The idea that it was time to reinvent the traditional town hall format came to Julia Phelps while she was on maternity leave, watching one via livestream.
She realized that many of Viacom’s global employees were experiencing the company in a similarly detached way—with no ability to truly interact or engage. To change that, she and her team developed Spark—a multi-day conference and brainstorm for Viacom’s international division in 2016.
“We wanted to create an event that had universal themes and takeaways, but at the same time was executed locally, so people really got to participate in understanding our strategy and our vision, and what their role was,” says Phelps, Viacom’s EVP of Communications, Culture, and Marketing.
It’s a challenge and ambition that likely sounds familiar to executives at global companies of all sizes. According to McKinsey, multinational organizations tend to be less effective at establishing a shared vision and engaging employees compared to their locally-focused counterparts. For Viacom, which has been in the midst of a business turnaround that started with the elevation of Bob Bakish to CEO two years ago, creating a reinvigorated company culture to match its strategic pivot has been a consistent endeavor. Thus the idea to create another Spark event on a larger, company-wide scale.
Starting Tuesday, Spark—which Phelps calls a “multi-market, next-generation town hall”— will expand across 40 markets and 24 countries for all of the company's 11,000+ employees, with six global core videos and hundreds of speaker events, workshops, panels, and interactive experiences happening on a local level.
Here, Phelps shares how the event went from idea to execution and what she hopes it will accomplish.