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Episode 71 / September 4, 2023

Lights, camera, engagement! Crafting personalized experiences with Dropbox at Sundance

Vanessa Karlsson Dorau of Dropbox showcases strategic activations at the Sundance Film Festival, emphasizing the importance of personalized experiences and the role of Dropbox in the filmmaking process.

Would you believe that more than half of the feature films at the Sundance Film Festival rely on Dropbox? It’s true! In this episode, we host Vanessa Karlsson Dorau, Head of Global Events and Experiences at Dropbox, as she delves into two powerful engagement activations at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Vanessa underscores Dropbox’s strategic alliance with IndieWire Studio, which paved the way for meaningful interactions with filmmakers at the world-renowned event. This exclusive event activation allowed Dropbox to connect with filmmakers and showcase gratitude for their work while highlighting how Dropbox’s tools, such as Dropbox Capture and Dropbox Replay, empower the creative process, especially for filmmakers who deal with large files. 

She also discusses a second activation, the Dropbox Edit Suite, a relaxed space where filmmakers could come together, immerse themselves in conversation, grab a drink, and maybe even walk away with their next great idea.

Here’s what you’ll hear about in this conversation:

  • How to use strategic collaborations to create meaningful event activations 
  • The power of amassing content at your event — from testimonials to candid soundbites — to bolster marketing and branding efforts
  • The importance of crafting personalized experiences — not one-size-fits-all experiences — to ensure maximum impact and more memorable events

Mentioned in This Episode


[00:00:10] Rachel Moore: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo, the podcast where we bring the best and brightest Event Experience Leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s biggest events.

I’m Rachel Moore, your podcast host. 

In this episode, we take a virtual trip with Vanessa Karlsson Dorau, Head of Global Events and Experiences at Dropbox, to the Sundance Film Festival of 2023. Vanessa shares how her team leveraged two key partnerships and their sponsorship of the Festival to create crucial engagement opportunities with a whole subset of experience pros: film creators! Let’s head to Park City, Utah and learn how Dropbox crafted not one but two memorable Event Experiences.  

[00:01:02] Rachel Moore: Thank you everyone for coming back for another episode of Event Experience and our guest today has worked for brands in event production and management, such as Walmart, Facebook, now known as Meta, Salesforce, Electronic Arts, RingCentral. Also going back, we’ve got Ubisoft and Creative Circle and MTV VH1, and finally currently she is serving as the Head of Global Events and Experiences for Dropbox. Our guest is Vanessa Karlsson Dorau.

Thank you so much, Vanessa, for joining me across the microphones today for the Bizzabo podcast. 

[00:01:41] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: Wonderful. Thank you so much for having me. This is going to be so fun. So thank you. 

[00:01:45] Rachel Moore: I just gave everybody a really solid idea of what they can find if they go look at your LinkedIn profile or a resume for instance.

But I would love, and I know our audience would love to hear from you as the head of global events and experiences at Dropbox. Please tell us what all does that encompass? What are you responsible for over there? 

[00:02:05] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: There’s so many hats that, you know, I wear and I think anyone else who’s in events listening and has been in events a while know that we wear multiple hats every day in all of our roles, but specifically at Dropbox we focus on a lot of experiences that really encompass what our product offerings are.

We help a lot of our customers, prospects at different trade shows and conferences. Many owned events we focus on. And currently right now I’m working on a user conference that we are expanding in New York in October. And so that is called Work in Progress Perspectives, and that’s kind of a relaunch from 2019 just before Covid. So working on all types of events that vary for different audiences. 

Sundance Film Festival Activation

[00:02:47] Rachel Moore: As we speak to each guest this season, we’re asking each person to focus in on one experience or activation that they can share with us, you know, what they set out to do with it, what the results were, and just give us an overview for our event planner audience out there. Tell us what are we gonna be focusing on today with you?

[00:03:07] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: Today we’re gonna be focusing on the Sundance Film Festival activation. It was back in person after a few years of going virtual and this was, of course, it happens in the wintertime January of every year. So this would be this year, past year. 

[00:03:25] Rachel Moore: Sundance Film Festival, remind us where does that event take place?

[00:03:30] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: So the Sundance Film Festival happens in Park City, Utah, and it’s pretty much all over Park City. A lot of attendees who come to actually watch a lot of the films, they do this in various theaters all over Park City. There’s also actually once in Salt Lake City, another venue there, but, it really takes place off of Main Street where most theaters are.

Goals for Dropbox at Sundance Film Festival

[00:03:50] Rachel Moore: Could you let our audience know: what goals were you setting out to achieve with this particular activation for Dropbox at the Sundance Film Festival?

[00:03:59] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: Honestly, we have annually sponsored at the Sundance Film Festival because we have so many creative people who love Dropbox, who use our tools in a variety of ways, mainly to, of course, capture and storage and keep all of their files in various sizes. Massive files. And so a lot of those individuals are filmmakers along with other, you know, creative individuals within entertainment.

And so it was a very easy sponsorship. I think this is our sixth year, seventh year coming up. And some of the goals that we wanted to do was really connect with the filmmakers and have an experience where we’re showing gratitude to the filmmakers for producing these and phenomenal films that took very little money that usually have these incredible messages.

And then also make sure there’s some sort of Dropbox plug so we could get and hear from actual filmmakers who used Dropbox, what they thought of Dropbox as well. So we wanted to, in doing that as well, make sure we captured some of this socially. So there was a lot of different goals going on. We wanted to have that content that was socially captured, you wanted to mix and mingle with filmmakers who actually used Dropbox specifically. And of course, along the way, the Sundance Film Festival is littered with so much talent that we knew that we would have an opportunity to also meet some talent and maybe get them to write on our gratitude wall or a gratitude placard.

Get some sound bites from them as well. And have them stand next to our step and repeat with Dropbox and different celebrities. So there’s tons of little, small goals that we’re trying to achieve. 

[00:05:36] Rachel Moore: I think that most of our audience of event planners can relate to needing to store very big files.

We have videos that we show, you know, and those are very large files. When you’re talking like a film though. Could you give us an idea how many gigs or terabytes or whatever are we talking about with these file sizes? 

[00:05:56] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: I mean, it all ranges, these filmmakers are using them for so much cutting. And just storing, and then they go back to other edits and it’s like, actually we wanna take that and we wanna cut that down. We wanna add it to this. And then not only are they storing it, they’re actually sending it and making it easy through links that are through the Dropbox platform.

Mm-hmm. Where they can send that to anyone globally. Right. It’s all happening in the cloud. So it’s a great tool to use, not just to store, but also to send files and kind of keep everybody in line with what’s happening at what stage in the editorial process and the filmmaking process in general.

But in addition to the actual storage of Dropbox, there are several other tools that we really wanted to focus on with especially filmmakers. We have something called Dropbox Capture, which essentially you can record your screen, camera and microphone. You can create video messages, audio recordings, and screenshots you know, and then even GIFs to share with others.

And then also with Dropbox Replay, it’s sort of like a rich media review and approval tool that allows different collaborators to mark up and then comment and then finalize videos and images. So if somebody is looking at something, they’re trying to share it and say, let’s hone in on this, they circle it, then they can actually blow it up and then, you know, move that to a different section and then comment in different areas so they can quickly give that editorial feedback so somebody can see it immediately.

Make those changes, saves a lot of time, makes it more efficient. 

Understanding the Event’s Target Audience

[00:07:24] Rachel Moore: Thank you for giving us that rundown.

So it sounds like particularly at this event you were really in the midst of that target audience of people who need to work with those gigantic files. Was there any other specific demographics like, characteristics that were about the audience or is it pretty broad?

[00:07:42] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: It was fairly broad In terms of other demographics, not really. it’s really geared towards the creative world of filmmaking, entertainment, talent executives, executives within the entertainment space, whether you’re a producer, a DP, you’re a photographer, anyone who’s, you know, living and breathing in that filmmaking world was really there, especially talent who was of course, promoting the films that they were in.

And then any of the writers and producers of the films that helped originate and help bring that film to life were also there, and this is a way to kind of get our name out there and show that we are a company that has multitude of tools that are specific to the creative space, regardless of what your title is in the business of entertainment and how we can be an everlasting partner of the Sundance Film Festival and to creative individuals, you know, to work with us. 

Event Innovation and Unique Features

[00:08:37] Rachel Moore: Was there anything special or a unique aspect to this event or activation that you’d like to call out?

Anything particularly that you all tried to innovate on or were trying out new? I know you did mention that this was the first time coming back to in-person after a few years too. 

[00:08:53] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: That’s correct. So what was interesting and is interesting about our involvement with the Sundance Film Festival is we actually have a relationship with IndieWire Studio.

And so IndieWire, if anyone knows, is they have a publication. They kind of helped, you know, produce and hone in on those really young filmmakers who don’t have a lot of money, who have a lot of stories to tell. And I think it started, I think several years ago in Los Angeles and became this wonderful publication that a lot of filmmakers who especially are up and coming rely on for just great material, good information, great articles, their podcasts.

They have a multitude of different things, but a relationship and sponsorship through them we thought would be what we should be doing ongoing so that we could create this kind of atmosphere where we have an IndieWire Studio that allows us to then interview talent and actually, you know, use that name IndieWire and Dropbox to create a step and repeat and experience world where they can go into the studio, meet with the Dropbox team.

And actually we created this world where it was a give back to the filmmakers, kind of the unsung heroes of the filmmaking process that you don’t see on camera, they don’t really have the big titles, but they help make the event come together. And so we created this like gratitude wall.

I keep saying it, but it was this huge wall. You come in, you take your pen, you write on a placard and you get your photo, you pick up some sort of swag piece and material, and we have a little conversation and go upstairs to the IndieWire Studio that’s presented by Dropbox to have talent as well as filmmakers talk about their film and their process and what it meant to them and the storyline behind their film.

And so it was just a great collaboration as we were considered a presenting sponsor to connect with IndieWire Studio to do that. And it was wonderful because a lot of branding, activation, a lot of just, you know, branding opportunities and then our social team was able to capture some sound bites from that.

So it’s interesting because also by doing this year after year, we’ve really gotten a chance to see how talent, you know, how they act there, like they’re more easygoing and kind of just, it’s not this big fluffy red carpet Oscar type of experience. It’s just a lot more casual. Which we love.

And you can just kind of tell that it’s just more of like, you wanna be there or relaxed, you’re being very honest with, you know the interviews that are going on. 

And then also there is the actual Sundance Film Festival Institute that is there that puts it on. And we have a partnership and relationship with them.

So we put on our own internal activation. Besides the actual IndieWire activation, we did a second one that happened at the same time. And with that relationship through Sundance, we were able to, in our sponsorship, essentially have a list of questions and surveys that go out to the filmmakers who decided to submit their films to be considered for the Sundance Institute to come out that year and be featured as a featured film.

And some of the questions we as a sponsor were allowed to ask something about Dropbox. 

Survey Questions Dropbox Asked Event Attendees

[00:12:08] Rachel Moore: Nice. 

[00:12:08] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: So we specifically asked, do you use Dropbox Tools? And if so, which ones? And from that response, we were able to garner, I think 220 some responses of those who in different categories of filmmaking use Dropbox.

We got that list. We were able to see from that list who they were. Just tons of amazing films. Rest Stop, Under God, The Vacation, you know, Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. Lots of amazing films. Pretty Baby with Brooke Shields, Power Signal. They all use Dropbox. So we then created this experience in a penthouse on Main Street where it was sort of this Dropbox apres ski time after lunch before dinner where people kind of don’t know what to do with that time and invited them to come to the Dropbox Edit Suite.

And so when they arrived, we greeted them, they went upstairs and it was sort of like this apres ski style beautified penthouse that almost looks like a winter wonderland escape where they could hang out for three days the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the two weeks that Sundance was happening.

And they got a chance to taste some handcrafted cocktails and some bites and recharge their phone, hang out, put their feet up. But we also, in the very back of the penthouse, had set up a video camera crew to actually give us some quick soundbites. It was part of the content of the invitation.

We let them know that we would most likely be filming them, or we’d ask if they wouldn’t mind giving us a few soundbites of why they used Dropbox, what they used, if they used Capture, Replay, Paper, or just good old Dropbox Storage to help their filmmaking process. So we were able to gather those sound bites that way as well. 

And then we ended up having repeat filmmakers pop by on Saturday and Sunday, who came by on Friday because they love the experience so much. So, as you can imagine with both of these different activations, one being more of an interview style with talent and getting gratitude wall, you know, written material as well as the Edit Suite, that then we could have them actually hang out with us and give us sound bites on what they use product-wise.

We were able to gather so much content, it was just phenomenal. It was, you know, a big part of why I wanted to even mention that this existed for us because very rarely do you get to do such great, you know, content engaging activations happening all at the same time. It has to kind of be a very particular type of situation.

So it was just very, very fruitful. 

[00:14:40] Rachel Moore: Not to drive back to another Dropbox reference, but I’m imagining the Dropbox storage you all needed to use for all that content, which sounds amazing to be able to have those kind of testimonials of people talking about your own product and the partnerships you struck up to, you know, really be able to leverage that sound very key. Is this an ongoing partnership you’ve had with the Sundance Film Festival Institute to be able to do that. And then of course, IndieWire was something y’all did too. So two activations, not just one amazing. 

[00:15:11] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: Yes. We’ve had the relationship with the Sundance Institute, I believe, six or seven years. And every year it’s, it’s always slightly different. I’ve only been with Dropbox a short time. It’s been about a year and a half, but you know, there are so many actually coworkers of mine who’ve been with Dropbox for years, and they were mentioning to me they remembered when we just kind of started the relationship and it got kicked off.

And someone from our Dropbox, I think sales team actually mentioned the Sundance Film Festival and how great it would be to have this sort of relationship with the film festival and gave those reasons why. And then it kind of just spawned from there and it’s kind of taken on a life of its own each year. 

[00:15:49] Rachel Moore: Thank you so much for running down what an attendee’s experience was like to be able to kind of get ushered in. And apparently it was so good that people kept coming back. You know, you did a good job then, right? 

[00:16:00] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: Well, I also think that the food, beer, wine, and cocktails helped. 

Personalization: The Key to the Best Event Experience

[00:16:03] Rachel Moore: Yes, I bet, I bet that had some sway. 

Was this year’s, the two activations, was that your brainchild or who was all responsible for the inspiration for all those? 

[00:16:14] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: That’s a great question. So at Dropbox, we’re honestly an incredibly collaborative company. We have so many amazingly brilliant people that we work with on a daily basis from a variety of teams. Of course, in events, you’re constantly working more with others than, you know, standard others than some other teams.

Our brand studio team, which is kind of like our creative arm. And then our brand marketing team, which is exactly what it is, it’s our brand team. And our team, you know, collectively worked together to kind of hash out what our goals were, what areas of productivity we wanted to see grow, and what other, you know, content, what kind of engagement and content could we get out of it.

And I’m really seeing a thing with that, not just, you know, in the Sundance example, but in general, I feel like the trend for what’s working really well with events, especially post covid coming back, are those sort of like engagement pieces: where are the activations where you’re really engaging with that individual or that registrant, attendee, whatever you’d like to call them and how you personalize and customize that and really make them, make them individually feel handheld. Yeah. You know, and that their, that their voice is important or what they have to think, feel, or experience is important and customize it versus throwing a lot of people into a room, giving them the same food, telling them the same spiel and thinking they’re gonna get, have, you know, a great turnout.

It’s gotta be a little bit more personalized. And not every event can necessarily lend itself to do that. But that is, for sure a trend we’re seeing. And it’s, you know, for good reason. I think that there’s just things just ebb and flow every year. People want different things.

People get tired of the same thing and then they start seeing activations personalized in different ways and they wanna have an experience like that next time and the next time and the next time. And it sort of just evolved. So this was a way for us to really be able to capture content and really have these, you know, individual moments with these filmmakers where we can hang out and relax with them and have normal conversations.

Some talent came by our personal activations besides just the IndieWire step and repeat photo opportunity. So that was really cool to see that. I think Brooke Shields herself came by with George Stephanopoulos, who were part of the film that they had done was called Pretty Baby.

So fun little things like that were happening. It was just a wonderful content creation. 

[00:18:36] Rachel Moore: Well now we’re gonna segue into some more personal questions to let our audience get to know a little bit more about you. Are you ready? 

[00:18:43] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: I think so. 

[00:18:45] Rachel Moore: You are trust. It’ll be fine. All right. Can you name an item that you forgot for a work event that caused you some panic? 

[00:18:54] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: Oh my goodness. Yes. We forgot a thumb drive that had so much material on it. We were able to actually remedy that very quickly and we had somebody who hadn’t actually left yet to fly to our event to go in that day, go to the office, get that, make it happen, and it was just left there on this desk with a pile of other things.

But it had everything that we needed. That kind of thing happens quite often actually, little things literally get left behind or forgotten. But that specifically had pretty much everything that we needed, so we were able to get somebody to take a later flight and go into the office and then take a later flight in the evening.

[00:19:32] Rachel Moore: I’m glad you got your thumb drive and that someone was there to bring it to you.

What are you listening to, watching or reading these days that you can’t put down and it does not have to be work related? 

[00:19:42] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: I thank you for that because I am still in, because I was a little behind in Secession. I’m just obsessed. I know it already ended and you know, the last season and all of that, but I was very much behind and it’s just incredibly addicting and quite fascinating to see this. Obviously it’s, it’s a show. It’s not real life, but there’s just such amazing characters. And what they think and how they feel and why they said this or that, and why, you know, just the storylines of the family and how they operate together and the emotional ridiculousness of the siblings and just the full business aspect of what it means to all of them individually. Who’s gonna take the throne? I’m calling it the throne. But yes, I’m fascinated with that. And I’m reading a bunch of different things right now. I did just finish a book called The City of Girls and I believe it’s gonna be made into a film in the next year or so that I just finished. That was fantastic. I think that’s it for the books right now. I don’t have time to read because I’m so focused on this user conference. It’s taking up every moment of my brain until I am done. 

[00:20:46] Rachel Moore: The fun part, who knows who’s gonna make City of Girls into a movie, but oh my gosh, what if you’re at Sundance and you’re like, I read this book and I really liked it, and now I’m here with the people making that movie.

[00:20:55] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: I would be so excited if that happens. It’s written by Elizabeth Gilbert, who I’m sure you might have heard of. Yeah. Eat, Love, Pray back in the day. If they made that a kind of an indie focused film and that was there, I might have to leave what I’m doing for the day for work and go find her and meet her and say hello.

[00:21:12] Rachel Moore: Is there a particular social post or a piece of media or maybe a hot take about events that you have found interesting lately? 

[00:21:22] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: You know, I often read well, I love everything from the Event Marketer publication.

I just constantly find that maybe it’s more of just things whenever I go to its site, it pops up for me as just fun, buzzy little articles, blog things that are like trending or just kind of like fun, interesting takes on how an activation was done better than another. I just find myself going there sometimes just for a little bit of inspiration or reading you know, just pieces of what worked, what didn’t for something. So focus primarily on events. That’s where I go. 

[00:21:54] Rachel Moore: And finally where can our listeners find and follow you online? 

[00:21:59] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: Follow me online on LinkedIn, and that’s where my linkedIn is, I don’t have any sort of website. But I also do have an Instagram at CaribbeanSwede.

It’s a little nod to my heritage, but you can find me in both places. 

[00:22:22] Rachel Moore: The tape is rolling for this SkillUp segment, as Vanessa provides solid guidance for your career trajectory as an event planner.   

[00:22:30] Vanessa Karlsson Dorau: You know, focusing really on what interests you and not just what you’re good at is really gonna take you a lot farther and seek the companies that are doing amazing things that you are just impressed by.

You know, creative agencies, areas of production with the different scope or lens that you’re interested in. And think about the things that like you’re really interested in like, what interests you the most, not just what you’re good at. There’s a lot of things that people are good at, but then they’re stuck doing that one thing and they’re not really passionate about it and it seems like a simple thing to say, but you know, you find yourself putting in hours and being excited and having a better day and a better week and a better month at work when you’re really doing what interests you. And then also learning more about that when you find that role and you find that opportunity in the area of what interests you the most, and then you continue to grow with it and you realize oh, I’m doing work, but I really love what I’m doing.

[00:23:30] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Vanessa Karlsson Dorau for joining us on Event Experience, and thank YOU for listening. 

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