Pivoting to an all-digital virtual event
The Corporate Event Marketing Association promotes strategic event marketing and communications for senior-level event marketers and industry professionals. Among the highlights of its educational, professional development and networking opportunities is the annual CEMA Summit.
Held every summer for the past 30 years, this year’s Summit was slated for July 27-28 in Nashville, TN. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In mid-May, CEMA leadership decided to pivot to an all-digital virtual conference.
“We had to make the tough decision of canceling or moving our live event to a virtual event,” said Kimberley Gishler, president and chief executive officer of CEMA. “And that is when I called my dear friends at Hubb and asked if they would be willing to help us out for the digital summit this year.”
The challenges seemed daunting. “We had to ask ourselves how the strategy changes when you go to an all-digital program,” said Julie Lynch, an event industry veteran and consultant tasked with creating content for the CEMA Summit.
Event Goals: Content and Connection
Regardless of the format, the top goal for the CEMA Summit was to provide attendees with relevant content, said Stacey Diemer, CEMA membership director. “Content is critical.”
The organizers also wanted to showcase CEMA’s penchant for fostering connections. “When we went from a live event to a digital event I was really concerned about losing that connection, that feeling of community,” Gishler said.
Hubb Platform Provides Flexibility
Fortunately, Hubb’s event management platform can shift easily from on-site to virtual or hybrid. “The Hubb system is amazing to quickly be able to just turn and to help us,” Lynch said. “The platform gave us so much flexibility.”
The keynote speeches and sessions fit well within the agenda for the event, now rechristened as the CEMA Digital Experience Summit. Still, they needed some tweaking to allow for greater online interaction. This is where the Hubb virtual event platform shone, with its ability to enable a variety of connection opportunities.
“That's the beauty of Hubb,” Lynch said. “At an event, making those connections and having those meetings is incredibly important. Being able to see people's profiles, see what they might be an expert on, filter by their likes and find people in a digital platform is so important.”
The conference team deployed Hubb to bring the event to life in myriad ways.
The educational lineup featured more than 80 breakout sessions, roundtables, expert panels and personal development sessions. Attendees commented on presentations and interacted with keynote speakers via a live chat room. There were also opportunities to connect through small group discussions and brainstorms.
But it wasn’t all business. The Summit 2020 virtual playground offered interactive games, a walking challenge, yoga classes, a LinkedIn page makeover, online image consultation, cooking and mixology classes, a live singer-songwriter experience, and a tech showcase. The CEMA “virtual hug” allowed attendees to create and share greetings via a virtual photo booth. The Summit concluded with a Nashville-themed virtual happy hour.
Hubb Support: Before, During and After
“When you're putting an event on for event marketers, they’re a tough audience,” Gishler said. “I have to say Hubb’s support was amazing. You knew about any issues before I even said anything about it, and you got it fixed. You were wonderful to work with—great energy, great integrity, incredibly loyal, and you made us look really good.”
With more than 500 event marketing leaders in attendance, the event marked the highest attendance in the summit’s history. Nearly half the attendees were first-timers, including more than 100 non-members.
“Transforming CEMA Summit 2020 into a digital event took creativity and courage, and our incredible team of content producers, platform developers, organizers and subject experts did an extraordinary job creating a truly engaging and meaningful experience,” Gishler said. “I am so proud of our members, industry partners and sponsors for rallying to make Summit 2020 a huge success.”
Plans are already underway for CEMA Summit 2021 in Colorado. With the Hubb platform’s ability to pivot easily from in-person to virtual or hybrid formats, CEMA will be prepared for another successful run.