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What I learned by converting a physical conference to a virtual one in just five weeks!

The pandemic shut down the Bay Area on March 17; our event was on April 21st. Find out how we quickly pivoted and pulled off a successful virtual event!

While I was, by no means, the first person to host a virtual event, I was one of the first in my network to pivot from a physical event to an interactive virtual event, due to the pandemic. While there are always lessons learned, I would say we nailed it! I have spent the last month post-event responding to clients, partners and industry colleagues about what platform I used and what worked for us, as they begin to transition their own events to virtual. Consider me your guinea pig.

Our event was supposed to be April 21-22, 2020 in San Francisco and, at five weeks out, the decision was made to go virtual rather than reschedule. I needed to select a technology vendor right away, and through my LinkedIn network, I found Dahlia+ Agency.

While there are plenty of virtual event and webinar platforms out there, what separates Soliman Productions (under the Dahlia+ umbrella) from the others is that, while with most you are just paying for access to their technology and platform, Soliman not only built-out the livestream site, they also produced the event. We planned it, but they managed the technology the day of the event and ran the virtual green room where speakers waited to go on. They were like our AV booth (sound and video switchers), help desk (a human was behind the help button on the site) and site developer in one! This was a lifesaver for me.

We condensed a 1.5 day event into two days for 3 hours each, to avoid losing guest’s attention and being aware that they have other obligations. With no true breaks, and slightly shorter sessions, we still accommodated all of our planned topics and speakers we had committed to. We did host our panels simultaneously to tighten time as well.

We didn’t want it to feel like a regular webinar where speakers talk at you, and I think it boils down to the nuances and small details you add to create engagement and interactivity. At the time, the small details felt painstaking, adding to an already challenging workload, but post event, we could see clearly how each of them truly enhanced the overall event experience. Some of the details that were successful:

  • The Summit Supply Drop box we sent was a total win! We asked guests for their shelter-in-place address during registration and shipped them a box full of goodies, an agenda and a letter with ways they could participate in the event. The call to action to hashtag and tag us with the message lightboards we sent or to show us their WFH set-up with #fromwhereisummit was a hit! Guests could not have been more appreciative and excited to receive these boxes.
  • Virtual Bingo – This encouraged guests to really engage and listen for buzz words, to post on social, participate in a breakout or visit the sponsor’s virtual booth in order to win a set of wireless Beats by Dre. The learning here was to make it harder to get BINGO, and probably have a prize for anyone who completes the whole card.
  • Hearsay team members from throughout the organization recorded intro videos introducing themselves, their role and the upcoming speaker. This offered a more human, and broader, view of our organization.
  • Assigned chat motivators that kept the chat box active and fun.
  • Virtual Sponsor Booths allowed our partners to shine.
  • Our transitions between speakers were not just a holding screen. In order to help the guests feel “seen” we incorporated several slideshows into the transitions between sessions. One featured guests at past events, one had current and past award winners, and another showed all the amazing social media posts by attendees.
  • Guests loved being able to get more curated content by selecting which simultaneous breakout panel best suited them to attend.
  • We organized small group Think Tanks. They were pre-assigned and a facilitator reached out in advance to create a sense of accountability and excitement. They were able to see and speak with industry colleagues and discuss best practices, successes and practical applications of lessons learned.
  • We created virtual backgrounds for our speakers so they could have some privacy in their home, and also feel more like a studio set. We gave them all several branded options.
  • Our designer also created a custom coloring sheet with some branding, to distract kids at home or for doodling while listening.
  • We still held our annual awards as a part of the event, highlighting photos of the winners and examples of their work. We asked the guests to join us in toasting the winners with the branded prosecco bottles and branded insulated champagne tumblers we included in their gift boxes!


  • Reach is greater with virtual. We went from a mid-sized in-person conference to a virtual one that reached nearly 5x as many people. Many commented that they would not have been able to attend the physical one and were so excited to be able to participate now that it was virtual.
  • Content is king. We had amazing and diverse speakers, offering many different perspectives.
  • While you have a more captive audience at a physical event, you get more engagement with virtual. Our active chat box provided real-time feedback and comments on the speaker and event, as well as friendly banter with the other attendees.
  • People miss the physical networking, so anything you can do to emulate this in your virtual event will go a long way with attendees.
  • Creative ideas came from throughout the organization. Brainstorming was fun and essential!
  • You need a partner. Perhaps your team is large enough and you only need the technology, but for me, a production partner was like hiring AV, essential.

Were things perfect? No. Were they epic? Yes.

There were a few minor bumps with various vendors, but attendees were very complimentary about how professional and engaging the event was and they loved the touch of sending them the swag box. The big take-away was that they were truly appreciative that we still held the event virtually, rather than canceling or putting it off.

Five Essential Traits of Successful Digital Leaders in Financial Services

One of the most important success factors in any digital effort is strong leadership. Here are the traits we’ve seen prevail, over and over again.

The financial services industry has changed significantly over the past decade or so. As firms continue to drive digital transformation, Hearsay has had a front row seat collaborating with innovative executives on their digital transformation roadmaps, and we firmly believe that one of the most important success factors in any digital effort is strong leadership. Amongst firms that have thrived, we have consistently seen five traits across successful digital transformation leaders.

1. Agility

If there’s one thing digital leaders understand, it’s that today’s world calls for an agile approach. Technology, competition, and client sentiment change too fast to get bogged down in meetings and/or approval processes that take weeks or months. Add to that a paradigm-shifting global pandemic, and agility solidifies its place – by miles – as the number one most valuable trait in a leader.

Take Prudential Financial for example. The corporate marketing team had been working on a new brand campaign, a deep-dive into the company’s mission. The campaign was scheduled to launch in the midst of COVID-19, and the team quickly pivoted their approach. “March 12th, we all met, and we said ‘This is not going to be right.’ Because it’s not about us, it’s about them,’ said Naveen Agarwal, Chief Marketing Officer at Prudential. Agarwal and team developed a new campaign that focused on hope and the heroes on the frontlines, in just eight short days – from concept to production to launch. Agarwal shared, “I actually think that what [the pandemic] has done is allow large companies to think agile. Not agile as a methodology which is in my mind a small aim; the big aim to me, is when the company starts thinking fast and acting fast.”

2. Diverse Knowledge Base

There’s often a push in one’s career to specialize in a particular area. But running a financial services firm’s digital efforts, as CIO, CTO, or CMO, calls for a combination of business and technical skill sets. Brooke Forbes, CIO at Fidelity Investments, agrees, “Digital leadership really embodies the connection between business acumen, technology acumen, and even operational acumen.” And Forbes has a career that spans all three.

After starting out in business roles working for technology, software, and consulting services companies, she moved into a COO role managing the operational reporting and sales and marketing forecasting for a particular technology platform.

She jokes, “I fell over the other side of the fence one day [into a technical role] because my boss said to me, ‘You know what? I’m going to ask you to run this thing.’ And from that moment forward, I found myself in the business of leading development organizations through large scale platform transformations. What I found I loved about it was that I could bring the end user and the business perspective to the conversation. Because it’s not technology for the sake of technology, it’s technology in the name of what client, business or associate experience or outcome we’re all trying to drive. And having that intersection of the conversation I find is where the magic and the innovation really happens.”

3. An Insatiable (and Humble) Hunger to Learn

A smart leader knows that though they may have a lot of experience, there is always more to learn. Dontá Wilson, Chief Digital Client Experience and Marketing Officer at Truist (formerly BB&T and SunTrust), went from regional bank president to oversight across all things digital including product research, UX, client experience, analytics, marketing, innovation, and communications. With his primary area of expertise in client relations, he relies on humility and a team of experts to drive strategic digital innovation.

“I have a fantastic team of some of the best and brightest talent in the world. One of the things that I committed to very early on was to […] know what I don’t know; to be very open and transparent about [my team] being the smartest people in the room and that I’m going to lean on them to make the critical decisions. But I’m also going to lean on them to teach me and educate me to fill gaps, because I felt it was strategically important.”

Wilson walks the walk on this commitment with a once a month 2-hour deep-dive tutorial session, along with a full ‘Saddle Day,’ where he sits with someone on his team and actually does their job with them looking over his shoulder.

4. Client Centric Viewpoint

No matter how much a leader (or leaders) knows or how much experience they have, today’s successful leader must use the client as their compass for every decision made within their organization. Digital leaders need to be thinking about their customer, be it external or internal, at all times.

Wilson’s role is a perfect example of that. It has responsibility “for making sure that we show enough care for our clients and that we wake up every day with our client at the center of every business decision that we make,” said Wilson.

Wilson shared that the reason it’s so important to put clients at the center is because, “client experience is now the differentiator because people have options. There’s product and price parity, so you have this competitive, what I call sea of sameness. So you can get price here, you can get product here that’s similar to your competition. You build a store here, they can build a store there. Most financial services companies move to what I would call a lake of differentiation. So, smaller than that sea of sameness, and they did it based on the human experience.”

5. Understand the Critical Importance of Human Connection

Though Forbes pointed out that she’s “in the business of technology,” she also emphasized the importance of enabling Fidelity advisors to create a human connection with their clients by putting the client at the center of every engagement. Forbes pointed out that in this “economy of customer choice,” it’s imperative to let customers guide their own journey. For her, that means providing an omnichannel experience and creating an ecosystem for clients.

“If you really have the mindset that it’s an ecosystem, the ability to leverage a channel at any given point in time thoughtfully, with personalization in mind for that client experience, it gives organizations and those serving their clients, be it advisors or other kinds of roles, a lot of flexibility and scale. [It also allows you] to deliver the human touch in a really omnichannel way, and platforms like Hearsay really give you a lot of power in that,” she shared.


Agility, a love of learning, customer centricity, a broad range of knowledge, and the belief in the power of human connection have made certain leaders stand out while driving digital transformation. And as the pandemic crisis drove waves of change through many aspects of business, it forced the acceleration of digital transformation. This disruption tested and challenged the agility and adaptability of leaders across the globe. Are there other traits you think will be important for leaders going forward? We’d love to hear from you! Use #FSDigitalLeaders and @HearsaySystems on Twitter.

Hearsay Summit 2020: Delivering a Human Client Experience in Extraordinary Times

A big thanks to each of the 500 marketing, distribution, and compliance leaders who joined us at the annual Hearsay Summit – for the first time ever, virtually! We were thrilled to have a highly engaged audience and incredibly insightful presentations from our customer and partner speakers.

A few of our key takeaways were published by ThinkAdvisor, if you missed the event or want to share it with colleagues. I’ve also highlighted a couple of my favorite moments below, in both written and sketch format.

Digital is a Permanent Priority

Kathryn Lattuca, leader of Emerging Experiences & Analytics at the Royal Bank of Canada, participated in our keynote presentation, and she shared that although they’ve been putting in very long hours over the past month, they are seeing some silver linings. The acceleration that occurred due to COVID-19 set the stage for a more seamless digital workflow. She believes the following positive changes are here to stay:

  • A stronger partnership between compliance and marketing to more quickly triage new content and better manage how and what is distributed
  • A focus on providing customers a seamless experience into digital entry points
  • Empowered advisors leveraging digital channels to build deeper relationships with clients, at the right time, on the right channel

This sentiment that while COVID is temporary, the changes to behavior and digital acceleration we’re experiencing as a result are not, was a theme throughout the event.

“Approachable Authorities” – The Importance of the Last Mile

Naveen Agarwal, Chief Marketing Officer at Prudential Financial, coined a wonderful term for advisors and agents, approachable authorities. Prudential’s purpose is “making lives better by solving the financial challenges of our changing world.” Naveen shared that Prudential’s advisors and the last mile communications with their clients are critical to fulfilling Prudential’s purpose, since their role is to really listen to clients. He explained, “We believe that, especially when it comes to complex decisions, when it comes to things where people have to be reassured, we think about what it means for you. Without that last mile it would be impossible to help the customer in the deep way that we want to. It’s critical for us that we get the last mile really nailed.”

To learn more, the full resources from the event are available on our Summit website.

Elevate your Advisors & Agents When LinkedIn Elevate Winds Down

This post explains the difference between employee advocacy and social selling solutions, and discusses the importance of helping advisors and agents create real human connection while increasing brand reach.

LinkedIn has announced it is sunsetting its employee advocacy tool, Elevate, come December 2020 and integrating it into LinkedIn Pages.

What is Employee Advocacy?

At its core, employee advocacy is the promotion of an organization by it’s staff; these days that’s most often executed through social media. A number of tools, including LinkedIn Elevate, have been developed specifically to facilitate this purpose.

To the marketing function, these tools are attractive since maximizing the reach of your social media efforts increases brand awareness. The right advocacy tool will amplify your marketing messages and increase the return of your investments in content marketing and social media. And certainly in wealth management, P&C, and life insurance firms, the advisor or agent workforce is a powerful force to get the word out about your firm’s brand, thought leadership, and offerings.

How does Social Selling Differ from Employee Advocacy?

Expanding the reach of corporate marketing is only one side of the equation. Advisors and agents today must use social media to buoy their role as trusted advisors to their prospects and clients. Sharing corporate content is an important part of that, but advisors and agents also need a way to be authentic through a personalized social presence – consistent with the firm’s brand – to make a real connection with prospects and clients.

Enter social selling solutions. Whereas the primary goal of employee advocacy tools is oriented toward one-to-many marketing at the brand level, social selling solutions help advisors and agents develop deeper one-to-one relationships. Sharing corporate posts is part of that and brand reach goals will be met; but the extension and customization done at the field level drives even stronger client connections.

The Intelligent, Human Future of Financial Services

In high-consideration categories such as wealth management and life insurance, a trusted advisor is everything. So many other interactions in our daily lives are digitized and missing the authentic, human factor. But when it comes to finances, the complexity of decisions are higher and the value of personalized, tailored advice all the more critical. The same is true with the highly emotional decisions that take place with insurance. That’s why clients are more apt to stay long-term after fostering a connection with an advisor – that connection tends to be built at a personal level through meaningful conversations.

Foster Real Human Connections Between Advisors/Agents and Clients (and Increase Brand Reach)

With a complete social selling solution like Hearsay, advisors and agents are able to authentically and intelligently grow business relationships. They have the opportunity to establish themselves personally as trusted advisors and stay top of mind, in addition to amplifying the corporate brand promise. Sharing corporate content to LinkedIn should be just one piece of the social selling strategy, alongside others that contribute to attracting and retaining clients throughout a full client lifecycle.

An effective social selling solution delivers business outcomes such as:

  • Driving interest and validation by helping advisors and agents project a professional digital image across their social profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)
  • Increasing engagement by offering the field organization the flexibility to automate and/or personalize their social presence to support varying levels of sophistication
  • Reaching more customers by activating other complementary, modern channels like advisor and agent websites
  • Optimizing sales engagement to grow share of wallet by providing integrated email and text messaging to complement digital lead generation efforts with authentic, human outreach
  • Unlocking more value from CRM and other sales and marketing systems, analytics, and compliance investments by populating them with field-level data
  • Guiding all reps to act like the best rep with AI-based triggering of timely, relevant outreach to improve prospect conversion and deepen client loyalty

Learn how you can go beyond employee advocacy to drive real ROI through advisors and agents, by downloading The Five Pillars of Social ROI.

The Power of Giving Your Customers Control

Hearsay Summit 2020 is officially a wrap! Along with being the first virtual one we’ve ever hosted, we had two days of amazing speakers, fireside chats, and breakout sessions. One of the speakers we were lucky enough to hear from was Glenn Shapiro, Allstate President of Personal Property-Liability.

Glenn shared four ways that the advancement of customer-centricity can work amidst the current challenges of COVID-19 and beyond:

Give customers control.

According to Glenn, “Customers want to take work that we have somehow, and for some unknown reason, tried to keep from them for years.” Customers want to feel a sense of control over their own customer journeys, and businesses, now more than ever, can and should give that to them. Glenn shared an example of how Allstate’s claims process evolved a few years ago from using onsite appointments to an online claims submission model that completely empowers the customer. He shared how coworkers were recently noting how effective this model is during the current challenges. While he agreed that may be true, he emphasized it was simply practicing the fundamentals of giving the customer control that allows for that. “If you do things that empower the customer, they’re going to work in any scenario.”

Eliminate friction.

Next, Glenn shared an example of a company that, by putting its customers in control, set itself up to weather the current pandemic climate: Publix. The widely known grocery chain took an experience that is traditionally high touch and typically done in person and created an app, allowing its customers to order and pay for groceries online and then pick them up. When COVID-19 arose, Publix enabled its app to track customers’ arrivals into the parking lot so that they could seamlessly pick up their groceries without ever even leaving their car. By eliminating possible points of friction, Publix was uniquely situated to quickly pivot to address the current needs in this crisis.

Create customer connections.

Glenn’s next example highlighted a company that created connections with its customers—as well as for its customers—during COVID-19. Netflix, although already well-positioned for the current atmosphere, partnered with Google Chrome to create Netflix Party, a feature that brings people together by allowing family and friends to watch shows together from different locations. As Glenn pointed out: “They decided to create connections between people.”

Put relentless focus on internal consistency.

Glenn used Amazon as an example of a company that shows a relentless focus on internal consistency. While it may seem obvious given its business model is thriving even during COVID-19, Amazon’s seeds for success were planted way back in 2002. Jeff Bezos created a list of expectations for his company from a technology standpoint, now referred to as the “Bezos Mandate,” that Amazon uses to this day. Glenn pointed out that although Amazon has several different lines of business, “they are completely seamless, completely integrated, because they have been relentlessly focused on internal consistency.”

For more insights from Allstate President Glenn Shapiro, or to see other speakers from our virtual event, check out our Hearsay Summit 2020 Highlights page.