Taking conferences virtual: How Two River Pictures reimagined Palo Alto Ignite

By Kerstin McInnis, Vice President of Virtual Experiences

When the world has moved from in-person connection to virtual, is it possible to take a traditionally in-person experience like a conference and make it as successful as the original? Last November, Palo Alto Networks found out.

Since 2015, Palo Alto Ignite has welcomed thousands of cyber security experts for the largest cybersecurity conference in the world—and the only one that spans cloud, data, and security operations—to learn, meet, and connect. But 2020 had other plans, forcing the Palo Alto team to reevaluate their winning formula.

To reimagine Ignite for a year when in-person events were suddenly off the table, Palo Alto Networks turned to Two River Pictures — long-time partners — because of our expertise in digital experiences and visual storytelling. The resulting conference was a run-away success for Palo Alto and its partners, and it offers critical lessons for any company thinking about the future of their conference programs.

Think bigger

More than just a replacement for a physical conference, Ignite 2020 showed how digital events can transcend borders, boost value, and embrace global opportunities.

The digital experience attracted over 48,000 Palo Alto Networks customers, partners, and prospects to 67 sessions—from keynotes to trainings to break-out sessions. Spanning three time zones, Ignite also featured 37 sponsored booths and nine Palo Alto Network booths.

Palo Alto Ignite 2020 - Two River Pictures

Attendees accessed the full event program, hosted by James Cordon and featuring talks by acclaimed speakers like Condoleezza Rice, via an easy-to-use but sophisticated platform. And the results speak for themselves.

Palo Alto Ignite 2020 Results

To achieve these results, Two River Pictures and the Palo Alto team knew we needed to get back to basics.

Take a user-first approach

What are conference attendees really looking for? The answer wasn’t simple. Every individual in Palo Alto’s ecosystem would have unique needs for connection, information, and insights. So, it would all come down to giving each attendee a personalized experience.

“We set out to deliver an elegant, engaging experience and that’s exactly what we did,” said Linda Shanley, vice president of events and executive briefing programs at Palo Alto Networks. “We led with content and experience and made it easy for our attendees to get to the event, get to the content they wanted, from compelling keynotes, to thought leadership, to hands on labs and training tracks.”

Users could create personalized schedules based on their security interests, interact with speakers in live Q&A sessions, and watch recommended content on demand, even after the event. The platform also featured virtual coffee tables, providing a key quality of live conferences: casual networking.

Engage the audience in new ways

Live, in-person conferences engage attendees by creating energetic and informative experiences that add real value. Virtual conferences should do the same, despite the unique challenges they present. Three River Pictures helped Palo Alto not only navigate these challenges for Ignite, but find new ways to engage a distant and potentially distracted audience.

“We were able to far exceed expectations in terms of number of attendees, their engagement levels, and the amount of time they spent with us,” added Shanley. “We had attendees from over 170 countries who spent multiple hours with our content. It was still nerve wracking to be excitedly waiting to see the event come to screen, but I was so pleased with how everything went, and the results speak for themselves.”

Attendees like Alan Nicolson, Network Head at Albertsons/Safeway were thrilled with the experience. “I have to say that was probably the best on-line session I have participated in this year,” he shared.

Look beyond streaming

Rather than pushing static content out to a passive audience, Palo Alto Ignite drew viewers in – from anywhere in the world – and enabled them to engage and interact with the content and its delivery. Attendees appear and connect within a life-like yet virtual environment where ideas could be dynamically exchanged. From an immersive virtual keynote experience to uninterrupted semi-live streaming content, Palo Alto Ignite went far beyond the typical streaming experience to create a seamless and rich experience from start to finish.


This was accomplished with world-class video production technology and Two River Pictures’ proprietary streaming platform. The platform allowed for live-like experiences like one-on-one and group chat features in the Virtual Expo Hall. There were also interactive booths with clickable tabs, downloadable content, and gamification. And like a live trade show, Ignite offered attendees on-demand content in the Virtual Expo Hall.

Results: The gift that keeps on giving

Capturing content from conferences and repurposing it for future marketing activities is nothing new. But the all-virtual nature of Ignite made these efforts even more powerful. Throughout the process, testimonials, training, and other content was captured for use in social, web, and other marketing efforts — all intended to extend the life and reach of the event.

On social, Palo Alto received 520,000 impressions and nearly 27,000 engagements (a 5+% engagement rate). For reference, that’s double the industry average. And that reach continues to grow, even today. Palo Alto was also able to build a strong foundation for future events by providing partners with lead reports and other key data about attendees who visited their booths.

Palo Alto Ignite 2020 Results

Welcome to the future of conferences

Today’s world demands content that delivers your message and articulates your brand promise. Palo Alto Ignite proved that virtual events can not only be successful, but also preferable to in-person. They thought big, using a user-first approach to engage their audience in new ways. And they looked beyond streaming to deliver results.

When asked for advice for marketers looking to move to hybrid or virtual corporate events, Shanley shared, “Plan early, don’t over-program, and ensure content is delivered early so you have plenty of time to test the platform.”

Our deep expertise in visual storytelling, combined with our proven ability to reimagine in-person conferences as personalized, engaging, and collaborative events create dynamic experiences that can be accessible from anywhere. Virtual events are the conferences of the future. We can help.

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