COVID-19 has caused events all around the world to postpone, reschedule or even cancel. As experienced event producers, we always want to try to minimize risks as much as possible, but events can be an inherently risky business even in the best of times. High risk, high reward tends to be the name of the game and are you really an event producer if you haven’t dealt with some form of major event disruption in your career?
In these trying times, many event producers have become all too familiar with the process of postponing, rescheduling or cancelling an event. Due to the massive disruptions caused by COVID-19, there are some event professionals who are learning in a trial-by-fire situation on the processes and anxieties involved. Trixstar has (fortunately?) dealt with our fair share of major event disruptions over the years which has helped us navigate these challenging times for ourselves and our clients. These types of situations can be very fluid and happen within a matter of minutes, hours, days, weeks or months, but whether the disruptions are because of logistics, severe weather, the venue, ticket sales, talent related or even a pandemic - many of the same principles apply!
1. Determining there is no option to proceed as originally planned:
The factors that go into this decision vary from situation to situation, but critical thinking must be used. Many times, this decision should involve multiple parties coming to the same conclusion that there is no path forward or there is no way to continue with a portion/part of the event. In the case of an imminent threat or what has been seen recently with the global progression of COVID-19, the decision was removed from event organizers and it was a matter of acceptance and moving to best cessation strategy. As many have learned through this pandemic, what seemed like a reasonable strategy one day, week or month changed quickly and constantly as things evolved; like in the instances of rescheduling Spring/Summer 2020 events to Fall 2020, and now they are being outright cancelled or pushed to 2021 as it becomes clear Fall 2020 may be too early for many events to make sense around the globe.
2. Identifying the strategy and timing of the announcement:
Sometimes these decisions need to be made immediately and other times the strategy can be developed over a period of time. How quickly your event is approaching, your event type, and can portions of the event be salvaged or replaced, should influence identifying the appropriate timing and strategy of the announcement. The more time you have allows for a better strategy when planning all the details of the announcement. In certain situations, getting input from stakeholders is also an advantage because they may have the ability to ease the pain or help in the dissemination of information. With so many variables, no one is ever going to get it right 100% of the time, but having empathy for all those involved in the event and learning from mistakes will form an important part of being able to critically think about this process.
3. Informing stakeholders/partners/sponsors:
Make a list of groups, people and organizations that should be contacted. This may include staff, attendees, venue operators, VIPs, local dignitaries, volunteers, sponsors, vendors, artist agents and managers, local media and board members. Communicating to all parties involved as quickly as possible with the right strategy is key. When possible, personal phone calls to your most important partners/stakeholders/sponsors is an important part of maintaining strong relationships. Everyone who produces events goes through this at some point, if you have built up trust and respect with those you work with/for and this is all handled with a sound strategy then the negative outcomes will be minimized as much as possible. There will always be some negative outcomes, but with the right partners/stakeholders/sponsors who all want to succeed, everyone can make it through and come out stronger.
4. Communicating with your attendees and the general public:
If you’re sure there is no path forward to host your event or a portion of it, you need to inform ticket holders and attendees as soon as you’ve made the final decision and have a strategy around it. Determining how far in advance to communicate with attendees is never easy, however, the more notice the better so plans can be changed if needed. Using the ticketing platform they purchased tickets through and e-mailing your attendees is a apart of it, but some people aren’t always checking their inbox or haven’t purchased tickets yet, so take all reasonable routes like press releases, marketing partner involvement, social media and website FAQ updates. When initially communicating with attendees, try to answer as many of their questions as you can in your statement. There is always questions attendees have that you never thought of, if there is a consistent question being asked then consider sending out another communication to attendees clarifying more things. The initial mass event disruptions from COVID-19 resulted in a lot of questions that event producers couldn’t answer right away, and it turned into a public relations nightmare for many of them. Even if you can’t answer a question right away, but you know it is an important one, acknowledge it and tell your attendees more information on that specific topic is coming shortly. That gives you the opportunity to take time and make sure you have the best answer and strategy available for your attendees. Above all else, event producers would not exist without attendees and it is our responsibility to take care of these people as best we can. Some things are out of everyone’s control, being honest and forthcoming with the public will help foster respect towards your organization and empathy towards the situation. The ticket purchasers wanted to attend your event for a reason and are more inclined to continue doing so if you are honest and fair with them.
5. Enlisting help as needed and as quickly as possible:
Events are made up of multiple people and organizations putting them on. Some of them are visible, some work behind the scenes, and some are only called upon in a consulting capacity - but they are all vital to the health of an event. Event professionals can offer guidance on messaging and decision making, share experiences, answer questions, get the word out and even help lower stress or anxiety levels. Good partners will be there to help and want to see all parties succeed even if it has to happen on a different day, in a different venue, in a different year or with a different lineup.
Critically examine the reason you cancelled, postponed or rescheduled the event and how you executed it. Learn from it. Sometimes it is out of our control; like an artist getting ill 30 minutes before show time, travel delays, severe weather or...a pandemic. But sometimes it is in our control; did the budget match the vision, was the marketing plan executed fully, was it the right entertainment, how competitive is the market for such an event, etc. There are many things to examine. Purchasing event cancellation insurance may also be an option for you in certain situations and if you are planning an outdoor event, setting a rain date/alternate venue in advance if possible.
It’s every event organizer’s worst-case scenario to have to cancel, reschedule or postpone an event, but done in an open, responsible way, it doesn’t have to be the end of your event. In fact, this experience can show you opportunities for growth and may form the foundation for a very successful event in the future. It may be hard to fathom, but a well-done cancellation, reschedule or postponement can actually showcase the integrity of your brand and organization. The industry is learning a lot on the dos and don’ts during these mass event disruptions because of COVID-19 and we all need to balance commerce, customer service and health & safety to make it through.