With more than 60 million U.S. residents under curfew orders and feelings of anger and outrage sweeping the country this week, Cisco Systems decided to postpone the company’s first-ever fully virtual Cisco Live program to a later date. In a video statement posted on June 1, the evening before the program was scheduled to start, Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins said that organizers “want to give you space this week to do what you need to do within your own organizations and own communities.”
Robbins said, “Today, we find ourselves facing a new pandemic, not one that is new by any means, but one that we must confront. The recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many more before them are horrific, maddening, and truly abhorrent.”
He added that Cisco recently unveiled a new purpose for the company — to power an inclusive future for all — and with that in mind, the company will donate $5 million to charities that fight racism and discrimination. However, Robbins said, “There is so much more we can do beyond just a statement of solidarity or financial support, including acknowledgement, understanding, and action.”
While the announcement received a few negative reactions, there was a largely positive response among the Cisco Live community across social media, with many comments like, “This is what a leader sounds like,” and “Indeed, we are in a moment to reflect and respect.”
Product Launches Stay on the Ground
Other companies are pressing pause on their digital events, too. Electronic Arts canceled plans to unveil its new Madden NFL 21 game in a virtual product launch on Monday. “We’ll find another time to talk football with you,” a statement on the company’s website reads. “Because this is bigger than a game, bigger than sports, and needs all of us to stand together and commit to change.”
Sony also postponed an online event for PlayStation that was slated for June 4. “While we understand gamers worldwide are excited to see PS5 games, we do not feel that right now is a time for celebration,” Sony shared on Twitter, “and for now, we want to stand back and allow more important voices to be heard.”
A Question We Must All Ask Ourselves
Every member of the events industry has faced daunting questions in 2020 as the coronavirus has created staggering unemployment numbers, empty hotel rooms, and canceled programs. As chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Richard Fain has faced an unprecedented business challenge in working to find a way forward for his company during the pandemic, but a recent email to employees that was also published in Travel Weekly demonstrates that for him, those concerns pale in comparison to the centuries-long battle for equality in the U.S.
“Whatever each of us is doing,” Fain wrote, “it’s not enough.”
“I’m asking our Employee Resource Groups to help us advance this discussion,” he continued. “It will have to be virtual for now, but we hope we can soon do it face to face. These are difficult conversations that need to be had in the workplace to make sure we learn to be the allies we want to be for each other. We are also evaluating philanthropic partners who are demonstrating an ability to mobilize for change on this subject like our friends at March for Our Lives and WWF are forcing conversations on gun violence and climate change.
“And I am asking you to bring these difficult conversations home, as well,” Fain wrote. “Friends and colleagues live with fear they should not have to. What can I change, you change, our families change to make that fear, finally, a thing of the past?”
It’s a question for those in the business events community to explore fully as well. Go to PCMA’s Catalyst page to share your perspectives on how this industry can take a greater role in helping the country move forward.
David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.