This is how corporate events succeed in the digital space.
What makes a successful corporate event? Which elements are crucial to creating a lasting impact on the audience - analog, digital or hybrid? The digital corporate event is no longer just the young wild thing on the communications merry-go-round. It is growing out of the shadows of traditional events and asserting itself with lasting effectiveness; provided it has been implemented correctly. Digital corporate events are here to stay. But how do companies pull off the big show? The boutique brand communications agency FS Parker uses examples from its clients, including Raiffeisen Switzerland, Ringier, Switzerland Tourism, BSH Switzerland, to show how digital events can achieve impact.
Last year, the learning curve of companies with regard to their digital competence was characterized by trial and error. Purely via the screen, usually transmitted live from the improvised home office into the kitchens and bedrooms of the employees, they have tried hard to keep the corresponding target audience happy. We have learned one thing above all: there is still a lot of room for improvement in digital presentation.
For example, why does the motivation of employees via digital events deserve at least as much attention as an analog event? The days when management messages were patiently digested by employees and implemented as desired are over, at the latest since the millennials started working. Informing and, ideally, inspiring requires more than terse instructions. Genuine commitment cannot be bought in the long term but can only be developed through appreciation. The community within a company wants to be nurtured, understood, and involved. It is not enough to decorate bullet-point overloaded slides with colourful pictures.
Christoph Schmidt, Managing Director of FS Parker sees it as follows: "To create a sense of community, interaction in the digital space is even more important than offline. The earlier and the more employees that are involved in the process, feel that they are part of something big, the more powerful the effect - in the short term as well as in the long term. Employees are possibly the most valuable ambassadors of a company. If it is not possible to communicate internally where the journey is going, it will even more difficult to convince the outside world. Stories of strategic spotlights or milestones along the way to the big vision are essential. Numbers and KPIs are important, but only the results of what has been achieved together. Accordingly, they should be weighted."
As a true visionary, Marc Walder, CEO of Ringier AG, sends a clear signal in the age of digitization with an annual fixture. The multimedia presentation "SPEAK" brings figures, data, facts, and developments of the media group to life through stories and moving images. The presentation is storytelling and infotainment with lasting impact. "If we are courageous and try to learn together every day in these fast-moving times, it will make us stronger. FS Parker guided us in building "SPEAK" into an impactful event."
Where to start? The best place to start is with the message. What does management want to convey and why? With strategic communications, impact-strong and brand-affine graphic implementation, as well as reliable service providers also in the technical area, the leap into the digital water succeeds without much headache. "In this context, holistic consulting is important in order to translate strategic plans into effective communicative solutions - in terms of both content and visuals," says Stephanie von Mentlen Ramunno, Head of Strategic Communications at Raiffeisen Switzerland. "FS Parker supported us with pragmatic approaches and delivered state-of-the-art solutions. Not an easy task." André Franz, Head of Marketing at BSH Switzerland especially appreciates working together with FS Parker at eye level to create something unforgettable and the agency's holistic approach.
A digital event offers opportunities that go beyond the possibilities of the traditional format. A larger group can be reached. More employees can be involved. Messages can be conveyed with pinpoint accuracy. Contrary to all prejudices, the networking aspect can now also be integrated digitally with various tools.
How does a digital event succeed optimally?
A traditional event that used to drag on for several hours shines digitally when the content is condensed to the point.What's really relevant? The rule of thumb is: no more than 90 minutes at a time. In the digital space, viewers lose their attention even faster than they already did offline. Important topics can be explored in greater depth, for example in workshops that precede or follow the event.
Do it right or don't do it at all. The viewer sitting uncomfortably at the kitchen table staring into his too small screen is much less forgiving than the one sipping a glass of champagne in a nice off-site location. In 2020, awkward attempts to perform through self-made slides still earned sympathetic smiles. In 2021, there are no more sympathy points for that. Why isn't content alone everything?
Content is still king, but without an appropriate framework, without supporting visualization, the king quickly finds himself without clothes. That's when it quickly becomes embarrassing for everyone involved. Noelia Blanco, COO and Key Account Director at FS Parker, is convinced that "in the few moments during the year when the management addresses the employees, shareholders or important stakeholders on a grand scale, content as well as speakers can definitely stand a touch of high gloss".
Martin Nydegger, Director of Switzerland Tourism, puts it this way: "Switzerland Tourism's Holiday Day is the biggest and most important industry event of the year. In 2021, the association was faced with the difficult challenge of showing ways out of the biggest crisis in recent history and inspiring and motivating the entire industry with one event. I am very impressed with how we succeeded in achieving this goal, even in a virtual setting. The positive impact of the show gives the entire industry courage for the future."
Hannes Sigrist-Thompson, Executive Creative Director & Founder of FS Parker, the agency in charge of the project, says: "For Switzerland Tourism, it was a matter of using a story line to credibly convey a prospect of better times and to generate enthusiasm for the industry's comeback in an entertaining, energetic way. Special challenges require more than conventional presentations. In this case, being able to run the show in a TV studio allowed us to convey content at a fast pace and with a high level of professionalism, while showing the speakers in their best light. Apart from that, it was incredibly fun and looked fantastic."
Because in the end, everyone wants to be proud. Proud of their work that contributes to a greater whole. Proud of the company they work for every day. Proud of the leadership team of the organization or industry. A professional appearance is a form of appreciation. Everything is a statement, even in the digital space.
Where do I pick up my audience mentally and on what journey do I take them? How do I portion information so that it is best absorbed and remembered? How much entertainment is necessary to keep the attention via the screen? Which interactions can support the dramaturgy? How does the event retain its appeal even if it is watched as a replay on the other side of the world? How much TV show character is allowed? These and other questions need to be clarified in advance. Teasers before the event arouse interest and increase the number of participants. Strong openers form the foundation of the digital stage. Follow-up communication after the event deepens and anchors content.
"A digital event is not just an analog event plus a camera. The digital space has its own rules. The trick is to hold the audience's attention. If you communicate purely digitally, you can't rely on a cool event location. The content alone must captivate. The competition from digital distractions is enormous. Emails want to be answered, Instagram is worth a look, the next notification is buzzing on the cell phone. Nevertheless, it is possible to win over the audience if you know how," adds Hannes Sigrist-Thompson.
Katarina Rösinger, CEO BSH Switzerland: "Stories write life. It is important to send messages that are remembered. We succeeded particularly well with the kickoff this year." This point may seem like old wine in new skins, but it's more relevant than ever, because emotions are doubly important in the digital world, as content arrives filtered. So, the sterile environment of the digital world per se does not yet trigger any shouts of joy.
Johanna Walser, Chief Communication Officer at Ringier, always asks herself: "How can you trigger enthusiasm and create opportunities for identification despite all the sobriety? Storytelling is an important tool in the communications magic box and needs to be reinforced digitally." But beware! A story only makes sense if you know why it is being told and how you relate to it. Authenticity, transparency and honesty are key factors here. Only when excellent content is optimally accompanied visually, impact will be created. "Without storytelling, the consumer will never be able to absorb the wealth of information. These must pay off on two or three main messages to sustainably take the target audience on a journey," adds Christoph Schmidt. "We certainly succeeded very well with Raiffeisen with a mountain climb or BSH with a visit from the future."
Similar to the analog world, ideally an overarching theme runs through an event series like a common thread. Digitally, however, I have more opportunities to play the theme in a variety of ways, to repeat it selectively and to anchor it in the memory. How can I spread the message even longer?
Noelia Blanco says that "the common thread with the main messages from the invitation, to digital content with video, animations and presentations, to the look and feel of interactions with the audience, to pre- or post-event workshops or surveys is the key to a sustainable and successful digital event."
To ensure that a successful digital event doesn't turn into a flash in the pan, it's best to think about how the material will be reused right from the planning stage. How can the message be sustainably anchored both internally and externally? Which excerpts do you need for social media? Which parts can be included in an image film about the company? The requirements of different channels influence the production. For example, the presentation of an annual report does not need to be a "one-shot". The valuable content easily fills other formats and channels after the launch of the report.
A few seconds of radio silence due to technical difficulties or inadequate rehearsals have a much longer impact in the digital space than at an offline event. Just because an event is held digitally doesn't make it easy or to be taken lightly. Thorough preparation becomes more important. How do I manage the speakers before the performance? Who is responsible for keeping to the schedule? Is there moderation?
"Planning a digital event is not per se less elaborate than an offline event," says Noelia Blanco. "What is important is meticulous preparation. The choice of the right technical tools needs to be considered early on. What interactions do you want to offer? Do you work with video in your event? What content needs to be produced in advance? How do you guide interactively through the Q&A session? An important element is also aligning the expectations of the various partners and service providers in advance." Volker Klodwig, Head of Sales Europe at BSH Hausgerätegruppe adds, "A well-functioning team, top preparation, a clean storyboard that does not overwhelm consumers but takes them along on the journey are essential. This is reflected in the quality of an event. Be this digital or analog, but almost more crucial in the digital implementation."
FS Parker's strategic consulting and visual implementation is bearing fruit. At Raiffeisen Switzerland, for example, the communication resulted in a 40% increase in employees' understanding of the corporate strategy, a 90% conversion of "words into actions" and a 30% increase in "pride" in being part of Raiffeisen Switzerland. A result Stephanie von Mettlen Ramunno is proud of.
Sooner or later, the digital event format will win a prominent place in the corporate communications orchestra. The future is and will remain digital or at least hybrid. Hybrid brings with it a new level of complexity because it is more than just an analog event with a live broadcast. Christoph Schmidt says: "There is no substitute for contact with people. Hybrid and digital events complement and emphasize the analog delivery of content very well. This can be very helpful for large organizational units that want to emotionally pick up and inspire employees across regions, language borders and countries."