Lessons in Digital Agility from the 2020 Democratic National Convention
Traditionally an in-person event, the 2020 Democratic National Convention drew a record-breaking audience: 122 million total viewers, and 35.5 million on digital platforms—all fully remote and virtual.
In this webinar, join the DNCC’s Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Binns, and Director of Digital Communications Hannah Flom to get their insight on how business leaders can embrace a digital-first mindset to achieve growth amidst the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Watch now to learn:
- How the DNCC pivoted 50+ in-person events to virtual in less than three months
- Practical tips for mitigating the security risk of virtual events
- Trusted technologies to power high-scale digital experiences
- Trends influencing the future of industry trade shows and events
Andrew Binns, Chief Operating Officer, 2020 Democratic National Convention Committee
A Boston native, Andrew Binns has worked in technology for the past 15 years conceptualizing, building, and managing technology projects for production companies, political and non-profit organizations, and special events around the world.
Binns most recently served as the CIO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Prior to that Binns led the implementation of cutting edge technological advances as the CIO of the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington DC. Binns currently works as CEO of the company he co-founded and specializes in integrating and utilizing new technologies for existing companies and building technology infrastructure for start-ups and major events.
Hannah Flom, Director of Digital Communications, 2020 Democratic National Convention Committee
Hannah Flom served as the Director of Digital Communications for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, where she directed the development and execution of a comprehensive digital strategy for the first-ever virtual convention. Before joining the convention team, she worked for Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, as the Digital Director in his Administration. She previously worked on electoral races in Minnesota and at political marketing firm Bully Pulpit Interactive. She graduated from George Washington University, with a degree in Political Communication.
Tess Needham (00:01):
Hi, everybody, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us for the webinar, Lessons in digital agility from the 2020 Democratic National Convention. At WordPress VIP, our customers are constantly innovating with their WordPress websites and they’re pushing WordPress beyond the blog. As an example of this, we invited our customer, the DNCC, to walk through what it was like to pivot their event to virtual and have even more emphasis on their website. As we go through the session, please feel free to drop your questions into the Q&A box and we’ll have some time to answer those at the end. I’ll let Megan Marcel, our head of global events at WordPress VIP take it from here. Over to you Megan.
Megan Marcel (00:49):
Awesome. Welcome. As Tess mentioned, we are excited to chat with Andrew Binns, chief operating officer and Hannah Flom, director of digital communications of the DNCC on their pivot to virtual for the 2020 DNC. In less than three months, you both worked to execute a fully remote and digital experience drawing in over 35.5 million digital viewers. I’m really excited to moderate this session, which is truly a story of agility at its core. Let’s jump in. If you can each introduce yourselves and talk briefly about your roles. Binns, let’s start with you.
Andrew Binns (01:26):
Sure. My name is Andrew Binns. I was the chief operating officer at the convention. Pre-pandemic I had started as the chief technology officer working on all things technology, infrastructure, making sure that everything we had that was going to happen at the normal convention was going to happen. Then when the pandemic hit we restructured and I moved over to the COO role.
Megan Marcel (01:56):
Hannah Flom (01:59):
Hi everyone, it’s great to be here. I’m Hannah Flom and I was a director of digital communications for the convention. In my role, I oversaw our digital strategy for the first ever virtual convention, which means it’s everything from our content efforts on social media and our website to our distribution efforts across all different platforms, to digital organizing and paid advertising. My team, we developed and executed all of our digital campaigns that told stories of everyday Americans and engaged voters across the country. One of our biggest roles was collecting and distributing content, both to promote the convention online and for convention programming.
Megan Marcel (02:38):
Awesome. Hannah, when you were brought on, was it made clear at that point that this would go virtual?
Hannah Flom (02:45):
I was brought on one week before we started quarantining. No, I took the job before pandemic and then it quickly changed. But it was really great to be a part of such a creative and collaborative team to pull this off.
Megan Marcel (03:04):
Awesome. Have you both worked on the conventions previously?
Andrew Binns (03:10):
This was my fifth convention. I had worked, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and then 2020.
Megan Marcel (03:17):
Okay, and Hannah?
Hannah Flom (03:20):
I am a newbie. This is my first convention, so it’s great. It’s great to work with veterans like Binns.
Megan Marcel (03:28):
Yeah. Talk about diving head first into this complete pivot for your first, so congrats. Binns, can you tell us a little bit more about the internal conversations that happened when it became clear that the event wouldn’t be able to happen in person?
Andrew Binns (03:49):
As we all have lived through pandemic and what we thought that meant in March, and then what we thought that meant in April, and then May, and then June, and still to this day what we think that means and how businesses have been changing and how events have been changing. There was never a single moment where we were like, “All right, this is it. We’re going to go full virtual.” Hannah mentioned that Friday, many, many folks around the country did the test work from home day. Certainly in the kind of world we are in, the NBA had shut down I think on Tuesday or Wednesday, we had our last day in the office on Thursday, we had a test work from home Friday and then no one ever went back.
Andrew Binns (04:43):
At that point we started to think about how we were going to approach this. If we were going to have to work from home for two months and then go back to the office, or if we were never going to go back. What we did is we actually fully restructured our whole company, the whole convention staff, which is not something that most companies have the ability to do, or want to do. But we saw that there was a big… we were structured for an in-person event. We had departments that were for housing, and transportation, and credentials, and the venues that we may not even use. We actually had to restructure everything, move staff around, bring in different staff, change staff. We went through what we called scenario planning. For about three weeks, we went through a scenario planning sprint. We split teams up. We had staff, some of the directors, run these teams and to say, all right, come up with the options that could happen.
Andrew Binns (05:50):
One of them was fully remote. We had everything that you could think of, nothing was off the table. We literally had three teams, like a red team, come in and just come up with all of these crazy, crazy options for us. Brought them all together and came up with a whole bunch of options that we were then presenting to leadership and to the campaign and to others to say, “These are all the options. These are when you have to make the decisions. This is how much money things will cost. This is how much money things will cost after you don’t make the decision on time.” Things like that, as we have all done with our bosses and say, “Hey, we need this decision by now, and if not it’s going to cost X, Y, Z.” We did all that, and honestly that lasted until the convention. Scenario planning and changing happened all the way up until August.
Megan Marcel (06:47):
Wow. Something that frequently comes up when we’re talking about digital transformation agility is change management. In terms of managing that change and when the decision to move online, was it just really truly ongoing? Do you want to just speak about that change management portion?
Andrew Binns (07:10):
Sure. Change management, as many of us know who work in the digital space, sometimes it’s very structured. You have whole theories and theorems about how to do change management and how to do iterative work. It turns out that in a number of cases, including ours, change management is a luxury.
As Hannah and folks that are on my team would tell you, there’s not some master document like an MS Project or some sort of project management that people would use. There’s no Monday. None of these new softwares that we all use; none of that exists for a convention. Usually what happens at the beginning, people always come in and say, “Hey, we’d love to have some project management software,” and I say, “Great, if you can find the one that works, we’re happy to implement it. But I will save you a lot of time right now and tell you that you’re not going to find one that works.”
Andrew Binns (08:14):
It’s so difficult to keep those things up-to-date in real time. You will need whole staff members just to do that and it just doesn’t make any sense to do that. Our change management was not a system. I would say our change management was just like the days that we live, it was our emails, our Slack, it was our signal chains, it was our text chains. It was in person until we couldn’t be in person anymore. It was unending Google Hangouts. It was unending, just communication back and forth, but we did not have an actual change management program at the convention. My five conventions, we’ve never really had one. Some of the project managers like to have their own smaller ones, but we don’t have a master one because it’s a luxury that we cannot afford.
Megan Marcel (09:11):
Yeah. It sounds like communication is key. Hannah, so as the person responsible for bringing some of this vision to life, did you immediately start looking at other events for inspiration?
Hannah Flom (09:24):
Yes, we did. I think pretty much quickly the whole world shifted when it came to events. We luckily had some time to look at other people do it first before we had to. Honestly, we looked at everything from the NFL Draft, to the Global Citizens concert at home, to virtual graduations, things that you wouldn’t think fit in the political space, but they were all doing virtual events. We were able to take pieces from that and see what worked, what didn’t, what we wanted to do, how could we apply it to our four-day event. There weren’t many. I think what was also very different is, most of these were one night, one show, versus we had four days of programming. I think for my team specifically, we weren’t just looking at the format and the program, but we looked at how they were creating content that could be consumed on the internet following the event, and how they organized folks online to drive viewers. That was a really critical piece. For example, the virtual graduations, they put together graduate from home toolkit, something that we really looked at a lot and thought about, how can we do that? How can we do a convention at home toolkit?
Megan Marcel (10:33):
Can you speak more about that toolkit for at home that you pulled together?
Hannah Flom (10:39):
Yeah, for sure. I know we might get to this a little bit later on, but one thing that we thought of is, how do we get people excited and engaged for the convention when they’re all in their pajamas on their couch? What we did is think through, what are the things that somebody would want to put on a convention from their own personal home? Whether it was printable signs that they could print at their home office, to changing their profile picture, to stickers that they can print out, to any other kinds of virtual swag to make them feel excited and included and have their own at-home watch parties with their friends online.
Megan Marcel (11:18):
That’s awesome. We definitely will come back to that and creating that connection. But, can you speak a bit more about how many people were working on this convention and bringing it to life and almost what was it for an in-person and how did that shift to doing it virtual? The number of people on this.
Andrew Binns (11:37):
An in-person convention, to give you some scale for folks that have been coming to any conference or convention, over the week we have about 50,000 guests come to town. On top of that, there’s generally about 20,000 members of the media, which is probably one of the largest media concentrations outside of probably the Olympics. It’s certainly larger than Superbowls and any other large events that we have. There’s tons of national, a large amount of international. Some of the larger networks send upwards of five, six, seven, 800 people to this convention, so it’s a substantial setup. Our full time staff, if you will, is about 250 people, and then we add about another 1,000 or 1,500. We call them super volunteers, which are people who exist in the ecosystem of politics who come and do very specific jobs.
Andrew Binns (12:43):
For me right there it’d be something in the operations world. They could be standing in front of the stage making sure that people don’t get up there without the right credential for Hannah. They could be doing social media work, things like that. We’re not going to hire somebody for days, but people want to come in and help and have the experience to do. Then we have about 10 to 20,000 volunteers. All in all, there’s just under around about 100,000 people that are involved in this normally. This time around, we obviously didn’t have anywhere near those numbers in person. But we have beefed up our production side and our digital side fairly substantially because that’s where everything went. We had a studio in LA, we had a studio in New York, we had a studio in Wilmington, Delaware, we had a studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that were our hubs.
Andrew Binns (13:43):
We ran all of our production through Wisconsin, through Milwaukee and our master control there that we’ll share with you some photos later to illustrate. Then I would say at each one of those locations, there were about one to 200 folks over time that would be in and around those locations. Then remote, probably another three to 400 folks. Almost 1,000 people, I would bet, had a hand on the production and digital and staff side to put together like I mentioned.
Megan Marcel (14:21):
Wow. What were some of the main goals of the convention website and how are you planning to use the site? Hannah, do you want to speak a little to that?
Hannah Flom (14:31):
Yeah. I think we hit a point, I would say maybe in like April or May, where… well, sorry, to back up. The convention website was something that has been in the works before I started. We start working on a website almost like a year before the convention, and it’s set up to give, as Binns was talking about, there’s a ton of people that come into the host city for the convention. The website’s set up as a in-person event logistical hub. It’s like, “Here’s where your hotels are here. Here are restaurants you can eat at,” et cetera, et cetera. In April or May, we had this realization we were like, it’s not just a website anymore, the convention is the website. That, our demconvention.com, is how a large majority of the people are going to be able to even access the convention.
Hannah Flom (15:18):
We had to shift our goals there. I guess that’s a little bit of change management, where we tweaked what we were working on and we decided to focus more on, one, how do we engage people and get them excited about the convention? Two, how do we provide them the information on how they can get involved and watch it? I think that was a really big one. Then three, we’ve set it up as a place to host the actual live stream that people could tune into. Those were our main goals was getting people excited, giving them the information or resources to get involved virtually and how they can engage virtually. Then three, it was during the convention week, it became like, this is the convention, this is where you will watch and participate.
Megan Marcel (16:03):
Awesome. Binns, do you want to speak a bit more to the streaming aspect of that? I know that the entire voting process was done on the site. Can you speak a little more about that?
Andrew Binns (16:14):
Yeah, sure. As Hannah noted, the convention moving online then needs a home, so that website became that home. We had originally talked and worked with WordPress to make sure that we had a safe and secure place. Security is a huge thing for us, and it’s one of the reasons that we went with WordPress and we’ll probably talk about that later. We need to get all of our content in front of people, and so we want to make sure that people watched our content in the way that they normally watch it, they normally consume content. Whether it’s on their phone, on their computer, on their TV, on whatever device that they have, we’ve built content to do that. Everything from Apple TV and Roku TV apps that we built to the usual streaming sites. But a huge one was building this information and video center and content center on the website, because we were pushing people to it and people would just naturally flow to that site.
Andrew Binns (17:25):
From there, the digital team built out, I think it was demconvention.com/watch, it was how you could watch. You would go and it would say, “Do you want to watch on a device, do you want to watch on this?” It would tell you, oh, you can watch on all of these channels. This is the Comcast channel, this is the AT&T U-verse channel, this is the Spectrum channel if you want to watch it on your TV. If you had a digital console, if you had an Xbox, if you had a Roku device, it would tell you all of that. We supported that on the website to make sure that and pushed everyone there to say, “Hey, wherever and however you want to watch, let us know, because we can meet you there. Instead of you having to come to us, we will come to you.”
Megan Marcel (18:10):
In terms of streams, how many video streams would you have been working with at an in-person event and how many streams were you bringing in in this virtual space now?
Andrew Binns (18:23):
In 2016, we brought a grand total of five remotes into the convention, one of them was Hillary Clinton from New York the night before she spoke. The night that Tim Kaine, the VP nominee spoke, she came up on screen and thanked him. The other four were from battleground states across the country, we had some watch parties. A grand total of five for those counting. At home, this cycle we had close to 800 remote feeds that were brought into the convention from virtual audience to major states. We had probably four to 500 virtual audience members that would come in, individuals that we would then put up on screens or have reaction shots from. Then we probably had about 300 or so video packages and streams that came in from across the country, many of them live obviously for those that watched the roll call from around the country and around the world.
Andrew Binns (19:35):
Some of those were live. All of those were taped at some point that weekend. They were taped like two days out. Most of them got taped on Sunday. Those were all taped live to a control room, so we could see what was happening, and then we rolled them in. But obviously there were dozens of states, I think 37 states at some point went live into the program along with dozens and dozens of other people.
Megan Marcel (20:06):
Wow, it’s incredible. What choices were made about your technology stack that helped with the agility of bringing this all to life, and what strategies or tools did you employ to make that all possible through certain technologies?
Andrew Binns (20:24):
I’ll talk about the infrastructure side and then I’ll let Hannah talk about some of the digital platforms that they had been planning on pre-pandemic. Our approach to infrastructure has been cloud first since 2012 really. Which is, when you actually go back and look at it, it was pretty substantial. Most people weren’t cloud-only in 2012. We were on a beta of Office 365 and a beta of G Suite, it was probably called something else at the time, in 2012 for our services. 2016, we were fully cloud-based and then 2020 we were also fully cloud-based. All of our communications from Slack, to our email, to all of our storage or files, everything like that, was already remote, so it didn’t actually matter. We know there are many, many companies that struggled when we started work from homes, how do you access files? How do you access communications tools? How do you access servers?
Andrew Binns (21:30):
We were always built to flex, and to grow, and to be dynamic, because the convention itself is always dynamic. We never know what’s going to happen. This was not on the list of things that we had expected, certainly, but the process that we had built on the infrastructure side was easily shifted and could take this on. It didn’t matter if somebody was here, I’m in Washington DC right now, or in Milwaukee, or in California, or in Guam. It didn’t matter because they could all access our services because they were built like that. On the infrastructure side we had always thought through that, not to this extent, I will say that. There were certainly some growing pains on making sure that things got accessed remotely. But we generally have always thought that because the convention itself is such an unknown. Hannah, do you want to talk about the digitals front?
Hannah Flom (22:29):
Yeah, no, I mean, everything you said. I think one of the big things that we realized is, we didn’t have any opportunity to get content on the ground. There was no, on the ground, how would we get footage or photos from people to be able to create this promotional content? We had to get a video tool that allowed people to record videos and then upload them to a server so we can download and edit them. That was something that, when I started, was not anywhere on my radar and that was something that we had to quickly shift to to allow people to engage with us and send us content that we would be able to create and promote the convention. That’s the only thing I’d add there.
Megan Marcel (23:14):
Yeah. Speaking about security, so political events are highly charged at the best of times. I’m sure that keeping the website secure was top of mind. What considerations were there for keeping things secure and what type of oversight was needed there?
Andrew Binns (23:32):
One of the reasons that we loved working with WordPress is the open source nature of the codex and the platform. So many, many, many operate on WordPress, the open source nature of it, the understanding of it from third parties, whether designers or other coders, and other developers is incredibly helpful. From the beginning, we had pretty much decided we were going to use WordPress as our core, we were not going to look at other CMSs. That was one of our big things. We went through many of the traps to figure out who the best kind of operator for that would be, whether we hosted it ourselves, whether we looked to a large cloud provider to stand that up. In the end, we obviously utilized WordPress VIP, which was fantastic and the support that we got from you all was great.
Andrew Binns (24:40):
Hannah’s team was really the one that worked with them closest, so I’ll hand off to her. But I was here at the beginning to make sure that we had a good product that was great on the security side. We have nation states attacking us constantly. We have foreign nationals, we have domestic actors. We have a lot of incoming, and the website is obviously the first thing that always gets looked at because it’s the biggest public thing, it’s public-facing, it’s a megaphone. We needed to make sure that was safe. Once that got brought in, I felt good about it, handed off to Hannah’s team who actually worked on a day to day basis with it.
Megan Marcel (25:25):
Yeah. Hannah, do you want to speak more about that?
Hannah Flom (25:28):
No, Binns is the expert there, so he [inaudible 00:25:31] talking about that. The only thing I’d echo is that it was really great working with the VIP team on any rapid response ticket we need. I think one of the things that I really loved about our website is we made it accessible in a variety of different ways, it was accessible for folks in the disability community. We made it, the fonts were bigger and there was a contrast button. Then we also had the website fully accessible in Spanish language. It was really great having the support of the VIP team to pull that off.
Megan Marcel (26:03):
That’s awesome to hear. Thanks for sharing that. About the candidate voting system. I know this was a big part of the convention. Binns, can you speak more about that, and also the percent ballot return rate that you all saw doing it fully digitally?
Andrew Binns (26:27):
The sole purpose of the convention is to nominate a presidential nominee for the democratic ticket and the vice presidential nominee, and then take a couple of votes on the platform rules and credentials, there’s like five things that they have to do. The convention is the ultimate body of the Democratic Party, so the DNC has members and all of it actually rolls up to the convention, which every four years gets together and makes a platform and makes a bunch of rules. If you don’t get together, it’s really hard to vote. Especially with the numbers that we’re talking about, we’re not talking about a couple of hundred people. We’re talking about 4,747 people, so almost 5,000 individuals have to vote. They have to vote securely, and they have to vote… and you need to be able to verify and all that.
Andrew Binns (27:22):
We came up with five different ways to do this. In the end, we worked with a partner who built some custom software, some custom dev, on top of a WordPress implementation, and had folks be able to log in securely with two-factor authentication and vote securely. We had people in multiple meetings. We had a platform committee meeting, which are all public, they have to go and vote on dozens of different amendments and things like that. All of those, there were a couple of hundred members there. They would log in, they’d have a screen in front of them, they’d have a little live stream that showed what was going on. They’d have the document in this corner and then they’d have buttons down the bottom that said, yes, no, or abstain. All of that was built on WordPress with a WordPress database in the background which then synced into some Google sheets so we could keep track of everything.
Andrew Binns (28:25):
It was a combination of the two that we used for all those meetings. Then in the end, we had all 5,000 of our members vote via ballot, essentially it was a PDF ballot that people would receive. They received them to their emails, they’d be able to submit them back to us. Of the 4,747 people, only 12 did not return ballots, so it was like a 99.68% return rate. We had about two weeks to do that, and we worked with the states to work with all their delegates through that. Pretty much our electronic voting system was built on a WordPress platform with a WordPress database in the background sunk to [inaudible 00:29:14] so we can monitor. Then our overall voting was also built in a similar fashion. It was substantial. We expected like 60% return ballots and got 99.7% essentially.
Megan Marcel (29:30):
Andrew Binns (29:30):
We didn’t expect that, but it was great to be able to do that. People really liked to be able to utilize the voting system when they were in there. It worked really well. It was secure and we had the ability to do tracking and verification, which is a huge thing for us.
Megan Marcel (29:54):
That’s great. Okay, so it was decided to go virtual, you all built the home for this online convention. Now, really going into that, creating almost that virtual balloon drop at home. Hannah, how did you think about the distribution platforms for the convention content? Were you thinking of this in new ways than previous years? Can you speak more to that?
Hannah Flom (30:22):
Yeah. I think there are a couple ways we thought about it. I think one, our goal always is to get content to where people are. We are, as Binns always says, channel agnostic. Whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok. We even put it on Alexa, people could literally tune into the convention through their Alexa device. Our goal was to be able to make sure that people could watch the convention from wherever they’re normally consuming content. We didn’t want to make them have to go here, drive them there. I think there are two things that we thought about this time with it being virtually. One is, we worked with a lot of digital media partners and influencers or content creators to make sure that we were reaching people beyond folks that followed the Democratic Party on Facebook and Twitter. We were on Twitch with a rap and hip hop live stream show called Behind the Rhyme and made sure to push voting information through there and drove people to the convention afterwards.
Hannah Flom (31:19):
We worked with content creators, like Meghan Rienks and Chris Klemens who are younger folks on YouTube and Instagram that reach a lot of critical voting blocks of young people and made sure that they were talking about the convention and why they’re proud to vote for Joe Biden. Then we also worked with NowThis, and Me Too, and other digital publishers, and folks that were helping us spread the word about what this convention is and why people should get involved. Then I would say the last piece is that, one of the biggest things to think about is, not everybody’s always going to be watching the show live, so how could we create content that was available for consumption on social media during and following the actual programming?
Hannah Flom (32:02):
I always call it the Saturday Night Live effect is, nobody really watches Saturday Night Live live anymore, but everybody always watches the clips the next morning and shares it around on Twitter, YouTube I feel like. That was our goal is, if somebody is not going to watch two hours of programming on Tuesday night, how do we make sure they get that 30-minute clip of our roll call, which was one of the best parts of Tuesday night, people were talking a lot about it. How do we get them to watch that on YouTube the next day? And we did. That was one of our most top performing YouTube clips. I would say that was one big way to think about it is that we knew we have an in-person audience, so how do we create that digital audience following the convention.
Megan Marcel (32:47):
Going more into that in-person audience, at events, that connection that comes from being together in person is awesome. How did you try to do that in this virtual space? Did you try to replicate what was being done, were you’re going for something else entirely, maybe a combination? How’d you get that connection between people watching it?
Andrew Binns (33:12):
That’s everyone’s question now is how to make that feeling like you’re there. As one of the first major events post-pandemic, we really had the NFL draft and then that was generally it, there wasn’t a lot. Then a couple concerts, Global Citizens type stuff, but there was not a lot to work with and see what worked and what didn’t work. We were grasping at straws and we were wandering around in the dark, but we talked to many, many, many folks. We had a lot of great ideas coming from our side as well. I would say that it was a combination of high-powered Michelle Obama types speaking straight to camera, so you felt like they were talking to you, as well as real people. People, Hannah’s team got tons of footage from folks who just recorded their own videos and sent them in about why supporting Joe Biden was such a integral part of what they were doing, and why they were going to vote for him and things like that.
Andrew Binns (34:42):
We wanted to do a bunch of that because not everyone is the same way. Me watching Michelle Obama speak straight to camera may affect me differently than me seeing somebody else tell their story. We actually had a combination of that. We then had a combination of live hosts to help to move things along. Because one of the things that we did not like with some of the events that we had seen before, some of the Global Citizens stuff was more just like, those were just video packages rolled straight together. It was like, yes, this is Lady Gaga in her house on her piano. It’s pretty cool, but then what? Then we just go to the next person. Okay, that’s Beyonce, got it, great. We wanted somebody to be able to help tie that together and so we had four amazing women help host each night, from Kerry Washington to Julia Louis-Dreyfus and others. That was a big part of it as well.
Andrew Binns (35:42):
We actually experimented and changed how we were talking to people and how we were helping people feel like they were there. Then Hannah’s team also did a ton to say… she talked about the kids a little bit. It’s like, what can you do at home to feel like you were there also? Then of course we had a virtual audience as well that we brought in those hundreds of feeds and we would put them up and people would react throughout the night that we had put it there.
Hannah Flom (36:11):
The only thing I’ll add to that, yeah, everything Binns said was great, is that we created this tool, this platform where people could go and share their own voice and share their story, and they had the potential to make it onto the big screen at the convention. That was a really great way to build community. It made people feel part of the event, not just like we were speaking at you, it was like, you were a part of it. We were able to build this community. We had almost 3000 people submit videos, and engage with videos online. That allowed them to feel like they were a part of the convention. Then I would say the other thing is, we created all these fun toolkits and profile frames and posters that people could print off at home that made them feel like they were actually there.
Hannah Flom (36:59):
Then the last thing I will add is that we also worked with the Biden campaign to create a lot of watch parties online. There would be a bunch of volunteers and other staff that were on Facebook doing a virtual watch party or through Zoom. It helped build that community that way as well. We had, I think the most powerful compliment we received where somebody said it was the first time they felt connected to other people during the pandemic. I would say that was something that really stuck with me is like, through all these different digital tools and through the program, we were able to build a connection for people with community that they have not been feeling for a while.
Megan Marcel (37:43):
That’s awesome. With most in-person events canceled or moved to online and events teams are needing to just be more creative than ever before, Hannah, can you talk a little bit more about those brainstorms and what priorities people should be keeping in mind when they’re planning things like this on their own?
Hannah Flom (38:04):
Yeah, I would say, in terms of what I would think about is, keep an open mind. No idea is a bad idea is how we went into it, at least for the first couple of months. Everything was on the table. We were trying to think through, what is the best way to engage people and make them feel part of this? I would say, in some of our brainstorm sessions, we were just trying to think of a lot of ways of, one, how we could collect content from people. Then two, how could we distribute it in a way that met people? There was a lot of crazy fun ideas that came from both those brainstorms. But I would say broadly, those are our two goals. Since we had no on the ground event it’s like, how would we be able to collect video and photos and other types of resources? Then the second piece was, how do we get it out to people? What are our channels to make sure people are watching and engaging with it?
Megan Marcel (39:02):
Great, I think that’s helpful. Everyone is trying to create this, so any advice is always welcome. Given your experience this year with pivoting such a big event digitally, how do you think the future of events, even in the post-COVID world, are going to be? Do you think that things have been changed permanently? I’ll give this to each of you to answer. Binns, if you want to start.
Andrew Binns (39:30):
Yes. We will certainly go back to the in-person events. I think they will have more hybrid approaches to them. People, previously, folks like Hannah and I and others who have been pushing to use more digital platforms and more interactive platforms, there was always pushback. It’s like, “No, we don’t need to do that. No, we’re just going to put somebody up on stage. We’re going to put four people up on stage, it’s going to be fine. We’ll travel them in, we’ll have them in a hotel. It’s great.” Now people can see that in fact, you can get access to a broader group of individuals, both on a talent side, but also an audience side, and grow this on both ends of the spectrum when you make these hybrid advances. We can actually get access to an expert in this field if we say, “You don’t have to travel. I understand you can’t take three days, you can’t take two days to fly across the country. How about you join us virtually?”
Andrew Binns (40:31):
We have three people on stage, we have two people remote. It’s all integrated and everyone still gets that same feeling of, “Okay, this person was here talking to us about this very specific thing. The technology has caught up, the interoperability has caught up. Certainly there’s more strides to be made on the tech side, but generally you can do all of those pieces and integrate them into a show as long as you have the right team to be able to do it.
Megan Marcel (41:01):
Hannah Flom (41:05):
Yeah, I mean, I agree with everything Binns said. I think that people are recognizing the value of using digital tools as a way to engage people and a way to drive viewers and build an audience. When I first joined, I had a team of two or three people and then by the end we were able to build our team to the total like 15 on the digital people. That just shows you that the convention really valued and invested in digital in a way that we haven’t before, and we delivered on that. We were able to grow to like almost 36 million digital viewers. We got 122 million views on our videos online. It just shows that there’s value in this area in terms of virtual events. That’s why I see, that is something that I don’t think will change now in this post-COVID world.
Megan Marcel (42:02):
All right. Well, before we go into audience questions, we thought it would be fun to share a few behind the scenes photos. Tess, if you want to share your screen and bring those up and then, Binns if you want to speak to us a bit about what we’re seeing here.
Andrew Binns (42:18):
Sure. As I mentioned, we had a master control room based in Milwaukee, it was at the convention center in downtown Milwaukee. The original convention was going to be at the Fiserv Forum, which is a basketball arena right downtown. We eventually shifted to the convention center and then reshifted again, but we utilized the infrastructure at the convention center that we had already built. We had dozens of fiber lines, we had hundreds of gigs of internet, all redundant, all diverse, all protected, and so this was the best place to actually produce our show from. What you’re seeing right here at the top screen it’s a network multiview, it’s how we monitor all of our networks. Being the media networks, you can see CNN, NBC, Fox already up there.
Andrew Binns (43:02):
If you want to go to the next slide. This was our general master control suite. My deputy [inaudible 00:43:10] next to me, our media logistics person, Jessica on the far right there. We started to build out these monitor walls to be able to monitor all of our incoming remotes, all of our outgoing feeds, all of our media feeds and our program feed. In our next slide you can take a look at, this was our main master remotes control and our… it was contribution and distribution. Generally on the right side, the middle on the right side, all of those boxes that have Joe Biden in them were showing all of the distribution. Each one of those is actually a different distribution channel.
Andrew Binns (43:52):
Then much of the stuff on the left side was all of our incoming. We had, of those 800 or so incoming feeds, at any given time we could monitor dozens and dozens of them or even hundreds of them depending on how we multi-viewed it. That whole setup that you see here is all of our incoming and outgoing. I think I have one more photo in here. Yup, this was the better shot. This is actually, looks to be towards the end of the night. This was a drive-in theater in Manassas, Virginia. That was one of our remotes that we had brought in. We had, I think, about a dozen of those types of remotes, those drive-ins, and then tons of other stuff. This was towards the end of the night on the Thursday night after they had accepted the nomination in Delaware.
Andrew Binns (44:47):
We were just monitoring making sure that any of the incoming and outgoing were going correctly, but it was hugely… this is where we ran all the technical infrastructure from. This is where that was. But it was really just built inside a convention center, you can see the bathroom in the far back there against the wall. Nothing too fancy, just a lot of screens and a lot of video.
Megan Marcel (45:07):
Thanks for sharing these. It definitely puts into perspective the scale at what you were all managing. These are great to see, thanks for sharing them. All right, we are going to take a couple of questions that came in. I will kick us off with this one here. As more event-based organizations are forced to move into the digital space, are there any key general pieces of advice you would give? Anything that surprised you or caught you off guard apart from the obvious scale of the shift that you undertook?
Andrew Binns (45:46):
One of the things that I found… I have a tech company that also does a lot of these events and work with a lot of AV companies, a lot of live stream companies, a lot of other folks. I would say, as you are moving into the digital space, make sure to find the companies who have historically done a lot of that work. An AV company who happens to do live streams is not the same as a live stream company. You will find that. There’s tons of AV companies that are shifting and can do live streams, they have all the Blackmagic gear, they have some encoders, they use OBS, they use all the things. But they’re not necessarily the same as a live stream company who has been doing this for 10 or 15 years who lives and breathes in that world. I would definitely think about that, and think about that across the board.
Andrew Binns (46:42):
There are plenty of companies that do what you’re looking for, and there are great uses for AV companies in this new world, and you have to use them because they’re so much there and no one company can do so much of this. But I would say, generally make sure to find those companies who have historically done what you’re looking for. A lot of folks are out there selling, they can do this, they can do that, they can do that, and they’ve built it in the last two months. Maybe it’s good, but it’s certainly only two months good, it’s not two years good or 10 years good. You will find that at the most inopportune times. Make sure to do your research and work through that. That’s probably just a general piece of find the experts.
Andrew Binns (47:28):
You’re certainly going to get pushback on the budget side. People are going to say, “Who are doing these events? We never spent that much money on production, or live stream, or advertising, paid media. Why would we spend money on paid media advertising?” It’s like, well, you don’t have 1,000 people sitting in chairs anymore, you have to go out and get them. That kind of idea is new to everyone in the organization, and you need to make sure to stand up and say, “Hey, if we’re really shifting, we got to shift.”
Megan Marcel (48:02):
Yeah. Definitely finding those key partners and digital events are not free events, I think, is a pretty core message there. Here’s another question, I’ll direct this one to Hannah. What is one thing that you would have done differently had you known it? Looking back.
Hannah Flom (48:20):
That’s a really good question. I think there are a lot of things. But I also think that, one thing to note that we were dealing with for many times is the pandemic kept changing. We didn’t know what was going to happen two weeks from now. There were a lot of things that kept shifting. I think if you recall back in March, a lot of people said it would all be over by July and here we are in September still at our homes. I would say that, one thing I wish I did differently is starting to reach out to more partner organizations and media companies a little bit earlier to get them on board with sharing the event and sharing information. I think there was a lot of… it was a long month of a lot of work that we had to do because we made that shift to fully virtual. But I think that given where we were with everything, things were just really fluid and changing. Sorry, I know that’s not really a great answer.
Megan Marcel (49:29):
No, it is. One of the things that is of greatest value from people at events is who you meet and how you keep these connections going on and the ongoing value of events. How will you plan to handle this part of the value so that it doesn’t seem like a very one-way conversation because if reactions aren’t seen then those conversations aren’t going.
Andrew Binns (50:01):
Yeah. I mean, that is probably the… that’s something that we all have experienced on a personal level, being at home and missing the social aspects of seeing friends and family, and traveling, and having that connection. I think we, as a society, are trying to figure out how to do that and what risks are involved with that, and what risks we want to accept. On the event side, it’s incredibly difficult. It’s incredibly difficult to connect two or more people virtually and have them create a bond that then outlasts that time, especially if you’re in webinars functions and you don’t really get to interact with other folks. I think there are certainly companies out there that are working to, and have already worked, to develop software that allows people to get together more, even if it’s something as simple as breakout rooms.
Andrew Binns (50:56):
But, there are folks that are working on these kinds of virtual worlds. I have not found or experienced one that’s been really, really good yet. I think it’s just tough. It’s not the same connection that you have when you’re at an event, or at a conference, or at a convention, or at a meeting and you strike up a conversation with somebody. Don’t have a good answer because I don’t think that the tech quite exists there yet. Hopefully somebody smarter than I and more talented than I can come up with something where people really feel like that connection can get made because I think we all want that.
Megan Marcel (51:38):
For sure. All right. On the technology side, how were the caucus meeting set up so that, and what stack did you use? They don’t seem accessible right now on the site.
Andrew Binns (51:52):
For those that [inaudible 00:51:53], the caucus meetings are smaller meetings that happen throughout the week. Normally they have all the delegates get together and they split out, there’s a women’s caucus, there’s an LGBTQ caucus, there’s a disability caucus. It’s smaller groups that then talk about and discuss specific topics and specific organizations. During convention week they usually all get together and meet in meeting rooms anywhere from 20 to 4,000 people. We had to do that virtually this time, obviously. The total number of them is about 47 during the four days, many of them overlapping. You have about 10 to 12 per day that happen, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. They are anywhere between one and a half to two and a half hours each.
Andrew Binns (52:54):
The way that we did that, we used glorified Zooms with multiple production partners that put them into a produced package and then streamed them online. Some of them had playback of people that were speaking. Some of them were live, some of them were Q&A panels. But we generally used Zoom with… we actually used an AV company for this one because it was fairly straightforward. They had like eight laptops. They would pin each individual, they would run those pins through a switcher, they would then switch a program from those individuals or take multi boxes depending on what they wanted and produce a live stream program. That was how they did that. It was nothing too fancy, but the coordination of it all was extraordinarily difficult. We had a three-person team handling that on the project management side, and then there were many, many, many, many folks that worked on the digital side on it.
Andrew Binns (53:55):
But that was it. It was nothing more than a fancy, fancy Zoom, because the cost-benefit of doing anything different didn’t quite work, but we need to do that. They still needed to be professional live streams with Q&A, switching, playback, music, slates, ASL, close caption, things like that. That was how we did it. Okay.
Megan Marcel (54:21):
Okay. What were the backup plans, if any of the feeds had gone down or things went wrong?
Andrew Binns (54:26):
Just go home, call Hannah.
Megan Marcel (54:29):
Shut the computer.
Andrew Binns (54:31):
We have backups, on backups, on backups. One of the things that we do from the very, very beginning is redundancy diversity on our circuits, on our hardware, on our software, on our programming, everything. From the very beginning, it wasn’t like we realized at some point it’s like, “Hey, we should make sure to have a backup in case this goes down.” From the very beginning we work with major ISPs, major partners, from the Amazons, and the Googles, and the Microsofts of the world, to the AT&Ts, the Comcasts, Spectrums of the world to make sure that anything we get in there we have redundant and diverse networking [inaudible 00:55:15].
Andrew Binns (55:16):
Then and then also we use multiple paths of travel, so it’s not just IP-based but it’s satellite-based, it’s video fiber-based, it’s point-to-point-based. Each one of these locations has multiples of these. Then we run through scenarios where one of them goes down to see what happens. It’s like, “All right, unplug that, see what happens. Does it work? Does it break? All right, if it breaks, let’s make sure to fix that and then I’ll plug it again see if it still breaks.” We go through all that. We also then have just contingencies to say, “Hey, if this studio were to go down, what happens?” We had some scares. Obviously COVID is a big thing, and so every once in a while something would happen and we’d say like, “All right, well maybe we got to shut down that studio for a while. What happens then?”
Andrew Binns (56:08):
We went through all of those things and we had backup so we’d use different studios. There were the fires in California. Gavin Newsom sent us a video of him standing underneath a redwood the day that it happened. Because, Corey Booker was supposed to be out with him and they were supposed to be out doing an event somewhere, and obviously that couldn’t happen. Corey went to a studio in New York that we had, Gavin Newsom recorded a video on his phone [inaudible 00:56:33] to us when he was out doing his thing and working with the forest service and he stayed out there. That all happened a couple hours before showtime. We work through redundancies and diversities, and we just roll with the punches. It’s one of the reasons that change management doesn’t work.
Megan Marcel (57:00):
Changing in the instant-
Andrew Binns (57:01):
[crosstalk 00:57:01]. It’s a live production, it’s live TV.
Megan Marcel (57:08):
Definitely. Okay. How did you handle revenue generation differently, if at all, virtually versus how you would have handled it in person? Was there something that came up in…
Andrew Binns (57:19):
Probably more of a Hannah question, but the good thing is we don’t do revenue generation, so it’s easy.
Megan Marcel (57:25):
Andrew Binns (57:29):
We raise money as an entity, but no, we don’t do revenue generation as digital as you might think. We certainly do asks for funding, donation asks, but not to the entity more of to the campaign type stuff. There’s a whole finance program that funds the convention separately. But one of our big focuses is thankfully not having to concentrate on that. It’s one of the reasons that we are platform-agnostic. A lot of times somebody will focus on a platform so they can monetize a specific platform or they can get metrics on a specific platform. We just want people to watch the show. We just want people to watch Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and understand who they are and what they can do for them. I don’t care where you watch it, I don’t care if you pay for it, I don’t care if… we want it to be free. We give it away for free, we put it on satellites for free, we put it to the media for free, we put it on fiber for free. Our program is free and it’s because we want people to watch it. That’s our big thing with revenue generation is we don’t really have to deal with it, which is nice.
Megan Marcel (58:37):
Great. We’re at time. Thank you both so much for joining today and sharing about this pivot and thanks to everyone for joining. Congratulations for creating an incredible event virtually in such little time, and thank you. We appreciate your time.
Andrew Binns (58:51):
[inaudible 00:58:51], thanks.
Megan Marcel (58:54):
Tess Needham (58:54):
Thanks so much, everyone.