by Kirsten Nelson
Morton Salt has created an emotional connection between brand and audience for more than a century, ever since it introduced one of the most charmingly iconic brand identities in American advertising lore. The young girl toting an umbrella, pouring that irrepressibly clump-free salt through a rainstorm, has earmed recognition from customers and marketing experts as the company has expanded into a global enterprise with a generous philanthropic and community-building footprint.
Now Morton Salt is also innovating the ways it connects with team members across numerous international offices, mining facilities and partner manufacturers held by German parent company K&S. The brand’s communications team is constantly exploring new ways to engage and inspire employees, particularly in the case of its global quarterly meetings, which invigorate audiences with increasingly tech-enabled interactive and dynamic productions.
Every three months, the entire company comes together for these 90-minute debriefs, which ideally must connect and invigorate the global team with a quarter’s worth of information and company initiatives. Aiming to make a memorable impact with these condensed sessions, Morton Salt engaged Endless Events to create an audiovisual production that captures all the energy of a quarter in a meaningful and empowering exchange of ideas. Oh, and they wanted this all to happen live and be viewed by Morton team members around the world, with the whole event happening twice in one day to accommodate varying time zones.
That meant Endless Events would be producing an in-room audio and video production supported by multiple cameras, screens and sound reinforcement systems standard for such events, with the addition of live streaming capabilities. The latter are certainly in demand across many events today, according to Will Curran, Founder and Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events, but there are many levels of live streaming that can be provided, and it’s important to discuss variables and experience goals when determining the technology that will be used.
For Morton’s purposes, streaming operations had to be at the highest level, so viewers worldwide would be able to see and hear high-quality transmissions, even in bandwidth-challenged sites like salt mines. “When people hear ‘live stream,’ they might think Facebook or Periscope or something like that, but that’s not like this in any sort of way,” Curran explains. “This is all using high-definition cameras, high-definition encoders, and a lot of really advanced technologies to bring a really high-quality stream to every single person that tunes in.”
Beyond the technical considerations, the content and production style of live streaming can also vary greatly between applications. A simple approach might simply send out the same camera images, presentation slides and audio used for the in-room experience. But, Curran cautions, this approach might not engage remote viewers all that well. “Most people aren’t thinking from the live stream audience’s perspective,” he notes, pointing out that it’s not as simple as showing a remote audience the same content as the in-room content. “You have to figure out ways to keep your live stream audience engaged long-term, because an hour-long presentation is painful to watch on a mobile phone or desktop display.”
It’s not just the duration that’s a problem, it’s the disconnect between what’s happening live in the room and how it feels to watch that through a window somewhere else. To help bridge that gap, Curran suggests, “people really need to start thinking about their live stream audience as a whole new audience.”
For starters, it’s a good idea to consider adding a dedicated live-stream host to provide some additional content during transitions between presenters. That’s usually when people in the room are talking amongst themselves, Curran describes, and unfortunately, “the live-stream audience doesn’t get that break, the chance to engage, and chances are they’re looking at their phone, trying to figure out if they should keep watching.”
To make them feel more engaged, Endless Events suggests that clients think of a live-stream the way they might imagine a traditional broadcast production, with commentary and extra interviews to fill in the gaps. There are a number of creative ways to add new pieces to a production, Curran says, such as back-stage interviews with presenters, or other exclusive content “that makes it more exciting to watch, because it’s so easy to disengage from watching a TV screen or your laptop screen for longer than 15 minutes.”
Now that Endless Events has been handling quarterly meetings for Morton Salt for two years, the partnership continues to produce new and innovative ways to engage audiences in the room and remotely. With the live-stream and in-room meeting productions set, Morton Salt asked Endless Events to go one step further, Curran says: “Not only are they streaming to all their employees across the world in all these different locations all over the place, but they also want the ability for them to feel like they’re in the room and that they can interact with the people in the room.”
That meant the addition of audience engagement software that allows everyone near and far to answer polls and submit questions in real-time. For this task, Endless Events chose the Slido audience engagement platform,” which essentially embeds our live stream inside of it, and then people can ask questions,” Curran explains. The Endless Events team moderates the questions and feeds them to participants, who then have the power to up- or down-vote queries so they might be addressed by the presenter.
Adding these capabilities adds one more layer of complexity for the production team, which must strive for the lowest latency possible in the live stream, so questions and polls can happen in real-time.
Another latency challenge with the Morton Salt meetings comes with the added factor of language translation. This again was something the client wanted to achieve 100-percent live, Curran says. “So, what we do is we live-translate everything into Spanish, French and Portuguese, and then those all come in to different unique streams that sites can tune into. Then all the questions come back, and audience engagement comes in different languages, so on the fly we have to translate questions into English to send them back to people speaking English in the Chicago office. It’s all translated live, with captions, on top of everything else we were already doing for high-quality at a low bandwidth.”
The ongoing collaboration between Endless Events and its Morton Salt communications clients continues to produce positive outcomes. “We get a lot of compliments on how well the live stream works,” Curran said. “We end up reaching a lot more of their employees that weren’t able to watch it before, because of the ability for us to compress it into a really high-quality stream at low bandwidth.”
Meanwhile, there’s always room for improvement as the Morton Salt client relationship and technology continues to evolve. “They’re constantly trying to revamp their content and make it more exciting,” Curran notes. Over two years of working together, they’ve progressed from a single-camera live stream to the multi-camera production with music and interactive features via Slido and a custom-branded Catchbox microphone that be tossed around the audience for some playful in-room Q&A.
But it’s more than just play — the numbers show increased engagement from the streaming audience. “They get a really high watch rate,” Curran says, and in terms of the number of questions they’re receiving in the Q&A portion, “the engagement is really, really high for what they’re expecting.”
Having reached the close of another year of collaboration, Morton Salt has even more ideas for engagement with remote offices in the future. Now the live production setup will tour to locations beyond Chicago each quarter, bringing the in-room experience to more team members around the world. So, it looks like Endless Events will be heading out on tour next year, connecting the company with new levels of engagement along the way.