Case study: SAP Sapphire 2022 (10 locations)

When I was invited to be part of the jury at the International Corporate Events (ICE) Awards, I jumped at the opportunity. I was really excited to join this international jury, as it gave me a front row seat to see what some of the best corporate event planners are doing, but there was another reason. This year was the first time that the ICE Awards took place in Germany, after six successful editions in London. The awards ceremony took place in Munich, which is one of my favourite cities in Europe. It’s always a pleasure to visit Munich, and the awards were in June, which is mid-summer, so that was a bonus. 

I was blown away by the quality of the events and their execution. I judged two categories: Best Customer Experience – Live; and Best Transformational Change. I read through all the submissions, narrowed down my selections to three finalists in each category, and then got together with the other judges to choose the winner. There were so many excellent entries that it was hard to pick just one, but eventually we decided on SAP Sapphire 2022 in the Best Transformational Change category, and Siemens Energy Business Conference 2022 in Best Customer Experience – Live. 

SAP Sapphire 2022 event stood out for the way they ‘retired’ the old event format and designed a novel event concept to adapt to new times and changing customer needs. This is a prime example of what you can achieve if you have vision and are willing to make big changes to bring that vision to fruition. 

It wasn’t all hard work, though. ICE Awards was enjoyable too. The awards ceremony at Design Offices München Atlas was well organised with fabulous food, interesting keynote speakers and workshops, and – of course – drinks and networking opportunities. This is usually the best part of most events. There was a lot of discussion among event planners, sharing failures, successes, lessons learned and best practices – a valuable peer-to-peer exchange. It was a great opportunity to see how corporate event teams operate, and to recognise their teamwork, creativity and originality. 

Here is the winning case study in the Best Transformational Change category: SAP Sapphire 2022.

Event: SAP Sapphire
Author: Tim Porterfield – SAP Global Events

Location of Event

  • SAP Sapphire program in 2022 consist of ten different events and locations (including virtual): 
  • May 10-12: (Virtual) SAP Sapphire Virtual 
  • May 10-12: SAP Sapphire & ASUG Accelerate Orlando 
  • May 12: SAP Sapphire Mexico City 
  • May 17: SAP Sapphire The Hague 
  • May 23–24: SAP Sapphire Madrid  
  • June 8–9: SAP Sapphire Zurich
  • July 12: SAP Sapphire Tokyo 
  • September 7: SAP Sapphire Beijing 
  • September 9: SAP Sapphire Sao Paulo 
  • September 16: SAP Sapphire Munich

Market Background: What prompted the need for this event? 

Since 1989, SAP has traditionally held a single, annual customer event where our customers, partners, prospects, and influencers travel from around the world to a single venue to connect in person with SAP and each other. This approach culminated in >20,000 attendees in 2019. In 2020, our event was disrupted by the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, which prompted cancellation of our event and resulted in a newly designed, virtual event experience to keep connected with the community in a safe way. In 2022, the time was right to responsibly re-introduce the physical event experience and continue to offer our community the opportunity to connect virtually.

The brief: What were its objectives; were there any particular considerations: timescales, logistical challenges, audience requirements etc? 

The new SAP Sapphire program addresses several objectives. First, we’ve made the decision to bring the event to our customers. We retired the single-location experience and replaced it with a program that supports nine, different in-person events, each providing a location-relevant experience (local language, relatable customer stories). In addition, we’ve created a single, globally accessible virtual event experience to encourage participation by people who would otherwise be unable to or unwilling to travel. We’ve also refined the target audience to focus on business decision-makers, helping us to

create a more focused, intimate, and engaging experience for each event. To deliver on this program, several considerations had to be made. The geographical location of each of the in-person events has been carefully chosen to ensure maximum accessibility for our community. The local timing of the event dates must ensure both participation and alignment with local pandemic restrictions. Additionally, the virtual event aligns with an in-person event to maximise content, production, and delivery resources. The rollout of events is happening in a sequenced fashion to ensure consistent experiences, messaging, and content are available in local language to the attendees.

Solution: How did you respond to the brief and address particular considerations? 

SAP Sapphire includes nine intimate, in-person events across the globe, scheduled between May 10 and September 16, 2022. With three events in the Americas, four across Europe, and two in the Asia Pacific/Japan region, we are able to embrace the new reality in a way that minimizes the challenges of fluctuating local conditions, allows for new behaviours (e.g., space and time to work, shorter time investment from participants), and promotes environmental responsibility by reducing carbon footprint. Programming for the Orlando and virtual events has been designed so that relevant content can be leveraged and delivered to both events while still allowing for each to offer additional unique and exclusive content and experiences. Content for the virtual event is also available on demand for anyone to access and experience. Subsequent in-person events are scheduled as single-day experiences, and the corresponding show-floor designs and session offerings have been adjusted accordingly. The result is a relaxed, intimate, networking-friendly environment for attendees. In addition, these events are offered in local languages; with global content translated; additional local content; and with relevant local experts, customers, and success stories included in the experience.

Delivery: Introduce the internal team and describe the involvement of any key external suppliers. Show how specific environmental/sustainability/ community challenges were met. Include any areas of innovation and/or unexpected problems dealt with. Describe the delegate/guest experience. 

The SAP Global Events Team has defined the strategy and concept and is overseeing the execution of all 10 events. To support the delivery of the entire program, dedicated teams with focused workstreams have been created, tapping resources across the company and leveraging the help of key partners and suppliers: 

  • Freeman for promotional event site design + hosting, and show floor design Web Events
  • Global (WEG) for registration, content catalogue, and sponsor page offering 
  • VOK DAMS for support executing the 4 Europeans stops
  • RainFocus for virtual event platform 
  • 23K for promotional assets
  • Goebel+Mattes for video promotional assets 
  • I4D for entertainment acquisition 
  • And many more… 

The new SAP Sapphire program approach allows for a more environmentally responsible event. To reduce carbon footprint impact, attendees had the option to travel to an event closer to their home, or to avoid travel altogether by attending the virtual event. The use of air conditioning is reduced; recycled and compostable materials are used; reusable furniture and plants are rented; and local food and beverages are sourced. The carbon footprint that cannot be avoided is offset, including all flights. In addition, our SAP Sapphire Virtual attendees have a direct impact on sustainability initiatives through their participation in our gamification offering “you watch a session, we plant a tree.” 

SAP Sapphire & ASUG Accelerate Orlando: Celebration Night For our Orlando event, we have pivoted from our traditional “attend-a-concert” offering to an experience at Universal Studios that allows attendees to create the experience that they want: take on thrilling rides and attractions; relax and refuel at several dinner stations; attend an open-air concert by Train; or any combination of these experiences. We did have an unexpected challenge: The original artist scheduled to perform cancelled less than 24 hours before his performance; however, with the help of our agency, we were able to quickly secure a replacement act that was, ultimately, very well received. 

SAP Sapphire Virtual: Tree-planting gamification initiative SAP partners with the non-profit Eden Reforestation Projects to restore native and diverse forests in Brazil and Madagascar. For each unique session that attendees have watched, SAP will plant a tree. 

Post-Covid reality and expectations: To meet attendees’ new expectations and adapt to their new behaviours, event experiences have been purposefully designed to require minimal time and travel investment by participants. Onsite, both time and space have been planned for breaks and work.

Tailored agendas made by or with their account representative ensure customers get exactly what they need from their event. Even more so than the past, we believe that content is what makes people come to an event, who they meet there is what makes them come back. As a result, we have placed more emphasis on networking opportunities.

Outcome: Show evidence of success. How were the original objectives met? What was achieved strategically? What difference did the event make? 

To date, interest and attendance have been both strong for our SAP Sapphire program this year. In total we expect to host, in person, more than 16,000 people, including 8,000 customers, 3,500 partners, 4,000 employees (staff & executives), and 500 media, influencers, and analysts. In addition, our virtual event attendance has been strong. 

Giving our audiences the flexibility to choose how they want to participate really hits the spot and allows us to: Give our event and our community a new start: all attendance targets, to date, are met or exceeded. Feedback is extremely positive. With an 85% satisfaction score, we are back to pre-covid satisfaction rates:

  • Measurably increase our brand perception (59% attendees declared a more favourable perception after the event than before). 
  • Harness the power and scalability of a virtual event (>20,000 unique attendees, many of whom we would otherwise not reach for an event experience).
  • Renew our internal stakeholders’ trust in the power of events: Pipeline impact has been higher than expected and is on par with past events. This despite a lower number of attendees, to date, thanks to the more-targeted audience acquisition approach. 
  • Sustainability initiatives: Net-zero sustainability goal progress, with reduction of carbon footprint and the planting of 50,000 trees.

Summary – What made this event special? What are you most proud of? What were its unique aspects: bigger, better, further etc. (testimonials can be included) 

More than just a comeback, this program is a rebirth of our best-known, most-prized event. Despite the pull of nostalgia and the ease of muscle memory, we did not fall back to the old way of doing things. Instead, we are embracing opportunities and leaning into challenges to create event experiences that are more responsible, sustainable, flexible, and infinitely more personalised. The continued uncertainty of Covid has forced last-minute decisions. But in only five months, event teams have worked together to build this brand new and unique 10-stop program. All indicators are proving this has been the right approach, for our attendees and for SAP.

To conclude

It was an absolute pleasure to judge and attend the ICE Awards in Germany. I have only been able to scratch the surface of all that this event had to offer, but it was a great opportunity to share with corporate event planners from Germany, and to get their insights into what strategies are working best, what obstacles they’re facing, and more. The corporate events industry is still quite insular, and there’s a huge amount of untapped knowledge that is best shared by getting together at an international event.

I’m sure that those who went to the ICE Awards this year understand the value of the event, and – if you didn’t attend – you should certainly consider going next year.

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