Creative Cloud Partner Days 2.0: Why Switching Our Event From In-person to Digital was the Best Move in Years

How We Took Our In-Person Event Online

Ingo Eichel
Aug 5 · 10 min read

Editor’s Note: “Ingo Eichel, Senior Manager of Creative Cloud Ecosystem Development for EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) has been organizing an in-person Partner Day in Europe since 2009. This year, because of COVID-19, he turned it into a virtual event. Here’s a look behind the scenes into Ingo’s planning process. For more about Parter Days 2020, see the companion article Creative Cloud Digital Partner Days 2020.” -- Erin Finnegan, Senior Community Engineer, Creative Cloud Platform and Ecosystem Team.

You can watch the recordings of Digital Partner Days here. The decks are available for download from our Creative Cloud developer prerelease program, which requires an NDA.

A Brief History of Partner Day

I attended my first Adobe Partner Day in 2006. At that time I was a Technology Partner myself, building an editorial system with a partner for the publishing house where I led magazine and book production. When I joined Adobe in 2009, I took over the responsibilities for Partner Day.

Honestly, it did not change much over the next ten years. We discussed multiple Creative Cloud topics (still Creative Suite at that time), tried to cover all the product segments, and had different speakers from Europe, India and the US. In 2017 Vijay Vachani and the new Creative Cloud Platform & Ecosystem team joined Partner Day for the first time. In 2018 I became part of this team, we changed the name to “European Partner Day”, and we invited a broader group of partners across Europe. You can read my article about last year’s Partner Day here on the Adobe Tech Blog.

In the early 2010’s we had some smaller events in the US, in addition to pure developer roadshows in Europe and Asia, and partner meetings at big fairs like the IFRA Expo. Then, for several years, the German/European partner day was the only official Adobe event for Creative Cloud Technology Partners. About 70–90% of the up to 100 developers and partners in attendance came from German speaking countries, and most of them focused on InDesign and/or InDesign Server.

Impression from the Creative Cloud Developer Day 2019 in Frankfurt

Eventually, we began sponsoring Creative Pro Week’s Developer Summit in the US (thanks David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepcion for organizing this great event).

Planning Partner Day 2020

We wanted to go bigger this year and planned to have a real European Partner Day next to Adobe MAX in Lisbon and maybe even repeat a similar event at MAX in LA.

And then came Covid-19 (read Adobe’s official COVID response page here). With it came different kinds of lockdowns, a global trend towards working from home, and no possibility of travel. MAX Lisbon was canceled, and we had to decide what to do with Partner Day this year.

I did not want to give up this tradition. Partner Day is the highlight in my calendar for the ecosystem. But going digital meant we had many questions to answer:

  • What does it take to run a large event seamlessly with each person working from home across continents?
  • Would partners be willing to dial in and follow virtual presentations for many hours?
  • What would be the best time for both our audience and our speakers to attend across several time zones?
  • What “quality” should we deliver? Live or prerecorded? Did we need a professional agency or video team?
  • Would my team and possible speakers support a digital event in a similar way to our in-person event?
  • And finally what would be the benefits and downsides of the event and what impact would it have on the event?
My “Main studio” for the Digital Partner Days in 2020 in the middle of Germany. Rob, my co-moderator was in New York and our speakers spread across three continents.

Of course we thought of many potential benefits, but it was unclear what would happen. It was too easy to think of the downsides: No networking, no beer and informal discussions at the bar, no mingling between partners, no hands-on support when switching from one speaker to another… In person, if speakers arrive the night before the event at the hotel you know that they are on location. In a digital event you know a few minutes before they get started! Then there was the risk of technical glitches with the platform, unreliable internet bandwidth… There was even the possibility that a large number of people would register but won’t come to the live event since they don’t find it binding enough, or would simply prefer to wait for the recordings.

The Digital Advantage

Luckily, it turned out to be the best decision to turn Partner Day into a digital event. Looking back, it’s hard for me to see any real disadvantages. There proved to be many, many advantages, and this was only our first attempt at an all-digital event! Does this mean we won’t have any more in-person meetings going forward? No, certainly not. But going forward, this may change the focus of our in-person events.

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What a line up: 3 executive keynote speakers and a total of 40 speakers. We never had this amount and with that this level of expertise for partner days in 16 years.

As I covered in detail the companion article, we found many benefits to Partner Day going digital, including:

  • More attendees from more locations and with diverse backgrounds
  • Recordings we could share later
  • 40 speakers, which was triple the number of speakers from previous years, including three Adobe executives
  • A long dwell time thanks to so many great speakers
  • Enough Adobe staff to host many small breakout sessions with very focused topics

Sure, it was different; my team had to spend more time preparing in advance. With a growing number of speakers and attendees, we got more questions, needed more time to onboard people, and had to discuss camera and light situations with each speaker (rather than per location).

Instead of going somewhere and having a conference with support from a local technician, I had to plan and produce a show independently. As the organizer, I had to think of many “Plan B” alternatives upfront, and be a technician, director, moderator, and speaker’s assistant in parallel.

And some “behind the scenes” — the green screen in combination with a streaming software and virtual camera helped to display different backgrounds or play the timer during the breaks.

Our whole team supported the event. Rob Kleiman, our Platform Marketing Associate co-moderated with me from New York, while I was based in Germany. We spent many extra hours and night shifts to make all this work while learning on the go.

Individual speaker onboarding takes time and needs planning ahead. Most of this comes together of course in the last few days before the event

There is a lot that we can and will improve on going forward. I’m sure there is more to evaluate, test, or discard, and other digital formats to experiment with.

More Time and Less Money

We saved a large amount of our original budget, and reinvested parts of it in tech for the streaming setup. Going forward, I suspect we will spend more in terms of logistics, support, production, and/or design. If spent wisely, you can run a digital event with only a small percent of the original budget but still deliver higher quality content and have more direct exchanges with your audience.

“If spent wisely, you can run a digital event with only a small percent of the original budget but still deliver higher quality content and have more direct exchanges with your audience.”

Attendees and speakers alike are more likely to commit to a digital event since you save both in time and money (no travel required). We got interesting feedback on this during the event when one developer let us know that he registered as soon as he was aware that Partner Days had gone digital, while he had never even considered attending the in-person version of the event. The answer was simple, to paraphrase: I never did and also would not in the future invest a full day or more to travel to that event and stay in a hotel overnight. But attending online for the full duration was a no brainer.

When we planned the structure of the event we decided early on not to stream for more than four hours a day, to keep sessions as short as possible (some lasting only 10 minutes), and to add the same amount of breaks as we would during an in-person event. That’s how we ended up with the two day concept.

Going forward, we might even split this event over three days and reduce the number of sessions per day. While you fill up a day as much as you can during an in-person event so that people don’t stay away from their office for too long, you can plan for the exact opposite with digital events: The less content you have on a single day the better your audience can digest, and get back with concrete questions, all while keeping up with their day to day job.

Live or Prerecorded?

One more consideration I had while planning out the event was whether we preferred live presentations or pre-recorded content. While pre-recordings feel less risky and speakers have an opportunity to polish their talks and deliver a higher video quality (at least if you give some support on that front), a live presentation requires the speaker to be there in the room, and allows them to add last minute information, or even respond to comments and feedback in real time.

Wirecast delivered the virtual camera with different backgrounds and speaker info. The BlueJeans Events backend showed the current speaker and presentation plus two levels of chat, polls, Q&A and the current attendees and speakers

I decided to vote for authenticity over polished videos early on. I was very happy that the keynote speakers and our Indian team took the time to join us live. Sure, we had a few small glitches and even had to interrupt one of the presentations due to technical issues; but the audience respected that and also gave the feedback that this event felt different than many others, citing the atmosphere and the feeling that we were all live experiencing this event together.

We tried to offer a broad mix of sessions to respect the different backgrounds of our audience. From deep dive developer onboarding to highlevel community and GTM tips to expert panels.

Networking Over Beer

The only thing that we still missed was the personal gathering and the “technical small talk” over a drink. But even that feeling didn’t last! One of the breakouts was nothing but a meet and greet with the Platform and Ecosystem Team, and we ended up in a vivid discussion with a small group of people for 2.5 hours! (Some of us even had a drink.) So even the part we had been sure we would miss with a digital event did happen on both days, and it felt quite similar to meeting in person. If you look at the setup of those two discussions, it’s obvious that we would never have had that specific round table at an in-person meeting (ten people across three continents).

No clink glasses. But different drinks depending on the current time in New Zealand, Rumania, Austria, Germany and USA

Finally, even after the event we found more benefits: We never had recordings of our events that you really could look at separately, let alone the details of the chat. We even got to keep a written copy of the question and answer sections of each talk, in addition to the results from polls and small spontaneous surveys.

My Takeaways

From the feedback I’ve received so far this is how I see things:

  • More Digital Events: Take partner days 2020 as the new normal: There is no way back to an in-person event. We should try to improve the engagement and interactivity, have more options for breakouts and see how the event could best be split up over a few days. Digital is the best format to deliver content and updates. Have at least one, perhaps two larger digital events per year.
  • Updates: Add smaller periodic digital content updates when those topics are hot or we release bigger updates. These could cover just a single product or product segment and also target a much smaller audience.
  • Invitations: Integrate more partners and even customers into these sessions if it seems fitting to do so.
  • Webinars: Add webinars with partners and developers to show integrated solutions and explain in a standardized and compact format the value the target group can get. Build out a playlist with many solutions over time. You will see the first trials this summer/fall.
  • Training: We have held online and in-person hackathons and developer workshops over the years. This is something we could do more often — both in-person and digital — but our staff is limited. I would like to hear more about your needs so we can support community driven activities.
  • Networking: As said above, even this worked out pretty well, and the digital space had some advantages, but that is the part of the event where we missed the personal gathering most. So look out for some meetups, round tables or receptions once we have all conquered or confined Covid. Meanwhile, let’s try out some digital round tables and meetups that focus on networking and discussions but don’t deliver larger talks or content updates.
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Again, since we do this for you — our partners, developers and ecosystem — let us know what would really make a difference for you, what you would like to attend, and where you could get the most value. We also welcome any constructive and open feedback on what you didn’t like and where you think we should improve or change.

Stay in Touch

If Partner Days is of interest to you, browse the videos we shared.

If you attended give us feedback on what you need to better understand where we are heading or to get support for what you are building

Join in when we have our next event; we will announce it on LinkedIn and in the Creative Cloud Developer newsletter.

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