinator, explains:

InVision recently helped produce a hybrid event for Silicon Valley Bank at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

The live component of the leadership summit included a series of keynotes delivered by leaders and peers in the tech, life sciences and clean tech industries. Two hundred people attended the event in person.

InVision helped create a webcast for attendees who were unable to attend the event in person. All keynotes were recorded live, giving attendees the option to log on and log off as needed. To access the webcast, attendees had to register first. Over 550 people registered virtually and at one point, there were 370 people logged on at the same time. Post-event, SVB posted the webcast feed on their website on-demand to gain an even broader audience.

Additionally, SVB had its own live Twitter feed inside the platform for the summit, creating an interactive environment for attendees to contribute and comment on keynote presentations. After each presenter, both live and virtual attendees were given 15 minutes of live Q&A.

The facility could only accommodate 250 people, so a virtual component was necessary to reach a larger audience. SVB already takes advantage of using social media channels like Twitter to engage, network and interact with their customers, so it was appropriate to use Twitter as a collaborative communication tool during the summit. SVB specifically targets young entrepreneurs.

There were surveys for those who attended in person but not for the virtual audience. Measurements were based on the amount of activity on the Twitter feeds. We were able to track who attended, how long they watched and whether or not they came back. There was a noticeable difference of virtual attendance during specific keynotes.


InVision has found that virtual meetings succeed when the presentation is instructional/informational, and when the audience has limited availability and needs to absorb information “on demand.” Virtual meetings have typically been less successful when recognition and motivation are the objectives.

Always remember to keep virtual audiences’ experience top of mind when planning a hybrid event. It’s important to engage them, allow them to interact with one another and consider including social media technologies. We have also seen competitive aspects and ramification of content be very successful.

Next Page: ASAE Closing Night Party by Switch

hybrid event American Society of Association Executives' 2011 annual meeting and exposition

when Aug. 9

who Switch, St. Louis

Andrew Mullins, company spokesperson, explains:

For ASAE’s 2011 Annual Meeting & Exposition held in Downtown St. Louis, Switch produced the closing Street Party event, which worked as the official send-off to the nearly 5,400 ASAE attendees. The “ASAE street party” took over a section of historic Washington Avenue between 9th and 12th streets in St. Louis City. Our client was the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

Live event elements included having attendees walk the red carpet under an 18-foot homage to the Gateway Arch at the street party’s entrance, where they were greeted by a local high school drum line performance along with the St. Louis Rams football cheerleaders. From there, attendees were free to roam Washington Avenue and enjoy two 360-degree bars, sample St. Louis craft brews at a custom-built beer garden or wine provided via Steam-punk bicycle/wine carts while the music of the Funky Butt Brass Band filled the air.

During the event, attendees were encouraged to leave a video message to friends back home on Facebook via custom Switch-designed iPad2 app. Guests were interviewed about their experience in St. Louis and the messages were automatically uploaded to a custom Facebook landing page on the CVC website.

Virtual events were all pre-promoted via CVC event website and ASAE microsite.

The social media component of the event was brought to life via the custom iPad2 app video capture. Once the videos were posted, guests could view, share and tag the videos. The videos were primarily hosted on the CVC Facebook page with additional linkages to CVC event website, personal pages, and ASAE page.

We collected nearly 100 consumer messages, which were posted, shared, etc.

Due the nature of this event’s audience and the fact that the CVC wanted to make technology both a priority and purposeful, using the iPad2 as a capture device worked from both a form and function perspective. Our proprietary app cut down the personnel needed to accomplish the same result previously. There was no need for additional lighting, audio support or back-end support to post the files; it was all integrated into the app.


Just about every event and every audience will benefit from a mix of elements. When done right, the virtual and social media elements add dimension to the overall program, creating a richer and more memorable experience than an event that's more traditional in terms of technology. But as with any communication, you have to consider your audience's tolerance for unfamiliar technology, their comfort level with digital engagement, and their threshold for individual participation.

Understanding your audience is, as always, paramount.

Next Page: Emilie Barta's Keys to Hybrid Events

Hybrid event consultant and "virtual emcee" Emilie Barta offers her secrets of success with hybrid special events:

hybrid event planning You must start with figuring out the “who” and the “why.” Then you can start thinking about “what” to give your audience based on their personality, their needs, their learning styles, their attention spans, their technology aptitude and so much more.

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression when it comes to hybrid events. We have to remember that hybrid events are events, and that the event must be catered to the audience. But there are two audiences at a hybrid event: the audience sitting in front of you and the audience sitting at home. If your virtual audience does not feel welcomed, appreciated and involved, they will not only walk away, but they will rarely return.

Design your hybrid event as one event with two unique audiences that are united to form one collective audience, as opposed to two separate events or as a face-to-face event with a virtual component thrown in as an afterthought.

If you provide the content, the engagement and the participation that your virtual audience seeks, they are very likely to convert to face-to-face audience members at your next event.

Your virtual audience expects to “experience” your event much the same way as your face-to-face audience, so it is up to you to provide them with an “experience” that they will never forget.

hybrid event production You are planning an event...but you are producing a broadcast.

The amount and type of production equipment necessary for your hybrid event ties back into your strategy and is dependent on your virtual audience. Chances are that they are expecting a visually stimulating experience--but do they prefer sports, news, movies, something else? That will determine the type of production they are expecting from you.

hybrid event engagement

Emilie's 3 Rules of Engagement:
1. Know your audience.
2. Give your audience what they want.
3. Give your audience what they want in the way in which they wish to receive it.

Be sure to have a virtual emcee to act as a conduit for your virtual audience, and enable them to get the most out of the experience through constant information, explanation, moderation, conversation and reiteration.

Gone are the days when it is acceptable to merely point a camera at a speaker and stream footage to the Internet. Today’s virtual audience demands to be actively involved in your event or else they will not only walk away, but talk, tweet and text their discontent.

A hybrid event requires a combination of content + engagement. The content gets people in the door, and the engagement keeps them there and makes them want to come back for more.

The platform, the technology, the buttons are all tools. Tools are not engaging, people are.


Hybrid Special Events: So 'Now' or Not Yet?

ISES Eventworld 2011 Stresses Education by the Experts

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