Physical to Virtual Event Transformation – An Interview with SAP’s Scott Schenker

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With over 47,000 employees globally, SAP is an enterprise software company that delivers software solutions to international corporations operating, manufacturing/service industries in their core business operations, such as supplier relationship, production and warehouse management, sales, administration, and customer relationship.

Virtual Edge had an opportunity to speak recently with Scott Schenker- Vice President, Global Events of SAP. Scott is responsible for the overall strategy and business management of major special events for SAP around the world including the transformation of SAPPHIRE into SAPPHIRE NOW.

Q: Scott, can you give us an overview of your design approach for SAPPHIRE NOW?

A: In 2010 we began a transformation of SAPPHIRE – SAP’s primary customer and community facing event – into SAPPHIRE NOW. This next generation event changed the role, relevancy, reach, and results of the program. And what results we had!

Q: How has this transformation impacted the role of the event?

A: SAPPHIRE NOW’s role as a pipeline-accelerating and vision sharing event has been expanded to ensure the event itself, and not just the content and presentations, present SAP as innovative, exciting, and amazing. Utilizing the best practices of experiential marketing, we recognized that the experience a visitor has at SAPPHIRE NOW could have as much impact on their views of the company as anything else. To be thought of as amazing, we needed to be amazing.

This drove a re-creation of the attendee experience from moment one.

  • When they entered the show floor they saw the centerpiece of the program – the broadcast center. This stunningly designed and built facility housed 3 fully operating studios from which 3 full days of programming was produced and beamed around the show floor, and the world.
  • This represented the global reach of SAP, the instantaneousness and authenticity of the content, the diversity of the community via interviews and programs, and the scale of the company.
  • Attendees were able to be “hands on” with the information via individual touch screen kiosks throughout the show floor and a larger than life interactive display in the main lounge that allowed multiple people to simultaneously display, listen, and share. This inviting and engaging method of content sharing drew the attendee into the conversation, making them feel welcome and in control.

Q: And what was your strategy in merging the technology with the content of the event?

A: While the environment and technology was amazing, the transformation needed to be more than just “skin deep”. In today’s crowded and overwhelming world of constant information, we needed to ensure the content reaching our participants was relevant to each and every one of them. This is not an easy task.

To do this, we fundamental changed the tone of the event from “presentations” to “conversations”. Key changes were made in the structure and delivery of everything from the selection and presentation of content, to the keynotes, to the structure of the show floor.

  • A steering committee selected content from several sources to match not only the direction of the company and it’s partners, but also to the mix of attendees – by lines of business, industry, desired topics, etc.
  • The show floor was transformed from 13 separate areas (previously known as villages) to 4 primary campuses, each incorporating presentation, discussions, and lounge space – everything one needed allowing more time participating than walking from place to place.
  • Keynotes were capped to 30 minutes in length and the messages developed cross all presentations using a “red thread” process. Each campus presentation from the campuses was either a 45-minute panel, or a 20-minute presentation. And over 700 micro-forums were added to the 250 theater presentations.
  • Having observed in prior years how some participants gather around the speaker after the formal presentation ends for an ongoing discussion, special rooms were constructed to allow this to occur in a more open and formal space following each of the 20-minute sessions. These unstructured discussions furthered the transformation from presentation to conversation.
  • Various stakeholders, from the press, customers, partners, bloggers, user’s groups, prospects, and more were all on the show floor together, bringing the entire breadth and depth of the SAP community to life.

Q: And tells please about the global execution of the event.

A: Because not everyone could join the physical experience in Orlando, we broadened our reach. First, to Frankfurt Germany with a second, identical event including it’s own broadcast studio, campuses, and sessions; then to a series of ½ day satellite locations around the world; and finally to the World Wide Web with a “like you are there” web site and engaging social media plan.

  • The satellite programs were held in Japan, Australia, Singapore, Colombia, and Argentina. They were connected live to the Orlando event for a portion of the day for a “report from SAPPHIRE NOW” and highlights from the event.
  • The unique web site allowed those unable to be at one of the two larger, or five satellite events the opportunity to join the conversation. Utilizing real-time streaming video of all 400+ sessions and keynotes, as well as video and audio of the discussion rooms, we provided the remote participants the feeling they were there.
  • Utilizing Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube and more, the message and content reached even further. But to ensure relevancy, we added “Social Reporters” who presented specific topics from the show floor via YouTube, a blog site, and twitter.

Q: So with this strategy and execution in place- what were the results?

A: The results were fantastic. Brand factors such as perception of innovation increased significantly when measured from prior years and just prior to the event. And with the launch of the new “Run Better” campaign, firmly indicated a new direction for SAP.Business factors such as inclination to purchase and Net Promoter Score (willingness to promote SAP to friends and colleagues) also increased to unseen levels. Early indications are that the impact to the bottom line will be just as strong.

With these important changes to SAPPHIRE NOW established, it’s time to look forward to the World Tours and the 2011 SAPPHIRE NOW events. Be assured, we will continue to look for ways to bring the SAP brand experience to life, and maintain SAPPHIRE NOW’s position as SAP’s most important event.

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