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A Different Kind of Keynote – Behind the Scenes at the OnePlus 8 Series Launch

The launch of the OnePlus 8 Series was supposed to be the most widely-attended event in OnePlus history. But with just a month to spare, the team had to pivot to a different kind of keynote.

When development on the OnePlus 8 Series began in 2019, we had no sense of the kinds of challenges the world would be facing in 2020. At the time, we could barely contain our excitement about our new wireless charging tech and 120 Hz display. These innovations, we were certain, would make for a spectacular product. Our marketing and communication teams were just as excited about launching the devices as our product team had been about building them. While the product remained the same, the vision we had for the launch in 2019 underwent several major changes during the months leading up to the launch.

Work on the OnePlus 8 Series Launch Event started in late 2019. Helmed by our Head of Campaigns, Tilen Pigac, whose effervescent performance made for an unforgettable OnePlus 7T launch, we were in the early stages of bringing the OnePlus 8 Series launch event to New York. The goal was to invite several thousand members of our Community. Joined by our Community, and with the whole world watching, we would make this event more than just a launch – it was set to be a fan meetup of spectacular proportions.

Tilen reminisced about the experience of preparing the physical launch event in New York and what he had been looking forward to most, “There are 2 songs that come to mind when thinking about this year’s launch event.  Imagine by John Lennon and Yesterday by The Beatles. When you are designing and planning a physical launch event, your main concern is with the venue where the launch will be held, and how the various elements (LED screens, experience zones, pathways, keynote area, resting space, etc.) will feel to the audience. The interaction between venue, elements and physical movement of our fans is of utmost importance. Additionally, you need to plan for ample space outside of the launch event venue so fans feel at ease while waiting for the big event to begin. This is where you are singing to yourself, ‘Imagine all the people…’”

The OnePlus crew worked tirelessly to develop a full-fledged launch event plan. We had our eye on a great venue and couldn’t wait to bring our fans together in New York. Despite our excitement, we had always been torn between organizing a digital or a physical event. In early 2020, our hand was forced by the Coronavirus outbreak.

By mid-March, it had become clear that there would be no physical launch event. We briefly considered pushing the launch date back further. But, knowing we’d be letting a lot of people down, and with no end to the pandemic in sight, we decided to shift gears and start work on a different kind of keynote event. The OnePlus 8 Series was to be our first digital launch event since the launch of the OnePlus 5 back in 2017.

Having led the preparation of the physical launch, Tilen had to quickly adapt to these new circumstances. “When the unfortunate developments of COVID-19 required us to reconsider the launch event, you slowly start to sing to yourself, ‘Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they’re here to stay.’ But after you compose yourself and you assess the situation, you know that you still have a great team around you that can pull off anything. And, at that moment confidence shoots up and you start looking for the same elements, just in a different context, a new venue, an updated keynote, and you add one more element, a production house and a director. The reason why you need these is because a digital launch, unlike a physical launch, requires the following things: A studio where the keynote will be shot, a stage and a great production crew that can pull this off in record time.” 

“After you compose yourself and you assess the situation, you know that you still have a great team around you that can pull off anything.”

On March 17, Campaign Manager Stephen Shi was brought in to get the new digital launch off the ground. “At midnight on March 17, as I was exploring TikTok before bed, I got a surprise message from my boss asking me to lead the digital launch of the OnePlus 8 Series. She basically told me our house was on fire, and that she needed me to be the fire fighter,” Stephen said.

With only 28 days remaining, Stephen faced an enormous challenge in turning the situation around. “Our original plan was to record the event in New York. However, as the spread of the virus in the U.S was getting worse, we had no choice but to give up on our original plan and had to start over from zero in Shenzhen. This meant arranging a new event agency, as well as finding a broadcast agency, selecting a venue, and setting up the launch event itself. A lot goes into a launch event, more than I can list here.”

Turning a big physical event into a digital event comes with a slew of obvious challenges. Without a physical presence, our event wouldn’t have the same sense of place and size as it could have had with an audience in attendance. No live unboxings on the floor, no device testing space, no drinks, no interviews with Pete. These weren’t the most pressing issues Stephen and the team were facing however. “Another big challenge had to do with our speakers. All the speakers who needed access to the venue would need to finish a 14-day self-quarantine. As one of our key speakers, Tilen, was in New York at the time, the plan was for him to fly to Hong Kong first and complete a 14-day self-quarantine at home before travelling to Shenzhen. This plan fell through when a new regulation was announced that would prevent Tilen from entering Shenzhen through Hong Kong. So instead, Tilen recorded his part of the keynote in a small studio in Hong Kong,” Stephen explained.

Having to record his part of the keynote at a different location, with a different crew, made for its own challenge. But this wasn’t Tilen’s first rodeo. “Preparation for me in terms of performance on stage of any kind, irrespective of place, follows the same pattern over and over again. First, I, together with the content team, write the script. After that, I furnish the script with phrases that suit my style of speaking. After we have all agreed on a final script, we move on to the second part; learning the script. In case of the OnePlus 8 Series, and the pre-intro I prepared, I wrote it as something that the community would want to listen to, without avoiding our new normal.”

Despite the expected stress, the digital launch event also presented interesting new opportunities and benefits. “Yes, actually one of the big benefits of doing a digital launch event is that it gives us the freedom to make changes in post editing – you can record the same keynote several times and only select the best footage from different takes to create the final launch event video,” Stephen added.

Being able to make adjustments to the keynote on-the-fly made for a more polished final product, but we still had to prepare a studio for the recording itself. While the crew in charge of setting up the venue was covered from head to toe, our speakers had to walk the proverbial tight-rope between delivering the keynote with enthusiasm and addressing why we were organizing a keynote without an audience.

Our Head of Global Corporate PR and main speaker, Ryan Fenwick, got straight to the point. “As for the fact that there was no audience in the studio, we just addressed it head-on. We noticed that other companies looked like they were talking to a fake audience, which to me felt very awkward. So before getting into the keynote itself, I was very straightforward in acknowledging that there was no audience in the room, and we weren’t going to pretend like there was,” Ryan said of his performance. “Because we got that elephant out of the room right away, it was actually very comfortable speaking to the camera, directly to the viewers in true OnePlus fashion. And with no audience in the room, that took off all the pressure off “performing” in front of a live audience.”

“One of the best parts of working at OnePlus is that we aren’t afraid to try new things.”

Ryan continued, “One of the best parts of working at OnePlus is that we aren’t afraid to try new things. Every time we have to adjust our plans because of circumstances that are out of our control is actually an opportunity to do things differently. This time, for example, we were able to connect more directly with the audience because odds were that they were watching from the safety and comfort of their homes. I feel like that is a uniquely OnePlus way of interacting with our community and our users.”

Stephen similarly enjoyed the experience of organizing a digital launch event. “If it were up to me, I would recommend doing even more digital events in the future. Compared to an offline event, a digital event is more flexible, while also helping us save money on renting a big venue, the setup and physical materials. Most importantly, with a digital event we can make sure all of our global users are in front of the stage and everyone has the best experience possible by focusing on the online viewing experience.”

The results speak for themselves. Over 200 thousand members of our Community tuned in to watch the live unveiling of the OnePlus 8 Series, breaking our record for most concurrent viewers of a OnePlus launch event. The team was awed by the excited response we received both from our Community as well as the initial media reception.

Although pulling off the launch of the OnePlus 8 Series ranks among the biggest challenges OnePlus has ever faced, Tilen was upbeat about the final result, “For the overall launch event, I think team did a great job. Putting something like this together on such short notice is extremely difficult. I think Ryan’s performance was great. At the end of the day, we do this to deliver the best products to our community. Everything we do is function to this purpose. We want to give our Community choices, offering them exactly what they’re looking for. All pop-up bundles in EU were snatched up 20 minutes after pre-order sales opened. That says something about the phone and the success of the launch event. 

Ryan was quick to give credit to the entire team. “As long as people stayed tuned into the livestream, I think that’s the first sign of a successful keynote. But way more important are the product reviews and response from our community when the devices go on sale. There are so many team members involved in every stage of a product launch, so any success is entirely due to the wider OnePlus team.”

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