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SAP TV recently took 4 SAP Cloud customers on a hot air balloon ride to hear about their SAP Cloud journey LITERALLY in the clouds. The 6 short episode series can be found on sap-tv.com and in our newsroom at http://www.news-sap.com/in-the-clouds-with-sap/

Here’s my personal story on how that came to be!


JACKIE THE COMEDIAN

It began as a joke. Couple years ago I told colleagues I thought it’d be cool if we had hot air balloons at SAP’s premiere event – SAPPHIRE NOW – and offer customers a ride so we can show them SAP is literally in the clouds.We were pushing our new cloud business a lot back then so it just made sense to do something over the top.

They laughed. “Oh, that crazy Cuban. So funny.” I laughed too, but I wasn’t kidding.

Then at an internal meeting this year, I saw a presentation on how the new Global Content team at SAP was changing the way we communicate with innovative and entertaining pieces such as The Spin and Tea for Two and how though SAP is technically a “large corporation”, it doesn’t mean we have to be corporate or boring. It was a revolution and it was being led by Sam Juneau, Vice President and head of the Global Content Team. There was a call to action – have a crazy idea? Is it disruptive? Pitch it to Sam.

BING!!! Light bulb– the balloons! I knew that if there was anyone crazy enough to buy the idea – it was Sam Juneau. Sam came into SAP 5+ years ago from many years in the TV industry. He’s a three time Emmy-nominated producer and a visionary.  He used to tell us that 75% of the world’s GDP runs on SAP – we deserve a seat at the table, and that though we’re pushing serious business topics it doesn’t change the fact that the way people consume those topics should be so seriously. We have to remember the human element. People want to be entertained.Sam is inspirational and so passionate. One of the most extraordinary professionals at SAP.  I couldn’t wait to pitch the balloons.

On January 26th, I sent a mail to Sam and Claudia with my idea. He responded with 10 “Yeses” and a lot of exclamation points. And so we were off!

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS

I had 4 months to make this happen. First step – find a hot air balloon vendor. My life changed when I met Bob from Bob’s Balloons. WHAT A CHARACTER!  Big, jovial, laid back fellow who lives in the sky. He said he’d do whatever it took to make this happen. Filming in a hot air balloon with a professional crew seemed highly complex and a little nuts but he was fully in when I told him our tagline was RUN SIMPLE.

Cameras – and not just cameras, but camera guys and audio guys in a small basket meant to hold 6 people. Oh yeah and we had to have a customer, an interviewer AND a pilot in there as well.  We decided on 3 balloons, with a 2 man crew in each, with go-pro cameras attached to the baskets and – why not – a drone to accompany us. We also decided to add a camera on the ground during our flight that would follow us in a van to capture some shots. We had to take weight and size into consideration as well.

Customers – who was going to tell the story? We had our fearless CIOs lined up in a month thanks to a team of folks who really knew the accounts and believed in the idea. I had calls with each of our customer CIOs to discuss the flight, the video and reassure them we wouldn’t die – a reassurance I also desperately needed as I was afraid of heights and my colleague, Megan Meany, kept sending me news clips of people dying on hot air balloon rides. The things we do for SAP.

Weather – and yet though we had every single detail accounted for, it could all be over if the weather wasn’t perfect for our flight. The wind had to be moving in a certain direction at a certain speed, and if it rained the day before or was a bit foggy, it could ruin everything. THE STRESS!  

SIGNING THE LIABILITY WAIVERS

Bob and I were on the phone every day for 2 weeks leading up to the event, talking about the weather mostly. I’ll never forget the day before our flight when he said “the winds are favorable, the sun will be out and we’re going on a journey, Jackie!” I texted Sam, Megan and Paul with a couple of happy curse words that we were a go! I couldn’t believe the day had arrived.

On Thursday, May 7th the alarm clock went off for all of us at 4 AM. (By the way, this was just hours after I had to film a video piece on SAPPHIRE NOW parties). We all texted each other to make sure we were awake, got dressed, got in our car and got to the site.  Our customers, and more importantly – our mimosas – started to arrive. Though one of our customers (Mike from Insight) was a former army guy who had actually jumped off a hot air balloon before, the liquid courage was very appreciated by the others who saw this just as I did – a death trap.

Nothing says TRUST like signing a waiver for your life to be in a cloud video. Our customers trusted us.

We watched the balloons being built as the sun was coming up. Though the nerves and adrenaline were flowing (and there were cameras capturing all of it), it was so beautiful.  The excitement was contagious (especially when I got a chance to hug Bob, my balloon guy, for the first time) and at that moment I knew this was the best thing I had ever done in my 10 years at SAP.

YOU’RE UP … AND THEN YOU’RE LANDING IN WATER

OFF WE WERE! We divided up in our balloons, jumped in our baskets, got mic’d up and took off! The 30 minute ride was amazing. I was surprised how serene it was and also how LOUD the sound of the fire blowing was. It was so complicated to tape an interview in between the blowing fire, but we did it.

I had SAP colleagues at SAPPHIRE NOW texting me they could see the balloons from their hotel windows as they were waking up! One of the balloons had a big SAP logo on it which I posted on Facebook and got 130+ likes in less than 2 hours – you couldn’t miss it.

Airborne we were. Our customers were having a blast and we were capturing all of it.  Unfortunately we eventually had to land, and as the other 2 balloons Megan and Paul were in landed safely on the grass, mine was heading straight for a body of water.  I was, at this point, trying to be professional and concentrate on the customer I was interviewing, reassuring myself we would land safely when all of a sudden – WOOOOOSHHHHH – we were in the water! It started to come up to our ankles.

Dead silence. And then – laughter from our pilot “GOT YOU, GUYS!!!!”

What? Was he serious? This was a joke? Indeed it was, and at that moment all I felt was relief that this was “part of the plan” and we wouldn’t have to swim to land at 7 AM. We all broke out into laughter. Our pilot pulled us out of the water and landed us safely. We joined the other 2 groups to raise our glasses for a successful ride and an extraordinary experience. And just like that, I was back in my room at 9 AM almost as if it had been a dream.

THE FINAL PRODUCT

And so it was done! We had ACTUALLY filmed our cloud customers “in the clouds” – now came the hard part – post production. Stakes were high to deliver a very compelling video. Sam’s mission to revolutionize the way we tell customer stories at SAP was never more front and center. We spent several weeks going through all the footage and putting together the best soundbites. The idea was to create ONE video on the entire experience but in mid-June we decided there was just no way.

Sam brought in his friend Jon Leiberman to support. Jon has tons of experience in TV. If you recognize his name it’s because he was the host of America’s Most Wanted for several years. STAR POWER. As an outsider, he helped turn our videos into a story that anyone can understand. We were happy with our little “SAPflix” series that mirrored the Netflix concept of putting up all “episodes” of an entire series at once. OK, it’s not “House of Cards” but Paul and Megan are way cooler than Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright – at least to me.

As our videos go live this week, all I can hope is that the employees, our customers, our prospects, our stakeholders – that they love these videos as much as we do. Ok, maybe that’s a bit ambitious. My hope is that they’re entertained and engaged. That the sense of excitement we felt that day is conveyed, and that the main message rings true loud and clear – THIS IS SAP. WE ARE THE MOST INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY POWERHOUSE IN THE WORLD AND WE’RE HERE TO HELP EVERY SINGLE COMPANY IN THE GLOBE ROCK THE HOUSE. WE’RE LOUD. WE’RE PROUD and oh yeah there is NO DOUBT – WE’RE CLOUD! 

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