The disruption to the live events industry due to the Pandemic COVID-19 is unprecedented and impossible to escape. With the mixed messages coming at us from so many different perspectives, it is difficult to gain clarity. What we may believe personally is sometimes in conflict with the practices organization and business leaders decide to follow. So what is the right path?
The answer: There isn’t a simple one. Many industry organizations and business leaders have taken the position that shows, events and business must go on with appropriate precautions. Global, national and local governments are all over the board on prescribed actions, from declaring states of emergency to barring travel. Many organizations are banning business travel altogether, with large companies mandating that employees work virtually and educational institutions closing campuses to students and staff. Event organizers are in regular communication with their members, exhibitors, boards, internal leaders, venues and all event-related vendors. There is no question that this is a time of high stress.
It’s Time to Step Up
As indicated in a recent PCMA Convene article, Bill Reed, chief event strategy officer at the American Society of Hematology, encouraged event organizers to step up to the table, take command of the facts and help make the most informed and timely decisions for their individual organizations. Organizations should understand the worse-case scenarios of cancellation by reviewing all contracts and monitoring the essential information coming out from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and other government agencies.
Communicate regularly with your members and key stakeholders. Your website should be updated regularly (best practice is at least once a week, more regularly if your event is within a month), and should indicate that the organization is actively monitoring the situation and that a decision will be made by a certain date as to whether the event will be held, rescheduled or canceled. There are many examples of strong and clear messages posted on association and event websites that include steps being taken to keep the event as safe as possible.
Appropriate Grieving and What If’s
Many in my network are taking to social media to express a great sense of loss that accompanies event cancellation. I can relate. I’d be extremely disappointed if my favorite event was cancelled. I would miss that tangible sense of affiliation and reunion as well the content, connections and inspiration one can only experience in a live setting.
Putting on my association event organizer hat, my bottom-line advice is:
- Step up to the plate and embrace your leadership opportunity.
- Understand and share contractual obligations related to possible cancellation.
- Ensure that your team, colleagues, venues and partners are in the loop on any and all decisions.
- Communicate with members, exhibitors and sponsors on a regular basis and develop FAQs pertinent to all sectors.
- Develop scenarios for go-forward/cancellation/postponement and virtual delivery options, and devise game plans for all scenarios.
- Be transparent and empathetic. Coach your teams and colleagues through the process.
- Reach out to your networks for information, advice and understanding.
This is what we do … we plan, we adjust, we adapt and we move forward.
What has been the most difficult part of making a decision to cancel, postpone or move forward with a live event? What kind of contingency plans were or are in place?