This is the fourth in a series of blogs posts, written collaboratively by our team, which uncover lessons learned in advising dozens of our clients on their events in the time of COVID-19. Although each situation has its own unique issues, we hope you find nuggets to help you with your disruption response and planning.
Over the past couple weeks, conversations with our clients have shifted from crisis decision-making for conferences occurring in the near-term (reactive) to scenario planning for the fall (proactive). While there is still significant uncertainty for the health and safety of mass gatherings, those of you with your major events in Q3 or Q4 have a little time for weighing your options.
Scenario and Contingency Planning
In our Conference Go/No-Go Decisions in a Pandemic post, we provided a framework for scenario planning. Many have taken this to heart and are working on at least two plans. Here’s what some of them include:
- Buying Time. Some events in Q3 are exploring options for postponing to Q4.
- Resetting Expectations. Quite a few corporations and universities have instituted travel bans and/or are making major budget cuts. Conferences with strong global participation are expected to be more regional in the near-term. Many people don’t believe that mass gatherings will truly recover until after a vaccine is widely deployed. The most common projection made by our clients is that their fall event will be 50% of what was expected for both revenue and in-person participation.
- Plan for Hybrid. Any association that wasn’t live-streaming or capturing and scheduling replays of premium conference content is doing the research now to add this capability to their fall event. While many want to be pointed to a list of service providers or virtual business models, we’re finding that the solutions our clients are often short-listing include the technology and solution providers they are already working with, i.e., abstract management software, mobile app, floor plan management solution and webinar platform.
- Education Experience. One positive outcome of this crisis is a greater focus on quality over quantity of education sessions. When all is clear we’ll be seeing more large-group experiences designed to rally the industry. Everyone is planning to add late-breaking topics to help their profession recover and evolve. Many are holding off on speaker invitations until there is more positive news of the country reopening.
- Risk-free Participation. Any event that does move forward in 2020 will need to revisit their attendee and exhibitor cancellation and downsizing penalties. Most of our clients are waiving all risks for this year.
- Virtual Contingency. For the most part, the elements in your hybrid plan can also be the main attraction of your virtual offering. The best plans we’ve seen for virtual do not just shift from in-person to digital. The education content should be significantly streamlined and delivered in digestible bursts. Don’t expect a virtual exhibit hall to deliver results. We have seen zero success stories for virtual expos.
If you are planning to move forward with your fall conference, now is the time to notify your hotels, convention centers and service providers of your lower expectations. Some planners don’t want to make a downward adjustment without confirmation from the hotel that the performance clauses are being forgiven. It could be months before a hotel is able to make that determination. While we’re not lawyers, we believe making good faith adjustments early-on puts you in the best position for Renegotiating Live Event Agreements When All Parties Are Innocent Victims.
Good partners will lower the room block and release meeting space you don’t plan to use, sooner rather than later. By doing so, inform the hotel that you want to make sure that they have available inventory for other groups that may be postponing their dates.
What advice would you add for organizers with fall conferences or shows?
Other Posts in this Series
Leading Through the Pandemic: Generosity + Empathy = Future Brand
Conference Go/No-Go Decisions in a Pandemic
Renegotiating Live Event Agreements When All Parties Are Innocent Victims
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