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10 | Heather Henderson Thomas, Cisco: The Solutions-finding attitude, Collaboration, and Shining on

  • August 13, 2019
  • 43:35

Heather Henderson Thomas (Senior Manager of Strategic Operations and Event Experiences at Cisco Live) shares a behind-the-scenes look at how to transform an enterprise event brand, bringing a solutions-finding attitude, and the key to collaboration (hint: it has a little something to do with #onshineallshine).

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Top Takeaways

1

TAKING INCREMENTAL STEPS: Heather Henderson Thomas joined Cisco during their event rebrand where Cisco Networkers transformed to Cisco Live. After a successful transition, one of the biggest learnings for Heather was to break things down into smaller steps. “Cisco Live, as it is now, is a huge aircraft carrier, if using metaphor. It doesn't turn on a dime, but you can take small incremental steps to change it and you can take some big innovations in certain areas. There are things that are working well. Let them work well while you focus on things that you want to innovate in.”

2

SHARING A COMMON LANGUAGE: Heather understands the way to keep all teams and parties aligned is by sharing a common language. At Cisco, that means focusing on the key pillars of amplifying, accelerating, innovating, and inspiring to deliver a successful Cisco Live event. “Being clear in your message and keeping it simple in what you do because that's easy to translate then to your teams and to your supplier-partners.”

3

COLLABORATING TOWARDS SUCCESS: A big part of Heather’s role is bringing together internal and external stakeholders to share ideas, bring their expertise, and cultivate a community of collaboration that allows everyone to shine. Heather drills this idea down into the perfect hashtag #onshineallshine: “My job is to make sure Cisco Live shines because, then Cisco shines, then my supplier-partners shine, my team shines, my internal stakeholders shine, everybody has success. We call it this collaborative success.”

ABOUT Heather Henderson Thomas

Heather has worked in events at Cisco for over 14 years. As the head of Cisco Live, she combines the skills of a COO and CFO with a keen focus on attendee and customer experience. Before working at Cisco, Heather worked in weddings, catering and incentive travel.

Episode Transcript

BRANDON:

All right, I am so pleased to welcome to the show, Heather Henderson Thomas, the senior manager of strategic operations and event experience at Cisco Live. Heather, thank you so much for being on the show today.

HEATHER:

Happy to be here. Thanks, Brandon.

BRANDON:

Great. We have a lot to talk about today. Really curious to get a behind the scenes of Cisco Live, which is Cisco's largest customer event and trade show. Also really curious about how you are running your team and working with other stakeholders both internal and external. But to set the stage for our conversation, could you share a little bit more with us about Cisco and your role?

HEATHER:

Absolutely. I know my title seems to be a mouthful. It's Cisco Live operates as basically its own SMB within this mega corporation of Cisco. It's pretty easy to describe my role then as leading the finance, and the operations, and the event experience. My peers across the Cisco Live team include a marketing lead, a strategy lead, and then a content, which is our product, Cisco Live's product lead. My job is to take all the awesomeness that we dream up together as a team, bring it to life on time, on budget, and with an amazing attendee experience. That's what my team is tasked with. We love what we do and what we get to do within Cisco, and really make a difference for our attendees and for the company.

BRANDON:

Fantastic. You've been with Cisco for roughly 13 years.

HEATHER:

It has. It's been a long run with Cisco, it has. My background covers just a broad spectrum of the events industry. I started in catering, I've worked in country clubs, I've done membership development at country clubs, I've done on-prem, off-prem catering, I've been travel staff for incentive programs, I've done weddings for a lot of years. I just have this really broad background. When I landed at Cisco, I really found my home. I really found what I have passion for within the events industry because there's so many facets of the events industry. Anybody with any type of interest can find a home in our industry. I really found that corporate is where I live and breathe, and where I thrive the most. I think it's because you can have measurable success, you can make an impact in the company, and bring all the skills of events industry that I love, just bring them to the table. Yeah, 13 years. I've been on the Cisco Live program that long.

I started, when we basically launched Cisco Live, we branded an event that was formerly called Networkers. It had been around since 1989, and when I came on board with my director, she brought me on board, and we rebranded it to Cisco Live, we changed it into this strategic platform for the company to do major news announcements, major launches, to really be a centering point for the company to bring everybody together, to go big, go loud with what we're doing as a company, and really enable our customers and partners to be better in their jobs, to have more impact in their business.

It's been a really fun journey to watch this event grow from when I started at about, it was about 8,000 people maybe, to grow where it is now and just really see how it's evolved and changed, and how Cisco Live is an umbrella event. Here in the US, under the Cisco Live umbrella, there are 14, was 16, I think, this year, subprograms that take place throughout that entire week. It's extremely complex, it's extremely large, but we try to make it intimate and impactful for our attendees.

BRANDON:

I mean, a lot to discuss there.

HEATHER:

Yes.

BRANDON:

I'd love to learn a little bit more about that process of rebranding the event from what it was before, and turning it into this whole entire new offering for your customers and beyond.

HEATHER:

A lot of credit goes to our leader. Our director of global customer conferences, my boss, she had this really idea of when, I remember when she interviewed me, she said, "You know, Networkers is this diamond in a rough. The company doesn't realize what an opportunity that there is to really take this event to the next level." When I came on board and we did all the strategy around creating Cisco Live, and we had this 18-month plan to change the brand and really ease people into it, and our CMO at the time, we presented the plan to her and she's like, "Why don't you do this year?" We were like, we basically had six months to rebrand the entire event and launch this platform, and we did it.

Sometimes the best laid plans, you just change direction and you embrace it, and you run with it, and it has turned out wildly successful for the company. I remember in the early days of trying to explain why we shifted from Networkers which has this extremely loyal attendee base, and just there's a lot of pride in the Networkers name, why we were shifting it, and trying to demonstrate to our attendees and our internal stakeholders that Networkers isn't going away. What you love about that event, that deep dive technical education that our audience just thrives on, that they expect from us, from Cisco, is still there. There's just a whole lot more for you. In the early few years, we were constantly having to knock on doors and explain to people what Cisco Live is, and encourage internal stakeholders to come along on this journey with us, and be engaged, and bring their launches to our event.

Now, sometimes we laugh, we're like, "Okay, we can block the doors now," because everybody at Cisco realizes what a platform Cisco Live is, and they want to be a part, and they want to go big. There were three or four major launches this year at Cisco Live, huge campaigns, and it just really demonstrates the power of the program. It's also really smart from a business perspective, because when you bring all of your resources together at one point in time, or fewer points in time throughout the year, instead of doing, for example, 52 product launches in one year, let's do them three or four times a year at Cisco Lives, so we can go big, so we could have more impact in the marketplace, so we can have more executives participating. It's just such a smart way to do business, I think. I think a lot of companies are kind of moving that way. It also helps from an event spend perspective.

The company isn't spending multiple times per year to host stand-alone events. We rolled our analyst program into Cisco Live, we've, in prior years, rolled in our investor conference, other product launch events into our conference. This year, we rolled in a workplace transformation summit for our collaboration team. It's just a great way to do business because you can leverage the infrastructure of having this huge event come into a city, and we're doing big scale production, and we're doing awesome entertainment, and we have huge food and beverage deployment and transportation. All things that a smaller event could never do on their own with such an economy of scale. Not only is it great from a business results perspective, it's really great from a business efficiency perspective to consolidate and bring these events together at one time during the year, and do it at Cisco Live.

BRANDON:

No, that totally makes sense. Like you said, it's something that I've seen other companies doing with events, is reducing the number and really focusing on the quality over the quantity.

HEATHER:

Absolutely. Yeah, do fewer and do them well.

BRANDON:

Right. I have a feeling that some of our listeners might be either going through a rebrand of an event in the way that Networkers pivoted into Cisco Live, or they might just be trying to consolidate their event strategy. From your experience, what is the lesson you learned or something that you found useful in this process of consolidating into Cisco Live?

HEATHER:

There are a lot of lessons learned. We tried some things, and some things didn't work. I think my big learning over the 13-year learning curve of this transition was really always keeping our eye on the prize. Having an amazing team that really gets what we're trying to do, taking things in small chunks. You can't always ... Cisco Live, as it is now, is a huge aircraft carrier, if using metaphor. It doesn't turn on a dime, but you can take small incremental steps to change it and you can take some big innovations in certain areas. You can't just overhaul the entire event all at one time, because sometimes you don't have to. There's things that are working well. Let them work well while you focus on things that you want to innovate in. I think sometimes people might have in their head, "We need to totally change up and innovate an event top to bottom, left to right," well, maybe that's not the case.

There's a lot of things you can let roll for maybe another year or two while you focus on just two or three wildly important things. I think that's a lesson we learned along the way, is to focus on some wildly important goals each year, do those, do those well. Knock them out of the park, and let the things that are working well, let them continue on, maybe with just some incremental changes.

BRANDON:

Speaking of goals, I know we kind of touched on some of the services that Cisco Live provides to Cisco, but just to briefly review, could you tell us the main business goals of Cisco Live?

HEATHER:

Absolutely. Every year, we go through a strategic planning process, and we have three or four key pillars each year that it's basically our rallying cry. Everything that we do needs to align to these three or four pillars. They tend to be around amplify, so amplifying Cisco's brand in the marketplace, and our voice. Accelerate, I mean in the grand scheme of things, my job is to move the needle for Cisco. Are we accelerating sales? Are we accelerating things to the marketplace? Innovate, innovate the attendee experience, innovate the event experience. Inspire, inspire loyalty with our customers, our partners, and our employees. Those are really our four anchor elements. Everything we do has to align to those in some way. In some things, we might see an activity as just an inspire activity, and that's okay. Because loyalty drives business. Loyalty to a product, to a company, that drives business. That just enables that attendee, that customer, that partner to be better in their business.

Those are really our four anchors. Amplify, accelerate, innovate, and inspire. They're simple. I like simplicity. I think that's something that in the corporate world, I did learn that often times we can get verbose in our corporate speak, and when you really boil it down to it, and you always put on the customer lens on what you're doing, which is what Cisco Live is, is really for the customers, keeping it simple. Being clear in your message and keeping it simple in what you do because that's easy to translate then to your teams and to your supplier-partners. All my end supplier-partners know those four pillars. They know that's what we're trying to achieve, and it's really cool to see them come to the table with ideas, and say, "Hey, this is going to help us in the accelerate category," or, "This is going to help us inspire loyalty."

BRANDON:

Yeah, definitely. I mean, having that common shared language, and really it's a shared constellation of northern stars for both you and the supplier-partners.

HEATHER:

Right. It makes a difference too, when they embody is, and we're very transparent. Here's our strategic plan, and our supplier-partners gets so bought in into it, they really become that extension of our team. Not just in name, but in practice. I think that really is one of the differentiating factors on this event, and its success.

BRANDON:

I love that. I want to talk about supplier-partners more in a second.

HEATHER:

Sure.

BRANDON:

But first, could we talk a little bit more about evaluating the success of Cisco Live? I know we have these big pillars, but how do we quantify of qualify, rather, how they perform?

HEATHER:

Sure. Well, as you can imagine, we're a large technology corporation, and we have a lot of data points. We set KPIs for all the initiatives and objectives under those four pillars. We do pre-show, post-show measurement, on-site measurement, alignment to our KPIs in all of our reporting, so there's a lot of measurements that we do. But when you boil it down to how we evaluate success, again, I keep it pretty simple, and I always tell people, "Did we move the needle for Cisco?" Because at the simplest form, that's what we're here to do. Whether it's through inspiring loyalty, whether it's for generating sales or amplifying the brand, or innovating the experience so an attendee just knows they can't miss Cisco Live, that's how we evaluate success. Did we move the needle for Cisco, and do the attendees find satisfaction in the event? Do we get the feedback that they can find the content that they're looking for, that we're meeting their needs? Because when it comes down to it, I think another interesting perspective that sometimes event managers take and event strategist take is what does the company want to achieve, and pushing marketing messages, or pushing things from a corporate perspective.

You really have to look at things from the attendee and the customer perspective. What do they need? Can they find it? Can we get them the information they're looking for to enable them to be better in their jobs and make an impact in their businesses. When you put things in that lens and you run it through that customer lens, it's amazing how you can then simplify your strategy on something or you change your messaging to really put the customer in the driver's seat. I think that also makes the difference. That realization, I've seen that trend at Cisco and at Cisco Live over the past few years, really trying to not just push out corporate message, but make sure we're meeting the customer with what they need, where they need it, and the way they need it.

BRANDON:

No, I mean I couldn't agree more. I think that's another really important trend right now, is pushing away from this corporate messaging and really trying to see things through the eyes of the attendees.

HEATHER:

Absolutely. It also kind of ties to the society we live in now. The culture we live in. Everything is very personalized for us. I can't go shopping on one website on my phone, and then go to Amazon and not see something related to that item that I was just looking for. It's that personalization and bringing to the top of all the noise in the marketplace or in whatever arena, bringing to the top the things that we know are meaningful to that attendee. That's what we really try to do at Cisco Live, is get them the content they want, how they want it, where they want it, and meeting their needs. Not just assuming we know what they want. Let's use different technologies, AI, at business analytics, all sorts of things to deliver them the content that meet their expectations.

BRANDON:

Speaking of, I mean Cisco Live is completely huge. It's a giant event, it has 28,000 attendees, more than a thousand breakout sessions, over 300 partners on the trade show floor. I mean, when it comes to something like personalization, which can sometimes be difficult enough at an event with just a couple of hundred attendees. What are some ways that you and your team, and the rest of Cisco are bringing a more personalized experience to attendees at this big event?

HEATHER:

Fortunately, there, I have amazing partners on this. My job is to bring it to life, and they dream up the how and what they want to achieve. Our team, our marketing team really works on personalization efforts along with our content team. I'm just going to skim the surface because this is not necessarily my area of expertise, but our websites, when you go searching for content, we use a lot of things. Let's start at the top. We use things like I mentioned, artificial intelligence, data analytics, recommendation engines, machine learning. We use all of our technologies so that our database of information on an attendee is as smart as it can possibly be, and continues to improve. We use things like recommendation engines, so when we make a recommendation of certain content to an attendee, they can give us a thumbs up, thumbs down. Yes, this is what I was looking for, no, it wasn't. Then we continue learning from that.

We look at the demographics, and there are edge profiles, and obviously try to serve up content that meets their needs. There's different things within our website, and different trackings that we use to offer them content that meet their needs. So many different ways, at least from a content perspective, that we offer a personalization. As far as the broader event and how we personalize within the programs, that's been a, well, I won't call it a challenge. On my team, we don't call things challenges, we call them, "Opportunities." It's an opportunity to show how good we are at our jobs. But creating intimacy and making a person within the 28,000-person event, feel like that event is for them, man, that is hard. But once you do it, and once you crack that, it makes such a difference to that attendee.

I would say a lot of the things we do is we try to learn as much as possible about our attendees, with our business analytics database, we use that, and the different profiles that they fill out through registration, and what we know about them from their Cisco account. We have things now, we call it single sign on, so that all the Cisco Live information we have on them is coupled with all the information we have on them as a Cisco customer. What they've purchased, what their next projects are, things like that. We have a complete picture, or a more complete picture to offer them up content. From a programming perspective, we work with a lot of internal teams to create these unique experience for different audiences. For example, we had a partner experience program this year for our partner attendees. We had the workplace transformation summit for our collaboration attendees, and we work directly with that collaboration marketing group, with the collaboration business unit, to really identify content speakers, programming agenda, all sorts of different elements that would appeal to that audience. Because they know that audience best.

We do that with multiple groups within Cisco to create these 14, 15 programs that we do. We get a lot of feedback on that from our attendees, that they love it, that they know we're listening, that they know we're paying attention to them. We do get comments all the time of people like, "Great, that's exactly what I was looking for. Thank you. Thank you for making this huge event meaningful and relevant to me." I think one of the other key factors to that is also navigation. Really looking at it from an operational perspective. If people can find what they're looking for, if they're well-fed, and if they know where to go for answers, everything else really becomes easy, because if they can't find the content they're looking for, or if they physically can't find that certain booth within the trade show, that's where they start to go sideways.

We really focus a lot on navigation within our mobile app and our mapping systems. We focus on tying the recommendations into the mobile app and the navigation, so we can say, "Hey, based on your location and your proximity, we think you might like this demo that's only 100 feet to your right. Turn here." Things like that. We use a lot of technologies. We use beacons on each of the registration badges to really track dwell times, and track locations. Obviously, we're very public about that. They know that that's what ... Our attendees know that that's what we're doing. That really helps us to deliver more quality leads to our partners and more personalized experience for our attendees, and really in the end, that's what we're there to do.

BRANDON:

We covered a lot there.

HEATHER:

We covered a lot, yes.

BRANDON:

Everything from the digital experience. It sounds like even before people get to the event, you're offering recommendations or things that people might be interested in once they get there, making sure people have the tools both on their app, but then also just around to navigate. I mean, that's huge. Then also, in the content. I love how you and your team are leveraging data and technology to really drive this, but something I did want to comment on is basically how Cisco Live has, it's so huge. It's practically like its own country with little regions, which you called the zones, different types of zones. Could you speak on that a little bit?

HEATHER:

Oh sure. Beyond the education, the thousand plus breakouts, what we try to create is experiential and educational areas just throughout the event environment. In San Diego, this past year, we really took over the city down there by the convention center. We had five anchor properties, plus this amazing outdoor lawn space that we built basically, and education expo, and food and beverage deployment area outside. We try to create zones to enable learning in multiple ways. Not everyone wants to sit in a breakout room, death by PowerPoint, for two hours. There is an audience that loves that, and God bless them, we can deliver that. But there's also folks that want to be do hands-on learning. We offer that. There's folks that want to do one-on-ones with experts. We offer that in a meeting village. There's other attendees that want to maybe whiteboard with some of our technical engineers and our tact ops team, we offer that. You can walk up to a Webex board and do a session with a Cisco tact guy or gal, right there, do some problem solving, answering questions of what they're dealing with within their own company and within their own networks, and help solve those problems. Then take that information and recommend.

"Here, based on what you've just told me, here's some things we think you might want to check out on the show floor. Here's a couple partners that aligned to what you're looking for." Really helping the attendee find what they need. We do walk-in self-paced labs where people can go deeper into certain topics. There are just so many different types of experiential areas, and even beyond that. It's not just the technical, it's also addressing the needs of an attendee on the basic human level. The food and beverage experience. There is nothing, in my opinion, more boring than walking into a huge expo hall, in a sea of banquet rounds, and just 18 lines of box lunch buffets. We looked at that last year, and we created more of a marketplace type of food and beverage experience. It's not tied to content. There's no marketing message in the food and beverage hall. But creating a unique experience, so someone walks away from lunch going, "You know what, I'm fed, I feel good, I'm ready to tackle the afternoon now."

Again, meeting that basic human need of making sure people are fed and they've got coffee. That's a big thing my attendees look for, coffee. We have coffee everywhere. But just creating those experiential areas for folks. We also create a social impact zone, which I'm so proud of. It's just something that has grown and grown over the years, so that you can take a mental break from all this technical education and being on, and meeting with partners, and make a difference in the local community. We have a social impact zone where the activities change daily, and folks can go in and make a blanket to impact homelessness in the local area. Put together a food box. I mean, whatever the activity was that year, this year, everything that we did around social impact at Cisco Live made a difference in the homeless situation in San Diego. We impacted over 26,000 lives just with the few activities we did over the course of five days at Cisco Live.

BRANDON:

Wow.

HEATHER:

It's just those unique environments, and making places engaging. We have an awesome DevNet zone for our developers that every year they do a whole bunch of different stuff in there. There's theaters that you can just walk—maybe you're walking by and you want to stop for a 20-minute session—there's labs, there's just different activities in the DevNet zone. We also have a theater and a content track that we call The Big Ideas Talks. These are totally not technical sessions. They're multidisciplinary content, and they could be on things like creativity, or dealing with stress, or we brought in Leland Melvin this year, former astronaut, and we talked about just really cool topics. Again, just gives your brain a break from deep technical, and addresses more of the whole person. It's a unique content offering. I think it has made a difference in Cisco Live. There's really something for everyone. When you have 28,000 people, they're not all trying to get into the same 50 breakouts at one time slot because there are stuff happening everywhere that meet their needs, and they can get content in different ways.

I think another thing we haven't talked about is our whole online platform. While the whole live event is happening, the online broadcast is happening as well, which we use as both the marketing platform, but also as a way for attendees to get content. Because sometimes you just don't feel like getting out of your hotel room and going to that session. You can watch things live. You can watch the keynotes and the innovation talks broadcast live. I personally do a segment in our TV studio for the online broadcast, just talking about the behind the scenes of the show, which is really fun. The attendees love knowing the crazy that goes on behind all the flashy awesomeness. Then, two weeks later after the event, we post all of our session recordings. We record all of those thousands breakouts. We audio and video record them and sync to the slides, and we post all of that content. If you miss a session, you can catch it later when you get back home. I think there's just so many ways to consume the content, that it makes it personalized for the attendee. They can get things where they want, how they want, and when they want.

BRANDON:

Definitely. I mean, it seems like you almost have a separate media company within Cisco Live.

HEATHER:

We do. We do, we have a broadcast team within Cisco Live. Yes, and then we have our own online team which handles all of our online platform. Our online platform is not just during the week of Cisco Live. It's available year round. That increases the engagement within that point in time for the live event. For those that can't attend live, they're able to engage with us either through social media, through Webex teams, or through the online broadcast, so they feel somewhat like they're there, and maybe next year that they can join us in person. Because we all know, in this industry, nothing replaces the power of a face-to-face interaction, and the power that events has in the marketing mix, but if we can reach those attendees and keep that brand connection going with them year round, and if they can't join us live, that really does make a difference and still has an impact.

BRANDON:

For any of our listeners who are curious, I can say that there are some of these videos, behind the scenes videos that are available on YouTube. If people are curious, you can learn more about Heather's approach, and other members of her team, and just get all around in the trenches experiences of Cisco Live. I want to take things back to supplier-partners, and sort of your perspective on working with what I call, and perhaps some of our listeners typically a vendor or a supplier, but no, at Cisco Live, they are supplier-partners.

HEATHER:

Absolutely.

BRANDON:

These are staffing agencies, environmental design agencies, and venue managers, for instance. Could you share this a little bit about your unique approach here?

HEATHER:

Absolutely. It's something when I started at Cisco 13 years ago, I struggled with the word, "Vendor." It's a culture that I really wanted to influence as we built this team. We made the shift to supplier-partners. Everyone on our team knows it, and uses that terminology. It's something that has really made a difference in how our suppliers come to the table. They know that they are really part of the team. They're not just in word. They know that they can bring ideas. I think when you set them up to realize that I brought them to the table because they're the expert in their field, I am not an expert in mobile app design. We tried that once on Cisco Live, and we were not successful so we learned our lesson. But we brought a company to the table that is an expert in mobile apps. In those technology integrations with all of our platforms and the APIs that are needed across. That's what I really tried to encourage in our supplier partner community is you are the expert in your field, how would you do this? I will tell you where I want to go, you tell me how to get there.

When we challenge our teams with that, and we give them that opportunity and that freedom to really step up and come to the table with ideas, it is awesome to see them shine. Then what it does is it creates this real community of collaboration between our supplier-partners, because Cisco Live, for as large as it is, you would think that we probably just have one company that oversees everything. No, we take a best in class approach, and we've done that. We really get best of breed in all the different event services areas. While there are amazing companies out there that can do a lot of things, we love finding the best in this area, X, Y, Z area for Cisco Live, and the best in this other area. We bring them to the table, and we manage in the best in class approach to supplier management. Those suppliers have to work together, and they have to work together well.

What has really developed is this spirit of collaboration. I use a lot of hashtags, and my team has heard me through a lot of precons, or team meetings, it's one shine, all shine. My job is to make sure Cisco Live shines because, then Cisco shines, then my supplier partner shine, my team shines, my internal stakeholder shine, everybody has success. We call it this collaborative success. Our supplier-partners are so bought into that because what they will do is we all know, things happen on site or in planning, that they go awry, they go [squirly 00:30:16]. Well, instead of blaming one another, it's awesome now to see how my suppliers, especially those that have been on it for a long time, they will figure out a solution and then bring it to me, and be like, "You know what, here's what happened. Somewhere along the line, a mistake happened. Here's how we resolved it. This is our collective approach to how we're going to move forward. Here's a new process we think we should implement, some checks and [ballot 00:30:39]." It is awesome to see.

I think that really makes a difference because again, I'm not an expert in all these fields, I don't pretend to be, but we bring to the table those experts and we let them work together. It's just awesome to see what they can create. I think another thing along that line is not only supplier-partners, but also our on-site, most folks would call them [temp-staff 00:31:01]. We bring in over a thousand event ambassadors. We call them event ambassadors, and I tell them this at their training, I'm like, "You are part of my team this week. You are part of this one team, one dream, we are all in it for each other's success because if you have a great week here, my attendees are going to have a great week here. If you're successful in your job, I'm going to be successful in mine." We're dependent on each other for our success, and so they love that. They love being called event ambassadors, and you can just see how their attitudes change. They sit up a little straighter during training because they're not just temp-staff, they are event ambassadors, they are representing this brand, and that energy and that spirit of hospitality really shines through from them throughout the week, I think.

It's one of the fun things about Cisco live, and is part of the on-site experience that, again, another, I think we have a lot of differentiating factors obviously, but that's one of them, is our supplier-partners and our event ambassadors, are just, they amaze me every day.

BRANDON:

It's so great to hear, and it seems like such a welcome paradigm shift at just looking at other partners as just that, partners, and really bringing them into the fold with the mission of the event.

HEATHER:

Because when they're bought in, they're all in. They will help me overcome a hurdle that comes our way, because they know they're going to get as much credit as I do for fixing a situation. I think that makes a difference. People really bring their A game that way.

BRANDON:

I love that. Another element of creating a really unique experience is something that you mentioned in our call we had previously which is the director of vibe.

HEATHER:

Yes.

BRANDON:

Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

HEATHER:

Well, it's something that's kind of evolved organically. Three, four, five years ago, again, Cisco Live is so huge, so many different moving pieces and parts. Yes, I oversee the overall event experience, but I can't be everywhere all the time. The team and I, and our marketing and brand team came up with this concept of we need this director of vibe, so that we are consistent top to bottom, left to right, not only aligned to an event brand style guide which everybody gets from their brand agency, fortunately, ours is internal to Cisco, so we get this amazing event brand and event brand style guide, but how it comes to life is, we kind of wanted to set a road map for folks. Because every supplier partner could interpret a style guide differently. We wanted to provide a baseline level of consistency. For example, one year, our theme was around, it was called "You're It," and the attendees were the superheroes. There was a lot, you could play a lot with this event brant. The director of vibe's job is to make sure that from the music we do, to the uniforms of the event ambassadors, to the docents that we have, to the even down to the food we serve, does it fit the overall vibe that we're trying to create this year aligned to the event theme?

That each of these subprograms has their own flavor of that event brand. But you can see the consistency across, because an attendee has no clue and doesn't need to know that there are 47 different teams deploying all these areas at Cisco Live. All they know is Cisco is doing it. We need to be consistent and we need to show up consistently for our attendees. Because when they walk from one space to another, they don't know that a different member of my team managed it from someone else. It doesn't matter to them. They just want to know that they're going to have a similar experience. It's a really fun role. What's really cool is the director of vibe works across all of our supplier-partners. They have, everybody brings their creative ideas to the table on what they're going to do for, let's say, in the keynote hall. Maybe what they're doing in the keynote hall, someone else within the environmental design team can be like, "Oh, I love that you're using lasers. I think we were talking about using lasers over here. Let's make sure they coordinate, we're doing the similar music." Whatever it is. Again, really makes a difference to the attendee, so they're seeing a seamless and cohesive experience across the event even though there's hundred plus supplier-partners working on this program.

BRANDON:

Cool. I mean, you mentioned that you have a very large team that you're working with. Cisco Live itself is comprised of many different smaller programs. When you're looking to build your team, what sort of qualities do you look for in a candidate?

HEATHER:

My direct team, and my boss did this to me when she hired me, I didn't feel like I was qualified for the job when she hired me. In fact, even a year later, I said, "Are you crazy?" Because I had no mega event experience. What she said to me, and what I say to people when I hire is I can teach you how to do Cisco Live. I can teach you mega events. I can't teach you ethics, integrity, solution finding, positive attitude, positive approach, collaboration, commitment to one team-one dream, and you can't teach that. If you're bought into those items, I'll teach you Cisco Live. If you have a passion and interest in mega events, or even a component of major events like Cisco Live, awesome. But I bring to the table people that have solution finding attitudes, and check their egos at the door. I've said this to every person I've interviewed for any position across our team. Whether it's for one of my peers. Their direct reports are my own team. If you come on to this team with a personal agenda that you're going to climb your way to the top because of Cisco Live, we're not going to be the right fit for you.

We're a very unique culture within Cisco, or I would say within the business world, and I think it's permeating out to others, but again we're all about collaborative success. My operations team cannot be successful if the marketing team is not successful. The strategy team can't be successful is the content team is not successful. We're all dependent on each other. It goes back to that, when we make a decision, it is so cool to see how this Cisco Live team, there's about 26 of us full time, year round, we make a decision, we lock arms, we move forward. No matter who you ask on the team, you're going to get the same answer. We all support one another, and it's really cool, something I'm really, really proud of, and it comes from the top, our leader embraces this and embodies this culture, and encourages it. We all get to enjoy that.

BRANDON:

That's great. I know earlier you mentioned that your boss was really instrumental in pivoting Cisco Live from Networkers. In general, who's someone that has been a really major influence on your career? Either within Cisco or outside of it.

HEATHER:

Wow. I think one of my very first bosses would be when I worked at a small country club in Ames, Iowa, and she said it to me, "Do it right the first time." I always think back on to not rush through things, to make the right decision, to have the information to be fully educated before you just make a decision. I think that has really made a difference. Always do right the first time, and it's also something Cisco embodies. We want to do the right thing at all times. That comes down to, especially in my, practically in my day-tod-day world with finance for Cisco Live, doing the right thing with compliance and with accountability from a financial perspective. It's a lot of money I'm managing in and out, because we're a revenue based, fully self-funded budget. That's a lot of responsibility. To do it right, and to be transparent in everything that we do is really important to me. I think that has made a difference in my career.

BRANDON:

That's huge. Okay, to jump to another topic real quick ...

HEATHER:

Sure.

BRANDON:

I know when you're not orchestrating massive events and spending time with your family, I know that you like to enjoy the outdoors.

HEATHER:

Yes.

BRANDON:

What is one of your favorite hikes in California?

HEATHER:

Oh my goodness. I haven't done enough to probably give you one of my favorites, but I love living in Northern California. I moved from the mid-west where we have a lot more seasons, let's say, in the mid-west. I lived in Minnesota, in Minneapolis right before moving to California. Being able to be outside almost year round here is just such a blessing. I love exploring around Northern California. One of the hikes I want to do is up in Yosemite. Have not done that one yet, but my kids are old enough now. I want to get them up there, and I just think being able to enjoy all of the beauty here in this area is a real blessing. I feel very fortunate to live here in Silicon Valley.

BRANDON:

I love it. Final question I have for you today, Heather, is if you could give an earlier version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be, and why?

HEATHER:

Oh, that you do not know it all no matter what you think. That you're always learning. I think back, I tell this to people, maturity is a beautiful thing. I don't know that I'd ever want to go back to being in my 20s, because you think you know it all then, and then in your 30s, you sort of know more. Then as you keep going, we won't discuss ages, but as you keep going, you're kind of like, "You know what, I don't know it all, and what I do know, I'm pretty proud of." I think that would be that earlier version is to not worry. Things will work out. Just keep focused on what you're passionate about. Believe in yourself, do the right thing, be positive, be solution-finding. I think that has made a difference, too, is things always happen. No event is perfect. No job is perfect. But focusing on the things that work and work well, and be solution-finding. Don't blame each other. Find the solution, move on, learn from it, and don't do it again. Don't make the same mistake twice. I mean, it's kind of basic things we learned as kids. I think that's what I would tell an earlier version of myself.

BRANDON:

Perfect. Okay. Well, that is our time today, Heather. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us about Cisco Live, about how you're managing your team and delivering these deeply personalized experiences and more.

HEATHER:

Thanks, Brandon.