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Viacom Launches Spark Internal Summit With Eye on Corporate Culture

Viacom will roll out an ambitious internal corporate initiative dubbed Spark that aims to engage and energize the company’s 10,000 employees with an expansive slate of conference-style programming.

Viacom president-CEO Bob Bakish calls Spark “a multi-market next generation town hall.” The sessions kick off Tuesday with a 50-minute Q&A with Bakish and Viacom vice chair Shari Redstone that will be live streamed across the company from Viacom’s New York headquarters. The sessions will run Tuesday through Thursday originating from New York and Los Angeles. Other events will be held for Viacom employees in more than 40 markets around the world through the end of March.

“It call came down to the idea that we didn’t want to do a traditional global town hall,” Bakish told Variety. “We wanted to do something more interactive and engaging, something that would give people more information that can help them do their jobs better.”

The lineup includes a mix of panel sessions featuring Viacom leaders and Viacom-affiliated talent to sessions with experts, thinkers and boldface names ranging from filmmaker Spike Lee to Martha Stewart to former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth. Some sessions will be available for employees to attend in person in New York and L.A. Most will be live streamed internally and archived for future use.

The Spark summit lineup also includes a mix of themed activations, demonstrations and installations on cutting-edge technology and creative tools such as VR.

There will be workshops and brainstorming sessions but the primary focus is to encourage employees to think creatively and pursue innovative ideas at all levels of Viacom’s various operations. At present Viacom has about 10,000 full-time employees, about 8,000 of which are based in the U.S.

The Spark program was first launched in 2016 when Bakish was heading Viacom’s international division. He spearheaded the roving conference idea as a means of helping to bring employees in far-flung markets together. The feedback was so strong from the international attendees that Bakish decided to expand Spark to a company-wide event. Julia Phelps, Viacom’s exec VP of communications, culture and marketing, led the charge setting the agenda and speakers, as she did during her previous tenure as a top lieutenant to Bakish in the international division.

Bakish hopes the investment in the Spark program will pay dividends by improving morale and encouraging creative thinking. He recognized that Viacom’s downbeat corporate culture was a problem for the company when he took the reins as CEO in December 2016.

“It was clear to me that our culture like the business itself was in need of a turnaround and an evolution,” Bakish said. “At Viacom the culture had always been a real point of pride and a competitive advantage for us. We needed to bring that spirit of creativity back. We needed to evolve the culture.”

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