Event organisers, whether publishing and media businesses or pure-plays, have some difficult choices as Coronavirus spreads across Europe and the US as well as Asia. What can event organisers do to reduce the impact of Coronavirus on their business? If you have an event scheduled in the next few months, which may have been a year in the planning, how do you decide whether to cancel, and if you do go ahead, how can you reassure sponsors, attendees and speakers?
I’ve been speaking to several organisers over the last couple of weeks, and participate in a few online communities for event organisers, so here’s some observations which might be useful as you try to navigate through this challenge.
Should we cancel, postpone or go ahead?
Many smaller events and conferences in March, especially those with a national audience, are going ahead, and accepting that they might take a hit on delegate numbers, but the costs of cancelling will be prohibitive.
Larger scale events, which might be caught by local government bans on large gatherings, or those with an international audience, may have a more difficult choice. And if they are scheduled for April or May, fewer sponsors may be contracted and fewer delegate tickets booked. Both groups might be reluctant to commit. So then there may be a case for either postponing to late summer or cancelling altogether.
Many events are offering virtual/online access to delegates. Collision, a major tech conference in Toronto, has decided to transfer to a virtual offering.
Event trade associations UFI and SISO have launched an initiative called “The Show is Open” to highlight those events that are taking place.
How can we negotiate with venues if we want to postpone or cancel?
If you have to take the decision to postpone or cancel, you may need to negotiate hard with your venue, and try to get better terms than the contract states if you want to use them in future. Some organisers in the UK are facing a tough stance from venues – it’s worth contacting trade associations such as the AEO or joining an online events community (see example below) to join forces to persuade venues to be more flexible.
How to keep sponsors on board?
Sponsors may be wary if they feel that many delegates won’t attend in person. If you are developing live streaming or other virtual options, then this is an opportunity to offer them additional value to help with their lead generation. Or maybe offer those who stay with you a better deal on your 2021 events.
There’s a good list of virtual tech operators in this crowdsourced manual
How to reassure people who want to attend?
Some attendees may have already booked their travel and feel they need to attend to meet their business objectives. Here it’s good practice to offer a clear health and safety policy including screening for attendees, hand-washing facilities on arrival, policies on handshakes, seating arrangements, catering hygiene and signage. This should reassure those who do show up that they will be in an environment that is as safe as possible.
How to handle delegates with corporate travel bans?
A growing number of large global corporates are advising their staff against inessential travel. If your delegates have already paid for tickets, then try offering a virtual alternative (see Collision link above). And maybe you will have to negotiate and offer a discount on the 2020 event or on a future event if they participate. The upside of virtual event options is that their colleagues who could not have afforded to attend in person can also gain some of the benefits of the event. And where large events have multiple track sessions, no one need miss a session due to a time clash.
Of course networking is one of the extra benefits of attending events in person. Online communities are not a perfect substitute, but they can allow a certain level of networking and fostering debate amongst virtual attendees. Platforms like Guild and Zapnito are making special offers to troubled event organisers.
How to keep speakers on board?
Speakers may also be subject to corporate travel bans. If they cannot be persuaded to attend in person, consider pre-recording their speaker session and then offering a live online Q&A with attendees.
How to reassure staff?
Your staff need to feel secure, so the health and safety provisions for them need to be at least as stringent as those for attendees.
It’s a fast-moving situation, and there is value in comparing notes with other organisers on all these points. The crowdsourced Google doc mentioned above is a great starting point.
The Guild online community platform has set up a free, invite only group called CREO (Coronavirus Response for Event Organisers). It already has over 160 members. The invite link is here: https://guildco.page.link/XQqfbZXQCZHbhiwPA
It’s only for organisers, not for suppliers, so people who don’t meet the profile may be asked to leave, but it’s a great way to find out in real time what your peers are doing.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.