Are we thinking big enough?” That’s a question Elizabeth Pinkham keeps in mind as she leads the planning for Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual conference for customers, partners, press, and analysts.
As senior vice president of strategic events for Salesforce.com, Pinkham, 47, has had to recalibrate what qualifies as “big enough” every year since her first Dreamforce in 2003. What began with just 1,300 people and 50 exhibitors has posted exponential growth in size and scope every year since, expanding to nearly 150,000 attendees and 300 exhibitors across multiple venues in 2013, plus an additional 480,000 people viewing sessions live online, making it the world’s largest software conference.
Pinkham says the event has grown in tandem with the San Francisco-based cloud computing company, which has grown from a small apartment operation in 2000 to more than 12,000 employees and $4 billion in annual sales today. Salesforce.com has been number one on Forbes’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for the past three years.
That culture of innovation is evident at Dreamforce, where Pinkham focuses on making each year more “amazing and memorable” than the one before. One of her strategies has been to incorporate marquee speakers and entertainment into the event. Yahoo C.E.O. Marissa Mayer, Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg, General Colin Powell, and Sir Richard Branson have participated in recent years, while Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers have performed at the event’s gala. “We have had a long history of thinking very deliberately about how to create the right energy,” Pinkham says. “We think about how to choreograph and build that energy because that’s what creates these memorable experiences where people meet each other and learn from each other.”
The musical entertainment is a signature element of the conference, and it’s also tied to the company’s philanthropic strategy: the headline concerts benefit pediatric hospitals in the Bay Area; $6 million was raised in 2013. Live performances also take place each day of the conference on stages in the Dreamforce Plaza, a turf-covered outdoor gathering place that offers food, programming, and a variety of community service activities for attendees.
“We think about how to choreograph and build that energy because that’s what creates these memorable experiences.”
While Pinkham acknowledges the Dreamforce vibe is “half industry show, half rock concert,” she says the real differentiator is the holistic atmosphere created by speakers such as Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, and Dr. Wayne Dyer. “They talk about personal transformation and how to be successful not just at work but also in your personal life, because it is all connected.”
In addition to Dreamforce, Pinkham leads planning for hundreds of other Salesforce.com events throughout the year, including a 25-city world tour taking place this summer. “I feel like the live events will always have the power and the magic,” she says. “It’s where people form those relationships that they then build on for the rest of their careers. Connecting virtually and digitally through the rest of the year is an amazing way to extend that relationship.”