Most Innovative Meetings 2019: #7 Staples Sales Conference

The meeting used a fun, competitive challenge to educate—and reassure—employees after a company restructuring.

The sales conference drew 4,000 guests in person and an additional 1,000 remotely. The general session featured a 250-foot panoramic LED screen.
The sales conference drew 4,000 guests in person and an additional 1,000 remotely. The general session featured a 250-foot panoramic LED screen.
Photo: Courtesy of Jack Morton Worldwide

Go big or go home might as well have been the mantra for this year’s Staples Sales Conference, held in Orlando in March. While most annual or biannual meetings tend to focus on one, or even two, main goals, this year’s meeting was a tall order.

“In my career, I haven’t been involved with a meeting that had so much to achieve in two days,” said Joe Panepinto, senior vice president and strategy director at Jack Morton Worldwide, which produced the event.

Not long before the meeting, Staples was taken private, resulting in an entirely new organizational structure and sales representatives whose regions had been redrawn. “[The conference] was essentially a reveal of a new masterbrand,” said Panepinto, explaining that Staples had shifted its focus from an office supply company to a work-life fulfillment organization.

As if learning a new brand mindset with new positioning and new customers in two days wasn’t quite enough, add the launch of a new product line—and suddenly a sales conference has morphed into “a relaunch and the most important meeting ever,” according to Panepinto.

So, how do you most effectively communicate all of this to 4,000 attendees in two short days? Make it fun. Panepinto and his team devised the Wi-Li Challenge, short for Work-Life, to share knowledge and help employees gain necessary skills. Attendees downloaded an app and earned points by reading customer profiles and answering multiple-choice questions.

It was more than just a way to convey information, though, as the game was designed with psychology in mind. “Sales people are competitive, so on the second day we brought the top scoring teams on stage for even more competition,” said Panepinto.

And it worked. “The Wi-Li challenge kept people engaged and helped them gain the knowledge and skills they would need, yet done in the context of a game,” he explained.

While management’s goals were achieved, attendees were also satisfied, since rebranding and reorganization often leads to unease. “We saw an uptick in confidence from pre-meeting to post-meeting,” said Panepinto, who noted that 97 percent of attendees reported feeling satisfied with the event.

Next: #8 Emerge Americas
Back: #6 Collision Conference

Back to the 15 Most Innovative Meetings 2019 list

More in Meetings & Conferences