Behind the scenes: Taking Adobe Summit from in-person to digital

Summit logo for 2020.

For over a decade we’ve been hosting our customers, partners, community, press, and analysts at Adobe Summit – our annual Digital Experience conference. Because it’s our biggest conference of the year, it takes an immense amount of work from people across our organization, and we’ve always paid the utmost attention to providing attendees an amazing, engaging Summit experience.

A month ago everything changed. Due to COVID-19, the decision was made to shift from an in-person event in Las Vegas with more than 23,000 attendees to a massive virtual event. Then the plan evolved even further to turn Summit into an online destination, available for free to all, jam-packed with on-demand content to inspire the community of experience makers beginning March 31, 2020.

We sat down with Alex Amado, VP of Experience Marketing at Adobe, to get an inside look at just how the company pivoted Adobe Summit from in-person to online in just four weeks. Alex talks about how the critical decisions were made, the tools essential to creating and managing all of the sessions, keynotes, and demos, and the agility of everyone involved to create an all-digital Adobe Summit 2020 during this unprecedented time.

During this unprecedented time, Adobe was one of the first companies to cancel a large, in-person event. How was the decision reached to turn Summit all digital?

Adobe is a company that’s about people, and one of the things that loomed large in every conversation we had about whether to cancel Summit Las Vegas was protecting the health and safety of our employees and attendees. Our Global Safety & Security team was great about helping us gather and analyze the available information on the spread of the illness. It quickly became clear that there was no way for us to safely host 23,000 people in one place.

Let’s talk about the importance of Summit to Adobe as a company.

Every year Summit is the best opportunity to get deep with our customers and share a lot of information, from our highest-level vision to the most detailed content for those who use our tools every day.

Summit also marks our biggest Experience Cloud release of the year, and it’s our opportunity to share that firsthand with our audience. We’re able to demonstrate new technology and share how Adobe is helping drive the future of digital experiences. And finally, Summit sets the tone for the rest of the year in terms of priorities, themes, and technology road map.

How was the shift in strategy made – going first from in-person, then to live, and finally to on-demand?

Our initial contingency plan was to film our Summit keynotes in Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose, Calif. We had planned out a unique, all-LED stage installation for dramatic 180-degree graphics, and we were going to record in front of a live audience. We wanted to design a digital experience that would have the kind of visual impact that is a hallmark of Adobe’s events.

But as the health crisis became more severe, we recognized that filming any live version of this still required a large team of people to come together – from set designers to producers, makeup artists, electricians, sound technicians, and camera operators, as well as dozens of presenters and guests. So, we made the decision to give up the “live” component of it. This was just two weeks before the event date.

Once we shut down the live filming, we asked ourselves, “If we can’t deliver our story in a highly polished and dramatic way, are we still willing to host Summit?” We decided that the story we planned to share with our audience was more important than the format in which we delivered it – maybe even more now, when customers are striving to deliver digital experiences online and connect with their customers in more meaningful ways. We decided that the content would be valuable to our audiences, even if we had to record it from our living rooms.

Everyone is dealing with a “new normal” right now, taking videoconferences in offices, dining rooms, and kitchens, so we decided to capture our message in that same raw and authentic way – which meant that our senior-most leaders would be using their webcams and recording content straight from their homes.

What type of experience can viewers expect from the digital Summit, now on demand?

We’ve recorded an exceptional amount of content: We have more than 140 videos covering a wide array of topics, from data and insights, to content and commerce, to customer journey management, and more. There are vision and strategy sessions from our senior leaders and heads of business, as well as deep-dive breakout sessions. And we know that our audiences are all around the world, so much of the key content is delivered in French, German, and Japanese, as well as English, with more languages to come. All of it lives on a custom web experience built using Adobe Experience Manager that also employs the Adobe Sensei AI engine to deliver relevant content recommendations.

And, for the first time ever, we’ve released “Adobe Sneaks” online – a preview of the most promising technologies from the Adobe Labs. Sneaks has always been exclusive to our in-person audience at the live event, but clearly this was the year to put it online. These technologies are raw data science, AI, and capability experiments, many of which will become full-fledged features of our Experience Cloud solutions in the coming years. In some cases, the inventors themselves are presenting the technology, so it’s really like going right into our labs.

Are there any interesting moments that happened throughout the filming process?

Usually, we’d have our in-house video team setting up lighting, doing the filming, and everything that comes along with producing high-quality video content. But in this case, we had to be on videoconferences with our presenters and ask our senior-most leadership to take us on a virtual tour of their homes so we could help advise on the best filming location and light sources. Fortunately, they were all exceptionally open to this unusual process because they were so committed to delivering this content.

And we learned quite a bit as we went through this process, compressed though it was. For one thing, we really sharpened up our best practices on how to train people to self-record. We created documents and complete training videos to instruct our presenters on how to record better videos by themselves, including advice on location, wardrobe, camera position, and performance. I’m sure our future webinars will look better than ever!

Planning a digital event of this magnitude requires collaboration. What tools have been most useful to you and your team?

Collaboration has absolutely been the most critical aspect of planning this event, with lots of videoconferences at all hours of the day and night, plus many shared spreadsheets and documents. And our own Adobe technologies were also integral to how we got this done. The web experience was built and delivered in Adobe Experience Manager, complete with newly designed automation capabilities and Adobe Target, which uses Adobe Sensei, our AI technology framework, to deliver relevant content and recommendations. Adobe Creative Cloud as a whole has been instrumental – using Premiere Pro as our video-editing tool is the main reason we were able to create the video content so quickly and efficiently. We also used our experience design tool, Adobe XD, for rapid design and prototyping of the Summit online experience. Using XD, multiple designers could work simultaneously on different aspects of the site in a single cloud file, seamlessly, from their homes. It helped us make this all happen in the few weeks that we had available.

And of course, it is all being measured on Adobe Analytics so we can see what content is performing best on both the website and the mobile app, truly making this an on-demand experience for our customers that can be experienced anywhere and anytime.

Taking into account the learnings from Adobe Summit 2020, how will this affect the strategy moving forward?

It’s clear that Summit will become an integral part of, integrated into our main site, rather than living as a separate event site. We’ll be sharing Summit content across our entire digital business, and that content will be an ongoing resource over time for our customers. We want to be a hub for the best content on managing digital transformation, delivering great digital experiences, and even getting tips and tricks from leaders in many industries.

Plus, we’ll be able to optimize over time and build more content based on insights about what our viewers find most compelling. It’s just going to get better over time, and that’s the most exciting thing.