The beginning of a new year is always an exciting time for us at MM Event Group. We are well rested from our first two vigorous weeks of December, where we managed nine events, despite the pandemic.
In March of 2020 we weren’t sure if we would even be in business by the end of the Spring but we made it through the year very proud of the fact we were able to help our clients transition their events and save their convening and fundraising efforts for the year. We completely attribute this success to the fact that we immediately adapted to the new technology available for virtual events and used our existing partnership with RoofTop2 Productions to utilize a new platform called Virtual Tables.
We sat down with Gennaro Scarpelli, SVP of Live Events at Rooftop2Productions to talk about how this new platform came about and how it is ever evolving, just like the times we are in.
Gennaro Scarpelli, SVP of Live Events, Rooftop2Productions
"We collaborated with Marilyn Moss to get a sense of what her clients were looking for. Marilyn was of the same mindset that we were … we needed to find a solution and not sit back and wait for live events to be a possibility again. Marilyn really encouraged her clients to move forward, trust the technology, and be one of the first to try something new."
What inspired you to offer Virtual Tables as a solution for your clients?
“We were preparing a large event at the Museum of Natural History for the Boomer Esiason Foundation, and we were starting to see all these events throughout the city being shut down left and right. It was around March 10th or 11th they made the decision to cancel the event. So, our company shut down, and our office was closed that week. We were all just trying to grasp what was going on and how long this would all last. I started making a lot of phone calls to other production companies and platforms like Zoom and Webex, and they kind of had all the details that may work for a virtual version of a typical brick-and-mortar event. It was almost there, but not completely there, and we knew there needed to be something that was created as an add-on for an existing platform, or we needed to develop something from the ground up. Zoom does an amazing job at what they do, but the events world at the time didn’t really mean anything to them, so that’s what eventually inspired Virtual Tables.”
How did you collaborate to bring this idea to life?
“We approached a developer that we’ve worked with for a long time on the concept around this platform. We said, ‘We need something that’s going to be browser-based, so that we’re not asking anybody to download software or sign in or create a user account.’ We knew we needed a very simple login feature. From there, we developed a tiered PIN code entry, and that code then allows you into certain areas of the platform. The idea behind this is to recreate that brick-and-mortar event, not in a virtual reality world, but creating that world of you going through the front door in a building and checking in. You have a welcome page where you put in your first and last name, PIN code, and then you check into the event with your table number. So, we started bringing those ideas to the developer, and by mid-April, he had started developing.”
What have been the greatest challenges your clients have faced when going virtual?
“Most people, back in April and May, didn’t really understand what going virtual meant. We had some clients that were scared and didn’t want to do anything, we had some clients that didn’t feel like they needed to do it, and then we had some clients that thought that anything was possible while it wasn’t. We collaborated with Marilyn Moss to get a sense of what her clients were looking for. Marilyn was of the same mindset that we were … we needed to find a solution and not sit back and wait for live events to be a possibility again. Marilyn really encouraged her clients to move forward, trust the technology, and be one of the first to try something new. Our first big all virtual Livestream show was for the Latino Community Foundation (LCF). Our typical live event is usually four hours long, but we obviously could not produce a four-hour Livestream. On that particular show, we were really trying to hone in on what the show was, what’s the story they’re trying to tell, and what little things can be brought there to spice it up a little bit. LCF excels in sharing their story, so helping them put together their show was really driven by their sense of community. It was an outstanding success! Other challenges are the demographic that comes along with a lot of the events that we’re doing. When it comes to technology, some people aren’t technical, and they had to figure this all out. However, it forced us to take this giant leap forward and make advances in this virtual world because of the pandemic."
What was the first event that utilized Virtual Tables?
"Rooftop2 had a soft launch in July with an event for the North Texas Food Bank and the Dallas Cowboys in Texas. Normally, this is an outdoor food tasting event, so the challenge was how do you recreate a food tasting event in the virtual world? So, along with RoofTop2’s parent company, Sport 5, we used Virtual Tables to create this virtual event with a branded viewing experience. At the time, they were still using YouTube and Facebook to stream and using Virtual Tables for their high-end sponsors. What we came up with on our end was using the platform for a half-hour pre-show or VIP reception. This allowed the VIP on Virtual Tables to have a half hours’ worth of content that others wouldn’t be getting. On top of it, having the table aspect of it, we were able to have Cowboys alumni do a meet-and-greet table hop. With the food tasting aspect, we had a culinary and mixologist pre-show where they sent out all the seasonings and mixers for the steak and the cocktail, as well as a list of what you did need to prepare ahead of time. Then, by the time the show started, you were able to sit down with your steak and cocktail and recreate their physical event.
Since this event, the meet-and-greet aspect is what is most appealing to our clients. MM Event Group’s clients such as Ali Forney Center, ALS Association of Greater New York, North Shore Animal League America and R.A.I.N. Total Care all used the meet-and-greet feature this past season to give their table guests some one-on-one time with their event leadership, celebrity hosts and in the case of ALS, NYY legends visited all of the tables during the pre-show time."
How does Virtual Tables differ from other platforms that are used to host virtual meetings and discussions?
“It’s a fully branded site. So, the fact that the site is fully brandable, the customization, that ability that you do have is a key thing that some of these bigger platforms do not offer. With a talent meet and greet concept, you have the ability to deploy, for example, the CEO or chairman of an organization, a celebrity, a comedian, and so on that can go around table-hopping to meet and greet with all the guests. In addition, the site functions on its own. With some other platforms, you need an admin person in the room to play the video or do the screen share. Virtual Tables doesn’t function this way. The videos are playing no matter where you are, and they play on their own. The biggest feature is the live tech support. We’re here to help if you had an issue getting your camera to activate, or you’re plugging in the wrong PIN code, but we are also able to detect any challenges and offer solutions.”
What elements of virtual events, and a platform like Virtual Tables, will remain intact and transform the way we execute events moving forward?
“As a society, as people, we need to be together. We need to be at a game and scream at the same time when that goal happens. We need to be at a concert to sing the return lyrics back to the artist on stage. You can’t recreate that in the virtual world. Eventually, that brick-and-mortar event will come back. Will it be 100 tables? No, maybe we’ll have 50 in-person and 50 virtual. I believe that non-profits and galas will still use the platform as a hybrid solution or replace their smaller events at the end of the day. We’re starting to see that with concerts especially; they’re doing live streams and using the platform as a pre-show meet-and-greet. On the Rooftop2 side, we’re presenting Virtual Tables as a second-screen viewing experience for sporting events. For example, with Major League Baseball, we’d use it to produce content and create rooms where you can meet with an alumnus of the team while there’s a second screen experience playing in on the video, while simultaneously watching the game on TV, and we feel that will remain as well. We’ve done this a couple of times, and people are able to have an experience with a celebrity in this virtual world that they would not normally have. Also, I believe that most of our shows that we’ve done have netted out the same on their donations, if not more, and I would love to investigate more on that end because that’s going to dictate how you go in the future.”
If you are interested in a demo of Virtual Tables, contact your MM Event Group Account Manager or email firstname.lastname@example.org
(Below) Attendees at the Ali Forney Center's A Place at the Table Gala enjoyed the interactive capabilities of Virtual Tables on Nov. 13, 2020.