Unlocking Virtual Conference Success with Cloudsmith’s Hillary Foster

In this episode, we talk to Hillary Foster, a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) who has a wealth of experience in running events of all kinds. With her recent success in Cloudsmith's inaugural virtual conference, Unpacked, Hillary shares her insights on hosting impactful conferences for a specialized audience.

Episode Highlights

Coming up with event content that resonates with your audience
How to perfect your virtual conference by looking at event analytics
Actionable tips to engage a specific attendee set


Hello, folks, welcome back to backstage with episode 16 today and we're super thrilled about that.

We hope you're doing well.

Today's episode is all about virtual conferences.

So it's bound to be really insightful.

We'll talk about conferences and we'll also deep dive into what it takes to plan and host a virtual conference for a specified audience set and what better way to make that conversation a little more meaningful and interesting than to feature someone who's actually run a virtual conference recently for a very specific set of attendees, mainly DEV ops professionals.

and our special guest is Hillary Foster, who's a global events lead at Cloudsmith.

Now, for those of you who don't know, Cloud Smith provides solutions for dev ops professionals and hence their attendees are largely tech professionals.

And when you're running a virtual conference for a very specific set, as I mentioned earlier, you need to take into consideration certain things, you know, you need to make sure that the topics really resonate with them.

You want to make sure that your sessions leave your attendees with actionable takeaways that they can apply in their daily work.

And then you want to really make sure that in terms of registrations, you focus on a relevant audience rather than just quantity.

So tune in and listen to these super, super useful insights from Hillary.

interesting point, Hillary has a very, very vast experience in running events.

She's done everything from, you know, helping the recording academy produce the Grammys to hosting tech events at a global scale.

So tune in and enjoy this conversation between Hillary and Kaitlin Pundit who is our VP of marketing at Zuddl.

We'll head straight to the conversation.

All right.

So see you on the other side 


Just to talk a little bit about the content, right?

How did you source the framework?

So the topics of interest and, and I know you, you mentioned earlier that you go to the leadership within the organization, but when it's a community thing, how do you source topics that would appeal to a larger group of people?


Yeah, definitely.

So, you know, just looking at some of the conferences that have happened in the last six months in our industry, you know, what are some popular topics that continue to be selected?

When they're going out for content, culture papers, we got together our leadership, we got together our engineering staff and kind of asked, hey, what are some topics that you would like to see?

Or you would, you would sign up to a conference to go see, I think, you know, and then we went out to some speakers that we already had relationships with, put together some panels, we kind of did everything from scratch.

I think next year we're gonna do a proper call for papers and, and put it out there with some different topics.

we kind of set up five or six topics that we knew were relevant to the Cloud Smith product and the person that could potentially use the Cloud Smith product.

And then we kind of went out there and asked individuals that we thought would be good fits for those products to kind of help us develop a presentation.

So it, I think the way we did it this year took a little bit more work than we probably, it probably should have.

It ended up with great results.

But I think next year we're gonna actually go out to the community and say, hey, unpacked was a success last year.


Would you like to speak?


Here's the, you know, 8 to 10 topics that you can submit a, a presentation around?


There you go.


So I think that's, that's definitely the plan of action for next year.


And all of this orchestration was done by, by you and your team, right?


So you didn't have like agencies working for you.


This was completely No, no.




Which is funny because, you know, when I used to work at LEO events, we did this exact type of thing for companies like Cloud Smith.




So, you know, there was a, a large team of people on the agency side working to pull this off.


but no, this time it was really just me and a handful of folks on the cloud with side pulling this off.


It was, yeah, very challenging.


I made some recommendations like, hey, if we're gonna do this next year should probably have a little bit more staff.


But you know, we were able to pull it off.


I think the fact that we're able to use Zele and Zele is a complete platform and I know I'm like, you know, kind of plugging it here.


But, you know, on the agency side, we would build landing pages, virtual trade shows from scratch.


We'd have a video editor and a studio, you know, all set up that we bill clients for and you can do all that in Zele without having that agency kind of middle man that's gonna build you a lot of money.


So we were able to have this really polished looking con conference inside Z and, and you know, if I was watching as an attendee, I would think, oh yeah, they probably use an agency like Leo or Freeman or somebody like that to pull this off.


But no, it was actually just those other platforms.


So kudos to, for making that possible.


Thank you.


This is a great testimony and I'm gonna use it across the website.


Yeah, but the jokes apart after the conference, right?


You mentioned that a lot of people consume this content later on, right?


Did you see this what were the patterns if you could shed light on that?


Did you see a lot of people consume the the event content after?




Yeah, we did.


So we made sure to get it up on our youtube channel as fast as possible.


We made a separate playlist just for unpacked.


We always send out post event communications.


So we send out an email to all the folks that attended and all the folks that missed, they each get their own separate type of email.


And a lot of folks we noticed just looking at our little data dashboard that, you know, the morning pre we, we scheduled about a 25 minute break halfway through the five hour session, pre break was really well attended.


A lot of people showed up.


It was great.


That's where the bulk of people viewing post break.


We lost a big chunk of our audience.


And I think that's because we targeted this conference to to, to start with pacific time when you really should have had it target Eastern time.


So that's another change like we're able to use subtle data to, you know, make smarter decisions for next year.


And this was our first time doing this.


So it's kind of hard to tell and we do have a global audience, but we realized the majority of our audience was east coast and a based.


And so starting with an east coast time zone actually served the folks watching in the UK and Amia, you know, better than the Pacific Time zone.


So that's a change we're gonna make next year for sure.


But yes, everything went up on our youtube channel and some of our sponsors were actually speakers as well.


So I've even seen them cutting up content, putting it on their tiktok, putting it on their Instagram stories and things like that or on their linkedin and reusing snippets from the conference, which is awesome.


So that's, you know, it's great to have the content you work so hard for kind of live on in that way.


We've also had a couple of sponsors do blog posts around their different sessions.


So that's also been a great way to plug the conference that, that's, that, that's invaluable.








And, and typically, how would you measure the success criteria for something like this?




Going into the event, you probably had some metrics in your mind, but in hindsight, you might have thought of a few more.


So how, how did you measure the success?




So, you know, our goal at the end of the day was just to reach as many people as possible.


So we, you know, looking at total number of registrations was a metric for success.


How many of those registrations were Cloud Smith customers?


How many were new contacts was really important to us?


You know, and that also carried over to two attendants looking at who was a new contact, who is a current customer.


, you know, one of the long term things we're looking at is if you were a customer of Cloud Smith and you attended unpacked, are you more likely to leave Cloud Smith in the future or stay, you know, that churn rate, which is something that's hard to measure.


But over time, we hope to be able to capture that.


It's it, you know, trying to instill a sense of pride in the Cloud Smith brand if you are a customer or a current user.


And then, you know, we did send out a po post event survey and we asked folks that attended before unpacked, had you heard of clouds with at all?


And overwhelmingly, the people that answered the survey said no.


And so one of our mes of success was reaching a new audience and spreading brand awareness for Cloud Smith.


And the fact that I think it was like 65% of people who took the survey had never heard of Cloud Smith, that was a huge win for us.


So we reached a whole new audience, one that could potentially use our product in the future.


And we're actually telling them about Cloud Smith for the first time through this conference.


So big wins, big, big wins.


So that was great for us.




So that, I mean, I, I need to ask what was the pre event marketing like?




So it, yeah, we, our campaign went on about I would say 75 days.


So the biggest challenge and anyone who's planning a virtual conference with a lot of content knows is getting that agenda published.


So before the agenda even went out, you know, we were working with a video animator who helped with some of the animations and kind of polishing up the unpacked content post event.


But he created a sizzle video for us that had the animated logo and he kind of explained what the conference was.


We pushed that out with paid ads on social networks.


We use Google ads and we also started an email marketing campaign to our list that started like 75 days before the conference and this was even before the agenda was published.


So trying to kind of get that hype up and get people excited about unpacked before the agenda was ever even published.


And then once it was, you know, we leaned on our speakers to help promote our the sessions.


You know, we sent out individual emails to different audiences based on their interest with the sessions that we thought would be most relevant to whatever they're interested in.


Also, like I mentioned, we had a sponsor program.


So sponsors were able to sponsor for free in exchange for a list of promotional activities.


So if you wanted to sponsor unpacked, you had to send out an email blast on our behalf.


Have some social posts on our behalf.


Yeah, write a blog post on our behalf and all that had to be done before unpack started.


So we got a significant amount of registrations from just the sponsor program and then sponsors were able to come in, run a virtual booth during the show and collect their own leads and everybody wins.


So it was a really great idea.


I definitely recommend that for anyone who's doing a community conference that's like brand new.


You haven't really established value to the point where you're able to charge for sponsorships yet, but you still want to have people involved and we have some big brands, some big brands in the de space who I've met through, you know, industry connections, trade shows, the people in my position at those companies, right?


That are now all my friends, you know, come on and sponsor and it was, it was great.


It, we're friendly people, right?


When people are friendly, they have to be.


And a lot of times I some mistakes that I have made and I've seen other people do is that they don't really leverage their own sales and CS teams which are like a treasure trove of data and relationships.


were you able to bring them into the into play and you know, drive registrations?




So we actually had a staff employee like prize incentive program, right?


So everyone on the staff was given their own UTM, their own unique registration link and were encouraged to reach out to their networks and drive registrations and we had grand prizes.


So like the person that drove the most registration through their UTM, got a gift card and then it kind of tiered down from there based on number of registrations.


So everyone in the company, not just the sales team was incentivized to drive registrations, which is great.


You think about, you know, we're trying to reach engineers and we want our engineering team to be reaching out to their networks on social media.


So, you know, of course, our sales team and our customer success teams all had their own, you know, goals to recruit an audience, whether it was prospects or current customers.


But then we extended this prize program to the whole staff and just encouraged everybody to participate, which was really great.


So, you know, we had our own individual marketing, we had our sponsor program and we had our staff program.


So it was, there were a lot of different sources of, of education.


Yes, it definitely does.


It definitely takes a village.


And since this was a virtual, did you have any virtual swat cakes?


So that's something we definitely want to do next year.


We did give away, we did and we did use the leaderboard function inside subtle and we gave gift cards to our top participants, but next year, it would be awesome.


And one of my goals to have unpacked branded swag, you know, giving it out prior to the event or, you know, to maybe our top participants within the event.


We do, we do have clouds with branded swag and we gave away a couple of, we did a couple of giveaways in our email marketing campaigns.


So it was like, you know, the next 30 people to register for unpacked or register yourself in a team member, get a free pair of clouds with socks.


So we did a few things like that throughout the marketing campaigns, but nothing unpacked specific and I would love to do that next year for sure.


So look.


So if you look back and if there were, let's say three things that could, you could do better, what would those be?


Well, right off the bat, you know, we, we asked that in our attendee survey and I'm glad people, some people were brutally honest.


One thing that we could have easily done is enabled closed captioning.


So I, you know, that's something you can easily enable with a third party plug in and with subtle and we should have done that huge miss on my part, I think, you know, juggling.


So many things.


It's, it's easy to forget that you have a global audience.


Accessibility should never be back of your mind.


Should be top of your mind always.


And that was a huge miss on my part and I will 100% lay on the sword there.


That is something that you're 100% implementing next year, super easy to do.


And I definitely feel bad for not implementing that.


Another thing is, you know, we're gonna have a code of conduct.


And so I think everybody who's ever had a, a virtual conference knows that there are folks that sign up and log in and try to rig the leaderboard system and, and win all the prizes and that kind of thing.


So having an established code of conduct saying, hey, like, maybe you can't message hundreds of people inside the platform to get your prize.


You know, there's all every conference you go to, there's people like that, but having, you know, those types of community standards would be great to publish in advance.


And then lastly like, you know, having an FA Q page, you know, we a pre event email with like no before you go, everything you could possibly need to know.


We sent that out a week before and a day before yet, we still got tons and tons of questions in the chat that were like, how do I do this?


How do I do that?


That we're really already answered.


So, you know, maybe just having like a simple FA Q page inside the platform is something that we want to do next year.


So folks can find their own answers and they're not continuously asking, how do I do this?


Even though we already said it, we also had housekeeping notes in our opening, closing and break comments as well as slides in our opener and break that basically went over all the Fa Qs as well, but people they just don't read.


So, you know, having some sort of tab that has those questions answer would be great.


Yeah, by that time, I think we'll have an A I agent who would do it for you like an event assistant.




Yeah, something like that.






and, and one thing that did you kind of see an impact on your pipeline or revenue goals because of this event, did you see a lot of conversations moving down the funnel?




So I think, you know, the biggest point here is that we reached a whole new audience.


So that was really just opening up the Cloud Smith brand to folks that could potentially use our products.


So I think only time will tell as far as how our sales, you know, ro I is proved in, in sales long term and every anyone that works in events that's, you know, in charge of generating that super top of funnel pipeline, which is what events are, right?


It takes a really long time to, you know, have a closed one sale from events.


And the, the goal of this conference was to reach the community and provide community thought leadership at the end of the day.


But only time will tell if sales will have success with that.


I think the biggest thing is you know, I think it was maybe 65 or 70% of our registrations, new contacts.


So people that were not in our system, that have never been in our system before, that were unfamiliar with our product.


So the fact that we were able to open up and, and kind of attract those new contacts into our system, that's amazing and super valuable.


So I would say only time will tell.

Meet the guest

Hillary Foster, CMP

Global Events & Sponsorships Lead, Cloudsmith

A Global Events Leader & Certified Meeting Professional, Hillary has a diverse experience in running events of all kinds at The Recording Academy (The Grammy Awards), The Atlantic Magazine and The Washington Post to producing events and content for big brands like Walmart and Autozone, Hillary now specializes in leading an events program that reaches DevOps and Engineering professionals around the globe.

Ketan Pandit, Head of Marketing, Zuddl
Meet the guest

Ketan Pandit

VP Marketing, Zuddl

A seasoned B2B marketer with expertise in building scalable demand generation engines and partnership ecosystems. Prior to heading marketing at Zuddl, Ketan has helped build the partnerships ecosystem, and led demand generation at CleverTap, built the marketing team at Aureus Analytics, and worked at consulting giants Cognizant, Persistent Systems and TCS.

Meet the guest

hosted by

Kishore CS

Content Lead, Zuddl

Kishore leads Zuddl’s content marketing efforts. With over a decade of experience in the content field, Kishore’s experience ranges from content writing and editing to strategy and analytics for B2B and B2C companies.

Kishore CS, Content Lead, Zuddl
hosted by

Shreya Sanjay

Content and Social Media, Zuddl

Shreya runs Zuddl's social media, from creating content all the way to sending out quirky replies! A young mind, filled with creativity and enthusiasm to share ideas in multiple ways. Shreya's previously worked in films and digital media.