The global outbreak of COVID-19 has affected many and industry and associations are not exempt. As you sort through the news, consult with experts, and plan with your team, 360 Live Media has developed a list of the best practices that we are seeing across the events industry landscape.
1. In times of uncertainty, people crave certainty. Giving information on when a decision will be made, or when an update will be given is a good approach. Be clear and proactive in your communication.
Example: We are working closely with [name city and local authorities], our insurance providers, and [name hotel]. As such, we are looking at a number of options and will make a final determination on the afternoon of [provide date]. A formal announcement will then be made public on the morning of [following day].
2. Create a monitored email alias where people can send their questions. People need a point of contact, and this helps to keep the uncertainty off of social media and other public channels, which has a tendency to feed panic.
Example: We know that you have questions and concerns, and we have a team of experts monitoring the situation, which is changing day by day. At any time, please feel free to contact _@_.org. We are committed to delivering a response by the next business day.
3. Designate a team of experts to monitor and manage. The situation takes up a lot of brain space and it is easy for online chatter to become distracting. Putting a team in charge relieves people of responsibility, slows down the spinning wheels, and helps them to focus on what work still needs to be delivered. It also reassures your attendees that you are monitoring the situation, paying attention, and making smart decisions.
4. If you are planning to postpone or cancel your event, provide very clear instructions and try to remove all uncertainty from the situation. NOTE: Before making a decision on refunds, it is very important to consult with your legal counsel and board, assess overall financial impact, and be sure to land on a decision that serves the best interests of both your organization and your community.
Example 1: Your registration will be credited to the rescheduled event, and should we be unable to reschedule and need to cancel, we will fully refund fees paid at that point. Your registration will fully credit you for next year’s event. Please do not call the hotel directly to cancel your reservation. Your reservation has been canceled by our team. We will provide information on making new reservations once the reschedule date has been set.
Example 2: Please note that we will not charge a cancellation fee if you decide to not attend an in-person event based on concerns around your health or travel, including after any posted cancellation deadlines for the event.
5. Offer an FAQ section on your website detailing out the top five-to-10 questions your average attendee will ask. This will help mitigate the inundation of calls and emails your customer service team will handle.
Answer questions like:
- Are you postponing, canceling, or moving the event online?
- What will happen to my current registration? Will I receive a refund?
- If postponing, what happens if I can’t make the new dates?
- What can I do to get an airfare refund?
- What can I do to cancel my hotel?
- Will X provide reimbursement for airfare or hotel booked outside of the registration system?
- I’m a sponsor at X Event, how will my sponsorship package be affected?
- Who do I contact for more information?
6. Allow sufficient time for your event participants to change their plans and adjust their calendar. Be mindful of the time window you allow to attendees and sponsors to change their travel if you intend on canceling, postponing, or moving your event virtual.
7. Do not forget about your partners, who are just as invested in the event as you are. Over-communicate with them about how you are monitoring the situation, and the options they have should the event be rescheduled or cancelled. If your event is continuing as planned, still provide updates on what the options will be with a potentially reduced audience. Talk to your partners, ask what they want to accomplish, and revise your packages as needed to create new options for partners who are uncertain if they will be able to participate.
8. Associations are embracing the opportunity to experiment and try new things. Those who have always wanted to try virtual are exploring it. Those who have been wanting to reduce content are considering it. Those who have been wanting to create partnerships are reaching out to others with canceled events and inviting them to join them at their fall conference. The groups that will weather this storm the best are the ones who are willing to try new things.
9. Keep your tone optimistic and responses hopeful in a time of unease and disappointment.
Example: “This is not business as usual, but at C2 it never is. Right now, our team is putting all its creative energy to work doing what C2 does best: embrace change, reinvent and answer challenges with bold solutions to create an unforgettable experience. We’ll share more details soon. In the meantime, expect something audacious and new. So don’t go far — you’ll want to be there when we raise the curtain.” (From the popup at c2montreal.com.)
10. If planning for an event that takes place later in 2020, be careful of where and when you place your emphasis in your marketing efforts. Most groups are holding back on marketing for short-term campaigns. Avoid highlighting content that will be a cause for concern, e.g., sampling-related content at a food event, images of large crowds, hand-shaking, which also suggests placing your emphasis on event facets that are not associated with the virus, e.g., content, education, speakers, and sessions.
Don Neal is founder and CEO of marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media.
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the outbreak and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared.