VP of Global Events for Equinix Lisa Hempel talks to Daniel Halpin
Entering a hotel conference room, facing 300 ballroom chairs with a notepad and pen, a stage propped with a lectern and a pop-up banner with the event logo, and a stock holding image of a very happy group of people in suits looking inspired…every event person has been to one of these, knowing with a good degree of certainty what the day has instore. That preconception is everything that is wrong with the event industry. Your audience may be captive - but are they engaged? It’s easy to assume that because you have someone in the room, because they are physically there, that they are also attentive, interested, and responding to you. An experience that looks and feels the same as every other conference, meeting, summit, etc. is forgettable - a missed opportunity to build a lasting connection with your audience.
Traditional events people who routinely return to the out-of-the-box formula are the biggest enemy to experience. Change is slow but the world is waking-up and realising the power of experience to deliver brand strategy and leave a long lasting impression on the people in the room.
Coming into the event industry at the beginning of this transition from events to experiences, VP of Global Events for Equinix Lisa Hempel is applying the marketing model to internal campaigns - and using experience as the medium to connect with their global workforce.
"Connect (Equinix’s global sales kick-off) has always been my baby. When I first started, I had a meeting with the Head of Sales for the Americas and the Head of Events to plan what to do for that year, where should we have our offsite dinners, who from the executive team should be doing a funny skit…your basic cookie-cutter format. I asked if they would be interested in doing something a bit different - maybe shake things up a little by bringing in an external speaker. The events person got very uncomfortable and the sales person responded “could we do that? That would be awesome!”
The move from from ‘Event Planner’ to ‘Experience Creator’ is a paradigm shift that the new breed of event agency can relate to - aligning project execution to the attendee journey with a strategic focus. The standard solution just isn’t good enough. Innovation in the event industry, taking the lead from the tech industry, is revolutionising the attendee experience.
Taking on her role in 2016, when the word “event” needed to mean more than an execution but an experience whose KPI it was to change mindsets, Lisa pivoted the Equinix events team to think beyond what they knew and consider the value of choosing a riskier option that could deliver against Equinix’s agenda to attract and retain top talent to their global sales team.
“We had an opportunity through events to take the work we had been doing on Connect, really continue to expand that, and take the same philosophy and apply it to the events we had going on around the world - to give the events team a different perspective towards their seat at the table, to not be just an execution arm of someone else’s ideas but to be the team creating those ideas.”
Creating these ideas involves a deeper understanding of the audience in question - their state of mind, their attitudes, their feelings - creating an experience unique to them, designed to engage and captivate an audience to help them realise a new way of thinking. A data hungry organisation, Equinix approaches event design backed up with data to prove what’s working.
“For Connect, we conduct an extensive pre-event survey process, including one-on-one sessions, focus groups, and quantitative interviews with sales and sales support teams which set our goals for the event and a post-event survey which has a huge uptake because people really feel that they’re being heard when they see their ideas being brought to life year on year. It’s about the experience that everyone has - an event like this makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. Even if you’re sitting there listening to what the new product roadmap is you’re feeling inspired in the way that it’s being presented. It’s an opportunity to bring our international teams together for a shared experience to cooperate, to understand each other, and to understand the offering that Equinix brings to our customers that everyone - in all of our international offices - is contributing to. “
A key challenge facing Equinix, and many multinational brands today, is how to unite their disparate global workforce. The event industry, worth an annual £42.3 to the UK economy, is not the simplest, fastest, or most cost-efficient way to deliver the Equinix message - but, analysing the data gathered, the value gained from bringing people together for a face to face interaction far outweighs the cost.
“Every year we have the same debate: is it worth bringing everyone in from around the world as the organisation continues to grow when the costs are so high? But that debate quickly gets put to bed because we understand the importance of physically getting people together, getting to know each other and understand each other. Our challenge as the event strategists is how to make that three or four day period as effective as we can. Last year, we took our Connect data and compared it against the broader Equinix salesforce surveyed data and the correlation there was that people who attend our events are more likely to recommend Equinix as a great place to work. The people who have the opportunity to come to Connect are more invested in the business, are more likely to stay, and are (hopefully) more productive because they believe that this thing that they are a part of is bigger than they are.”
This culture of experience Equinix has created, the standard they’ve set with Connect, and the growing expectation their audience has to be entertained and excited, requires constant reinvention. It’s no longer just looking for the best value in a supplier or a venue that can cater for the number, but getting ahead of the trend and finding new ways for audiences to connect. Through immersive, sensory experiences, dynamic programmes designed to engage, wellness programmes, and creative group activities, the audience leaves inspired and energised by the experience. Year on year, the challenge is to create new ways to invoke a sense of connection between the sales team, the work they do, and the valued contribution they make to the Equinix brand.
“No one wants to sit in an uncomfortable ballroom chair and stare at a powerpoint presentation for hours. I know there are some companies out there that are doing great work to change this - on a much larger scale than we are. One area of the event industry that’s going to have to make a major shift is hotels (and other event venues) - they need to start thinking seriously about the environment, to get out of the old-school way of thinking, and to start thinking about new ways to create a positive experience. We all need to push each other to do things differently, to think differently - then I think the business of events can become a way for people to reconnect face to face. We’re so caught up in our computers and our phones - we need to give people a reason to want to be with each other physically, to have that human connection, to have that experience, to broaden your horizons because of the people you meet and the experiences you share together. Whether it’s for a company or whether you’re doing something personally that you do together, people need that reason to come together and be with a community of like minded people or with similar interests.”
Brands waking up to the real value of face-to-face experience and its ability to inspire, excite, and create a stronger, united workforce has changed the game for event planners. If you’re not changing mindsets while delivering against real, measurable objectives then what’s the point?