How Ernst & Young Handled the ‘Logistical Challenge of the Year’

Author: Casey Gale       

It’s in a business-event organizer’s job description to plan for the worst. And sometimes “the worst” is  completely outside of an event organizer’s control.

That was the dilemma that faced the  events team planning Ernst & Young’s (EY) Future Finance Leaders Spring Seminar in London last March — and their response earned them the Logistical Challenge of the Year Award at the 2017 International Corporate Event (ICE) Awards.

The Meeting The Future Finance Leaders Spring Seminar is a chance for EY to get acquainted with up-and-coming leaders in the financial-services field. According to Georgina Naden, the project manager for the event, “these are kind of financial officers who are two or three career moves away from being a CFO. The whole purpose of the program and the event is to build a relationship with them now, so when they do make those two or three steps to being a CFO, we’ve already got a relationship with them.” In addition to networking opportunities, the event gives attendees “the kind of soft and technical skills to help them in those career moves,” Naden said. “It’s a big flagship program.”

 The Challenge The meeting was planned for March 23, 2017. On March 22, at around 2 p.m., a terrorist drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, near the Palace of Westminster — and near where the event was to be held. The attack killed five and injured dozens more. 

“Anyone who knows events would notice that 2 p.m. the day before a major conference is when you pretty much have everything ready to go,” said Alice Detre, head of events at EY’s U.K. and Ireland division. “We had a crew on their way of about 20 people who were going to be setting up the event in terms of production. The badges were stuffed. Everything was absolutely ready to go.”  

The event organizers also had to consider that two of its speakers, BBC journalists Huw Edwards and Laura Kuenssberg, would likely be busy covering the attack. “Then we had to sit and watch the awful news unfolding, which of course is a very emotional and challenging thing to be watching anyway,” Detre said. “We had to make some very quick decisions about what we were going to do with the event.”

The Solution “We had a whole team of support to really help us take a step back, not panic, control the situation, and look at the bigger picture,” Naden said. Shortly after the end of the business day on March 22, EY event organizers decided to postpone the event for the safety of clients, staff, and attendees. Then, it was time to spring into action.

“We had loads of people helping us cancel certain suppliers in terms of venue production, as well as our speakers,” Naden said. Because EY worked with its insurance company to get coverage for the event that specifically had a clause for terrorism incidents, the company did not lose any money for cancelling the event. And as the meeting was set to take place the next day, it was crucial to take down any social media messaging scheduled to go out the next day, as that “would have been in bad taste,” said Detre.

The event organizers also needed to worry about communicating the cancellation to its approximately 250 attendees. Since it was after work hours and the event was scheduled to start at 8 a.m. the next morning, “we were really concerned that our [email] message actually wasn’t getting through to people,” Naden said. “We couldn’t call everyone — we don’t have that data — so it was a case of sending an email. But straight away we did have people come back and go, ‘That’s absolutely awful. It’s the right decision, you know. Well done for doing that.’”

Two months later, EY held its Future Finance Leaders Spring Seminar. Although they had to change the venue, the program itself stayed exactly the same. “It was the exact same speakers, the same agenda, the same content,” Naden explained. “I think we pretty much had 95 percent of the same audience there with the addition of more people — because the date had changed, more people who had wanted to attend in the first place could now attend, which is great.”