Last November, ICCA staged an ambitious hybrid congress, featuring content from a host destination and five global hubs, all managed from DRPG’s studio in Kidderminster
When James Rees, president of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) boarded a flight to the trade body’s Paris board meeting at the start of 2020, it was already apparent that a ‘plan B’ would likely be needed for the annual three-day conference, scheduled for November that year.
“That was the last flight I took,” Rees recalls. “A hybrid solution was agreed upon so that the host destination wouldn’t miss out on its opportunity to showcase its city and hubs could get together in member countries elsewhere around the world. But we had no idea what that would actually look like or how to connect it all together.”
The host destination was Kaohsiung in Taiwan and Maritz Global Events was chosen as the conference delivery partner. Maritz in turn then appointed DRPG to handle the technical challenge and a hub-spoke hybrid format started to take shape.
Global travel restrictions meant that even if Rees could have boarded a flight to Taiwan, he would have needed to quarantine on arrival so it was decided that the ICCA president would appear live as a hologram to open the 59th annual congress instead.
“I made my opening ceremony speech from a holographic studio in Hammersmith and could see myself beamed live onto the stage in Kaohsiung, “ Rees says. “At the end of the session, local dignitaries joined my hologram onstage for a photo-call, which for me in Hammersmith was a slightly surreal experience.”
Rees spent the rest of congress in DRPG’s UK studio in Kidderminster, from where the event content was broadcast, moderated, edited and archived for on-demand.
Five global hub locations with live audiences differing in size depending on the restrictions of each country had two-way connections through a bespoke DRPG portal and were able to stream their own local programmes simultaneously. These localised mini events took place in Riyadh, Cape Town, Luxembourg, Seoul and Malaga, with Kaohsiung also contributing host destination content.
“Logistically, it was very challenging bringing all these hubs together through our Kidderminster base and bespoke platform, not least because of all the time differences,” remembers the event’s project lead, Zac Goodman from DRPG. “We were in the studio from 4am each day. Kaohsiung would commence each of the three daily programmes and then Riyadh would come online, watch the earlier Kaohsiung content before starting their own tailored programme.
“Each hub then joined in and audiences could switch into any channel depending on their timezones and either see on-demand sessions or what was happening live. It was so impressive to see every piece of content from every single hub being added to a digital library, which was available to view for months afterwards.”
ICCA’s head office team took responsibility for ensuring that localised content from each of the hubs was relevant and topical for the different regions. While local ICCA teams on the ground had access to the back-end of the DRPG portal so that they could see questions and poll results and determine what information got pushed to the presenters live on stage.
“It was important to make sure every audience and online viewer felt connected to each other so we kept the communication between hubs open and active throughout each day to instil a real sense of togetherness,” Goodman says. “Communication and co-ordination of all the different production suppliers around the world was also vital but the planning and determination to make it a success was second-to-none.”
Ben Goedegebuure, enterprise vice president, global & industry presence at Maritz Global Events agrees. He says: “ICCA 2020 was exciting and challenging for many different reasons. But it also provided a by-opportunity for innovation and a different way of looking at how an association congress with a large international attendance could be delivered. Collectively we realised that we had to engage differently with the ICCA audience than had been done in the past. That took huge resolve, energy, creativity and commitment from all involved.
“The choice of creating a hybrid hub-spoke event (with Kaohsiung being the main location and with the studios in the UK acting as the key broadcast location) with a wide digital attendance was a challenging decision – but also the right decision. This model provided the opportunity for the audience to make the choice to attend in person for those that could travel – and attend digitally (and on-demand) for those that were not able to travel. The result was the largest attendance ever.”
The hybrid hub-spoke format for the 59th annual ICCA congress was so successful that the 60th outing will repeat the logistical set-up when it moves to Cartagena de Indias, Colombia on 24 October.
For ICCA president Rees, the secret behind the success of this hybrid format is proper investment in the technology and not being afraid to innovate in order to ensure a memorable experience for stakeholders.
“My appearance as a hologram was a particular wow factor. It wasn’t cheap but it was worth every penny,” he says. “With hybrid, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong so you have to ensure that the technology and planning is top-notch. Don’t take risks on the quality of the broadcast partner. It just isn’t worth it.
“Invest properly and tap into the additional revenue streams that hybrid provides,” Rees continues. “We found that with a hub-spoke concept, you can attract regional sponsorship from suppliers looking to reach local hub participants. By archiving the content into a digital library, theres’s also the opportunity to charge or license that content for different audiences around the world.”
So will Rees be once again beamed into the opening ceremony as a hologram in Colombia?
“It’s one of several sustainability-focused options being considered for sure, along with streaming live from one of the other European hubs. You’ll have to wait and see,” he concludes.