Case study: How to design, build and manage the largest UK tech festival, CogX

Marble LDN reflect on their efforts putting CogX festival together.

Live experience agency Marble LDN was tasked with designing and producing the entire third iteration of CogX Festival, the biggest AI festival outside of China. To celebrate the third year of the festival of AI and Emerging Technology, CognitionX enlisted Marble to increase the capacity of the festival four times its 2018 event size.

Background

CogX features a unique gathering of the leading figures shaping AI today, bringing together the brightest minds on the planet from industry, government and academia to provide clarity and tangible insights on the fast-evolving world of AI.

The CognitionX team wanted to build on the success of their previous two events, while expanding the size and capacity of the technology festival to attract the nationwide recognition it deserves. In addition, reflecting the Global Goals (UN SDGS) throughout the festival was a core part of the brief, and the main focal point for CogX's partner, Project Everyone.

The successful event drove 20,000 attendees from 98 countries (with a 400% increase on 2018) over three days, and the 12 purpose-built stages hosted 687 speakers (a 129% increase on 2018) across the large Kings Cross site.

Opened by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and kick-starting London Tech Week, CogX's speaker line-up featured International Government Secretaries of State, ministers and business leaders from HSBC, Accenture, IBM, Alibaba, Google, Unilever, QuantumBlack and more. Marble partnered with screenwriter Richard Curtis and his company Project Everyone, which seeks to put the power of communications behind the UN Sustainable Development Goals (also known as the Global Goals).

In addition to hosting content and awards for business leaders, academics and researchers, CogX also teamed up with Founders4Schools and Teens in AI to encourage young people to pursue computing and technology, and promote diversity in the field.

Strategy

With the location decided by the CognitionX team, Marble got to work on creating a space and staging to host the increase in attendees and speakers - taking into account an array of challenges, such as onsite security and working with the local businesses and residents in the 67-acre site.

This was the first time anything like this had been held at this location and in central London. So, the location sourcing process for an area within Kings Cross to host 20,000 guests was very challenging. Aside from the security measures associated with this venue, the open layout meant that the majority of the staging was located a short walk away from each other, giving attendees that city festival feel. The event was ticketed, but staying true to the objectives of increasing education and awareness of AI and the development of emerging technology, a screen was showcasing a selection of talks in Granary Square, which had a heavy footfall. The surrounding street food stalls and restaurants meant it was the perfect opportunity for commuters and workers in the local area to learn and watch the talks on their lunch breaks.

To give the festival a bespoke feel and to bring the festival aesthetic to life, all of the staging was built specifically for this three-day event, and the design of each of the 12 stages was slightly different. This also included the staging for all of the event sponsors, including Google X, HSBC, Accenture 2030Vision and QuantumBlack.

Process

The whole event was designed and built by Marble, the only element not designed by the team was the event content. This included the purpose built stages, interior design and all site-wide branding (directional, informational, site maps and bespoke branding for both CogX and the sponsors).

The main stage (the Impact Stage) hosted 750 guests over two floors, the Ethics Stage was a bespoke stretch tent structure with a tiered stage, built for purpose and rigged by Marble inside a Victorian gas holder by the canal, seating 500 guests. The team took over the new Kings Cross tube tunnel that enters Granary Square and transformed the area with light effects, after poor weather conditions forced them to close the open air canal stage. Three stages were housed in the Tile Yard, a disused tile and meat packing warehouse, we worked with the owner to totally renovate the area in an eight week turnaround. They were built to bring sustainable materials to the forefront while engaging and enticing the audience to explore each new stage.

Marble worked with 43 suppliers across a wide range of disciplines. Due to the venue restrictions on building and noise, this meant that they had a procession build and delivery had very little space for error. Plus, the team only had access to the site between 8am to 6pm due to resident and commerce restrictions, and for 21 days prior to the live dates. During the event itself, they had 235 staff onsite directly working under Marble’s control, including a production and project management team, technical team, ushers and volunteers.

This was Marble LDN’s largest and most challenging project, which in turn made it an incredibly rewarding one! Just take a look at how well it was received:

  • Nominated for “Technology & Telecoms Event of the Year” at the C&IT Awards
  • London’s largest festival of AI & Emerging Technologies
  • 67-acre site at Kings Cross
  • 20,000 attendees from 98 countries
  • 687 speakers
  • 12 stages
  • 3,400 app powered meetings
  • 200 hours of great content
  • 1,608 ice-creams consumed at the Global Goals ice cream van
  • Media coverage – 600M+ reach to date, 50+ pieces of media coverage
  • Social coverage – 7.4M+ reach, 33,400 interactions

CognitionX co-founder, Tabitha Goldstaub, said: "I loved working with the Marble team; every single one of them has that attitude we need to deal with both the stress and the joy that comes with an event of this size. Together we've brought the vision of the festival I've had in my head to life. And it's been amazing, so thank you."

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