As 2020 drew to a close, we were approached by the Washington, DC-based, 12.5-million-member American Federation for Labor – Congress of Industrial Unions (AFL-CIO) to pull off a high-stakes event that would kick off 2021 with renewed hope and enthusiasm. AFL-CIO is the country’s largest federation of labor unions, representing 55 national and international labor unions. The event, titled, “From Protest to Power: When We Fight, We Win,” was part of the federation’s annual tradition known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference, which coincides with King’s birthday on January 15. Extenuating circumstances shortened production timelines more than we care to tell. They had us at “hello.”
We practiced what we preach about freeing up our clients (from event tech needs) to be their best. Under-resourced and cramped on timeline, we helped pull together the necessary formula: Weekly and on-demand calls for status, coaching and calm. Individual and group training for speakers. Dry runs. Tutorials for chat monitors. Automated, on-the-hour email updates and text messages for attendees. A mix of prerecorded and live stream. …The launch of an enterprise-level platform with accompanying custom mobile app would be worth nothing without polished content and readied spirit.
The AFL-CIO brought their best. Over 2,800 attendees registered for a two-day (Friday/Saturday) program that included speeches by AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka (UMWA); Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight; and NAACP president, Derrick Johnson. At the midpoint of each day’s programs was a networking session, facilitated with multi-layered interactivity. This included an in-event chat function, and an “Open Hallway” where attendees could chat publicly, individually, or in groups. Attendees could also see which unions were present, and initiate “ice-breakers” with individuals or chat with the union as a whole. A social media wall powered with filters and hashtags and live chat in each session were filled with comments, likes, emojis and pictures.
The program had festivity in spades, with poetry readings and an unprecedented cover of Katy Perry’s “Roar.” The full-length, labor-lyricized track — lip synced by multiple labor matrons from as many locations — was recorded and produced on day 2 of the conference, two hours before it aired. All mainstage sessions included an in-picture American Sign Language interpreter, even alongside up to five panelist frames. Mainstage was winged by concurrent issue forums on everything from COVID vaccines to labor’s role in recent elections. We ran with the production strategy for a closing awards ceremony that honored numerous women including a lifetime achievement award to AFT Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus Dr. Lorretta Johnson, who spoke movingly. Replays of each day’s sessions were uploaded to Youtube and the event lobby. They continue to be a source of engagement — with over 1800 social replays since the event — and inspiration for the diverse communities of workers who rely on the AFL-CIO’s mission.
05Live Technical Support
We conducted streamlined technical walkthroughs and speaker trainings for the 39 guest speakers featured over the two-day virtual MLK Conference.
From the custom-branded livestream frames and event lobby, to generating an event-specific logo and custom graphics for outreach, we ensured a visually seamless and consistent brand presence for the AFL-CIO.
Accessibility is of paramount importance for an organization that represents such a diverse federation. All mainstage sessions included an in-picture American Sign Language interpreter, even in segments that featured up to five panelist frames at once.
The AFL-CIO took our lead in production strategy for its closing awards ceremony, which featured a timed compilation of pre-recorded and live streamed speeches. It also included a mini-documentary synchronized to the livestreamed speech of award recipients.
Our team remained on standby throughout the days of the event and the weekend in between, regularly monitoring for attendee support queries. We also provided AFL-CIO with direct contact channels for escalated matters.
We mixed live and pre-recorded video (including this mini-documentary) with live ASL (American Sign Language) into a custom designed background with animated lower-thirds, intro slides, animated countdowns and more.
Stacey Abrams joined live to receive an award for her historic work with Fair Fight Action and Fair Count. Our producers welcomed her into a live backstage just minutes before she went on screen. Split screen images while the host announced the winners, cuts to live or prerecorded acceptance speeches (that all looked live).
Attendees could exit the mainstage into an “open hallway” that was optimized for networking: People could connect in a public chat room (separate from the livestream chat room) or individually with direct messaging.
The ball was already rolling on conference registrations through AFL-CIO’s existing Cvent platform, which accommodated their needs and was linked to their constituent database. So we mapped registration data from Cvent into groups on our event platform using custom fields. These groups allowed us to categorize registrants accurately by the union they represented, to give them an opportunity to reconnect with their fellow union members, and to show the event organizers which unions would have a presence at the conference.
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