Crisis Management 101


Amid rising geopolitical instability, risk assessment is at the forefront of event planning. For meeting and event professionals, crisis management is becoming a part of daily life.

With the increased threat of terror attacks globally and fickle relations across the Korean peninsula heightening levels of geopolitical instability within Asia-Pacific, event planners are stepping up their game when it comes to risk assessment. Add to this the fact that no country is immune from natural disasters makes it clear that being prepared in a time of crisis is now a priority.

According to Darren Chuckry, managing director at Uniplan Hong Kong, event and meeting planners have to “plan for the worst and hope for the best.” This is a critical component of pre-production — where planners must review all the things that could potentially go wrong and have an agreed-upon back-up plan prior to the event, he said. Every location is different and has to be analysed from impending threats. Communication is a key concern so it’s vital to work with professionals who are close to both the local issues and possible threats.

“Working with reliable security firms is paramount to the success or failure of a crisis,” Chuckry said. “When we had a Typhoon 8 hit Hong Kong, we had only six to eight hours’ notice and had to act very fast on our contingency plans to strike most of the [event] set and secure it before the storm moved in.”

In August last year, Uniplan organised the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Launch at the Hong Kong Observation Wheel. The event was held between two of Hong Kong’s largest typhoons of the century — Typhoon Hato which reached a devastating T10 and Typhoon Pakhar. As a result, the agency had 48 hours to turn the event around.

To manage this situation, Uniplan used its existing knowledge from pre-planning to understand who was responsible for what and how to execute an emergency plan in such a short time span. Chuckry added that for large-scale events, effective crisis management is about setting up a command centre made up of one representative from all the different stakeholders; if something were to happen, the team can react in seconds versus minutes.

Dionne Holder, managing director, China, at agency FreemanXP highlighted the importance of identifying a communication manager or official spokesperson for all internal and external communications, and the means of delivering information to the public.

“As well as staying calm, responsive, and positive, flexibility is also key when it comes to dealing with natural disasters and/or planning events in conjunction with important political dates,” she said. For companies looking to host events in China in particular, it pays to remember that any government activity takes priority.

Holder gives the example of a large-scale activation for a technology client in Beijing, which the agency had spent four months working on last year. About four weeks before the event, the Chinese government announced the date of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China — the most important date in China’s political calendar — coinciding with FreemanXP’s event. Businesses ranging from fitness centres, to karaoke to online retailers had to temporarily shut down and venues were closed, while those that remained open were accompanied by high-level security checks.

“The event date and venue for our activation had to change immediately and we had to inform all the key stakeholders and participants,” Holder said. “We had been working with the client from the beginning and were able to choose a last-minute venue for them that met their requirements and that of their audience. The event was a success in a situation where we saw many events cancelled because of the announcement.”

Holder added that the work doesn’t end once a particular crisis is over; it’s just as important to have a debrief to review the incident and see what can be improved upon for the next time.

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