How Real-Time Content and Social Media Re-Invented the DEMO Conference and Launched Startup America Partnership
In this blog post I want to share some details for how my team reinvented the world’s leading launch event DEMO Conference using realtime content production, social media, live press feeds and analytics. Back in 2010 I joined the IDG DEMO Conference team to build a new layer of technology and processes to reinvent the world’s leading launch event. When I joined DEMO did not have an in-house social media team, photography team or back stage “war room” with analytics dashboards to support the production.
Digital Ecosystems must constantly adapt and proliferate not purely gain market advantage, but to survive against a constantly changing, volatile international marketplace full of ruthless competitors. People in organizations also need to continuously monitor fast moving trends, adapt to change, implement new technologies and execute like Formula One Race Team pit crews or the race to win will be lost.
DEMO Conference History
The DEMO conference is a series of technology-focused business conferences in which pre-selected companies and entrepreneurs launch new products and services. Produced by IDG, DEMO seeks to identify and promote new technology with the potential to solve big problems with careful selection and coaching.
“Products launched at DEMO include: Salesforce.com, TiVo, VMware, Evernote, E*Trade, WebEx and Fusion-io. DEMO Conferences are held under the names DEMO Enterprise, DEMO Africa, DEMO China, DEMO Brazil, DEMO Asia (Vietnam), DEMO Europe (Russia), DEMO Tour, and DEMO Fall. In 1990, Stewart Alsop II realized he was more intrigued by the one-on-one demonstrations of coming technologies conducted in hallways and hotel rooms during the off hours during technology conferences. This prompted Alsop to found the first DEMO Conference in 1991.
The conference draws media attention for its emerging technologies. At the DEMOSpring 2010 Conference, media attendees included Business Week, CBS, Forbes, LA Times, Popular Science, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. Entrepreneurs launching their products and services often cite publicity as a reason for choosing to pitch at DEMO. Additional conference attendees include venture capitalists, angels and other investors, corporate development officers, and entrepreneurs.
DEMO Conferences also feature prominent entrepreneurs and technology professionals as speakers and panelists at each event. Previous speakers include  Twitter cofounder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, SAP CEO Bill McDermott, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Hewlett-Packard CTO Phil McKinney, and Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard.” – Wikipedia
Building the New Real-Time Content, Social Media and Technology Ecosystem
The game plan introduced realtime content, social media, digital signage, Social TV Studio lounges and analytics technology to support launching 70+ new technology products and services every six months to 800 of the world’s press and venture capitalists.
IDG charged each company $18,000.00 to pitch 6-minutes on stage, have a booth, coaching, networking and some meals. That is a lot of cheddar! This level of pay-to-lay was borderline unethical in many views. When you look at the overall costs of event production, logistics, press and media outreach, it is a lot cheaper to shoot 800 press in a barrel back in 2010 than other methods. Anyone who complains that “you should not charge a fee to launch” has never produced a launch event themselves, paid teams to do solid work, paid mafia level extortion fees to hotels, conference centers for chairs, table cloths, power and bandwidth.
I HAVE SEEN IT ALL! One time the venue wanted to charge me $2,500 for one 110V power supply to our side studio. AV companies had locked in exclusive contracts for gear and would always ask our team if we “needed anything?”, then present a $2,000.00 bill for a lamp and a few chairs. Now lets talk about event venue bandwidth. My photography and video crew is a monster media machine that cranks out gigabytes of content that crushes networks. Venues ran mobile bandwidth jamming devices so you had to use there expensive WIFI was a common practice. Luckily we had IDG behind our backs and Neal Silverman knew how to play hardball and go over the heads of the local venue scam artists. IDG was one of the largest tech conference producers in the world and had contracts on a global scale with venues. Heads had to roll to make things happen when showtime was 12 hours away.
We Scoured the World for New Technology Innovations via DEMO Innovation Tours
Each year Neal Silverman and our team hosted Demo Innovation Tour events around the globe to connect with the world’s leading entrepreneurs, screen them and invite the top companies to launch new products and services at DEMO Conference. I spearheaded events in Seattle, Los Angeles, SXSW and other events.
Each event was designed as a filter to surface and hand-select companies to present at DEMO. All products were required to be emerging from stealth-mode and must never exposed by the press. The grand prize for each event was the chance to win $1Million in IDG media exposure. The cost was justified to fund a state-of-the-art launch production team and additional exposure across IDG’s global network of technology trade publications. DEMO was closed down a year after I left the production, the big launch events had run their course.
The Event Production Team
Multiple production teams, technical producers and public relations teams set up for two days to get ready for showtime. This was a large-scale, million dollar live production with a huge risk profile as anything can go wrong and will go wrong at events. Only experienced teams have the scar tissue and experience to produce live events. It is the best environment to learn realtime digital marketing and social media.
Each Company was Coached to have their Press, Social Media and Content ready for show time!
Behind the scenes our “DEMO Coach” Nathan Goldman took the stage to provide education how to present on stage, build slide decks and all of the small details that will kill a presentation. Presenting high-tech innovations is not easy. The nature of bleeding-edge technology is to fail right when the world is watching. Nathan worked his magic to help executive remain calm on stage even when disasters happened.
Live demos require a special talent to work the audience, keep the cadence of the presentation on track to guide the audience through technical details in simplified communication. Storytelling is critical for launches and the art of the pitch is to blow the audiences minds away at the right time after laying down the back-story.
My job was to take the stage and provide social media and content coaching for the 75+ presenters. Since each company paid a heavy $18k to IDG, I wanted to give them the cutting edge gold-standard treatment. It is tough to know a lot of depth but I had to keep things relatively simple.
Two weeks before the event I sent out run sheets with homework assignments and checklists for each presenting company and their PR teams. Social Media was very new to most of these companies at the time so they needed hand-holding to get their affairs in order. First I would outline the media machine that was running behind the scenes at DEMO. Then assignments were sent out to teams to get them ready to become a node on our “social media railgun”. Here are a few pro-tip examples. I could go way deeper but we had limited time.
- Capture all branded social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flicker and other sites. Your brand will be poached and held for ransom when the world of competitors and cyber criminals view your launch. This saved over 100 companies a lot of cash and grief.
- Search engine optimized all of your websites and social media channels so they rank and are discoverable by the press, investors, partners and M&A deal makers
- Pre-build out blog posts and we will feed you photos to embellish your posts so they are rich and tell a good story
- Have your press releases ready. I had created a deal with Marketwire to provide a free press package for each company and hand designed each press release with proper metadata for SEO indexing
- Pre-develop social media posts for before, during and after the event. I provided a spreadsheet with examples, @names and hashtags to structure all posts and add them into the social stream. Events move fast and you do not have anytime to waste. Teams were also instructed to have remote operations working in concert with their on location teams to save money
- Have customized business cards with your booth number printed out, website, blog, social media channel @names and hashtags
The Event Industry’s First Real-Time Social Media Dashboard with Analytics
I came up with the idea of a live social media dashboard to solve a few problems. First, I noticed that the press did not have a clearing house and live stream of photographs to go along with their news stories and blog posts covering launches. Since my company had the rights to the photos we could provide them to all of the press. At these types of events 800 press could not afford to each have their own photographer. Thus, we streamlined the process for the leading technology press to write their stories quickly and embellish articles with rich professional photographs.
I created an A-team of photographers, photo editors who had sports shooting backgrounds. Next I understood how search engine optimization (SEO) worked using photography metadata to index photos. Each presenter and company had a pre-written customized metadata set ready to be added by our live photo editor. The pre-production work enabled us to work extremely fast with detailed accurate metadata.
We also employed the latest in Canon photography over wireless streaming so our team could eliminate the need to dump camera SD cards. We would have both options on hand since the wireless technology for photo streaming was new and would often fail. Since we controlled the photo stream, we had the power to embed analytics into each individual photo. Our analytics identified photo views and where the photos were placed on news coverage the second they were published.
The “Social + Media” dashboard featured live streaming video, social media buzz and photography enriched with search engine optimized metadata, personalized for each presenting company.
The key game changer here was how we developed the system to stream photos to the reporters that they could rapidly embed into their news stories and blog posts.
A team of social media experts generated buzz for each presenting company. We tapped into our social media analytics to monitor when the press broke their news stories and then rapidly re-syndicated the story links and photos to Twitter, Facebook and other channels. A week before the event I created a second by second spreadsheet with pre-written social media posts for each company, speaker and sponsor with encoded links to websites, @names and #hashtags. This boosted our speed to post times down to seconds.
Integration of Social Media into Digital Signage, Dashboards, Schedules, Banners and Print Media
Next I “socialized” the entire event by providing instructions to the IDG team on how system worked. All event signage and programs had the event hashtags and @DEMO social media accounts listed. We also took over the Santa Clara Convention Center’s digital signage system to reinforce social media messages and beamed our real-time social media dashboard though out the conference center. We created an integrated fabric of digital signage from the freeway to inside the Santa Clara Convention Center. This strategy generate more buzz by messaging guests how to use social media hashtags, @names and a custom dashboard that monitored the event with the latest in realtime analytics.
Social Media integration at events is now an industry event standard. I had to educate and fight battles to get complete integration. Every six months we would blow away the previous event’s numbers across content and social media analytics. This scaled from a typical tweet getting a few hundred hits to 20k hits and beyond.
Backstage we deployed a “war room” with full analytics dashboards to track news and press coverage as it unfolded in realtime
After six minutes on stage, presenters were ushered backstage to a customized realtime digital launch war room complete with live social media analytics, press news buzz as it unfolded, social media sentiment analytics and a cold beer to cool off the stress.
I coordinated sponsorships in-trade to use expensive social media and public relations news analytics packages from Marketwire Sysomos. Next, I cut a deal with Infocus to have two of their new 55″ touch screen giant collaboration tablet computers to provide our launch companies with state-of-the-art realtime analytics to measure press hits, social media analytics, blog post comment sentiment and an array of other analytics.
The magic happened when everything came together and the first presenter hit the state. Within a minute we had a stream of photographs and social media posts populating the dashboard. At the end of six minutes the really fast press writer’s stories would hit the internet. In concert, we had our partner Marketwire launch a press release for each company. By the time a company was off stage we had social media analytics, press hits, photography views, shares, likes, and deep social media sentiment analytics racing across two huge 55″ touch screen computers. This created quite a spectacle. It was awesome to see the full digital ecosystem working at scale and everyone loved it.
The social media war room technology provided the DEMO presenting companies with a huge advantage to re-syndicate the news coverage on their websites and quickly interact with audiences on blog comments, critical to answer key questions and block negative comments with smart answers.
Startup America Partnership, a Whitehouse Initiative at DEMO Conference
Neal Silverman Senior Vice President and General Manager of IDG Enterprise’s DEMO called with the big news that we would be launching Startup America Partnership at DEMO. Our guests for the launch were AOL’s c0-founder Mr. Steve Case and Priceline’s CTO Scott Case who were spearheading the initiative signed into action by President Barak Obama. No stress at all 🙂 .
“Startup America” is a White House initiative to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation. This coordinated public/private effort brings the country’s most innovative entrepreneurs, corporations, universities, foundations, and other leaders with a wide range of federal agencies to increase the prevalence and success of America’s entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will commit $2 billion as a match to private sector investment over the next five years in promising high-growth companies. SBA-guaranteed bonds will match private capital raised by these privately-owned and managed investment funds.
"Entrepreneurs embody the promise of America: the idea that if you have a good idea and are willing to work hard and see it through, you can succeed in this country. And in fulfilling this promise, entrepreneurs also play a critical role in expanding our economy and creating jobs." —PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, JANUARY 31, 2011
Mega Startup Weekend
The project featured a two part production. First we created a weekend long hackathon in partnership with Startup Weekend and Microsoft. We called the project “Mega Startup Weekend”. The winners of this event would be featured at DEMO Conference with the winning pitches featured on stage. Next we developed the Startup America Lounge in a room adjacent to the main huge conference room that incorporated a live video studio, photography studio, social media team, press room, custom social media dashboards with live event data and analytics.
Building the Startup America Lounge
After getting news we went to work to plan how to manage both the DEMO main stage launches and the new special Startup America Lounge. A decade before this event I had created the Venture All Stars events that united the NW startup ecosystem. This experience hosting events at Seahawks Stadium, Mariners Stadium and Chateau Ste Michelle served as a good model to support the hugely important White House initiative.
Startup America Lounge Details
The project was sponsored by Microsoft, American Express, Intuit and Dell. I made sure that these brand sponsors were provided with a comprehensive content and social media promotion package with analytics. Few sponsors at this time had received a full digital package with analytics and special inclusion of their digital marketing teams. We set the gold-standard for sponsorship deliverables for events.
- Integrated branding and digital signage with live social media dashboards located at high-traffic areas in the conference center
- Live video interview studio sponsored by NewTek
- Photographer backdrop and roaming team to capture the main interview studio and lounge area
- Live photo editors creating high-value streams of content for the press, media, sponsors and companies
- Real-Time Social Media Team posting video interviews, photos and other content
- Private Press Room used for exclusive interviews
- Full Stack Digital Marketing Analytics for all content, social media and press
- Relaxation and networking area
- Full bar
Startup America at TieCon the World’s Largest Entrepreneurship Conference
But wait, there is more… Startup America’s Steve Case was invited as the keynote speaker for TieCon in Silicon Valley. In three weeks from start to finish I pitched to create a Startup America Lounge at TiEcon after tracking down Scott Case at SXSW to convince him that the opportunity would be a hit.
Live at SXSW on the NewTek Stage
When the opportunities happen, often they hit all at once. My partner always said “sleep when you die!”. SXSW is a huge technology event and this year Twitter was all of the rage and social media was going super nova. I was in the right place at the right time and used the opportunity to create exposure for entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, races, sexes and from around the world.
NewTek was a great partner and the global leader for live streaming video servers. They created a high profile stage at SXSW and were generous to provide a valuable interview time slots for our production to tie in Startup America and DEMO interviews on their stage.
Next Up – Taking Wearables to the #1 Category at the International CES, the World’s Largest Consumer Tech Trade Show
The next big project was to take on the world’s largest consumer technology trade show and build a new show called Digital Health LIVE at CES. I build a full stack realtime digital marketing ecosystem, live interview studios, staffed the content production team and deployed the analytics engine. The “wearables” and digital health category was just emerging at this time. With the help of a great team we took CES by storm and put the rocket fuel to propel the digital health and wearables category to #1 at CES the first year of our contract. The International CES is massive trade show and volatile, fast paced environment to test new ideas and break things. Once again, our realtime content, social media team and analytics engine was deployed to out perform and dominate the buzz at CES.
Mastering “One Take Live Interviews” with zero post production
I am a bit crazy and also served as the Digital Health LIVE show host and produced “one-take” live interviews with the world’s leaders in wearables and digital health technology. Our approach to zero post production interviews enabled us to crank out a massive amount of content. Jill Gilbert from Living in Digital Times was the master mind producer of this part of CES and had the magical ability to pull in all of the top players in the business. Our job was to work with Jill to provide soup-to-nuts integrated digital strategy, setup new social media accounts and build the content streams for the event. The time-frame from start to finish was brutal since sponsors to fund the studio always came in around December 1st. The event was one month away with holidays killing a week right before the big show hosted in the beginning of January. Budgets were always super tight and we had to go into this with small skeleton production teams, hire local UNLV interns for support and come up with creative hacks to work in these harsh conditions.
Robots on the Runway
The producers had a cool idea to develop a new fashion show called Robots on the Runway and needed some help. I called my friend in Silicon Valley, Andra Kay, a leader in robotics, to advise and pull in robotics companies to be featured at this innovative production at CES.
Social Media Pull Quote Cards
At previous events we had developed a way to super-charge buzz for interviews by developing a new format called the “Pull Quote” social media card. We pre-generated the graphics for each speaker and then used our real-time photography system to rapidly capture images to place on our graphics. A live social media team then listened to interviews as they unfolded on stage and “pulled quotes” from the speakers to be highlighted on the graphic cards.
We then created social media posts with speaker and company @names, #hashtags and codified links to track analytics for click-throughs from the graphics to our speakers websites and our channels. This model enhanced social media posts viral spread by 10X and we would hit up to 60,000+ impressions per Tweet. The effect was like having a home run hitter crush the ball out of the park each time speaker was on stage. The model also developed the personal brand image of our guest speakers and provided them with content to sent to their social media channels. I developed a whole range of realtime social media strategies, hacks and tricks of the trade that can help you with your business.