by Ronn Levine
“You have to look to your customers and members for feedback,” said Alicia Evanko, executive vice president, Travel Group Global Events, Northstar Travel Group, during a webinar Thursday afternoon on Coronavirus and Your Events: How to Make Decisions that Protect Your Business and the Safety of Your Staff.
“You want to plan these things now. For any event in late May or June it’s a tough call. But if you do want to postpone it and keep it in the calendar year 2020, you have to move quickly. Here’s one example: We were moving an event from May to September. Four days ago the hotel had three options for us. We have a good relationship with them so we just put those dates on hold to think. Two days later and two of those three dates are gone. So I encourage you to move as fast as you can and listen to your customers.”
AM&P editors, designers, writers, managers and publishers may not be planning these events, but it’s good to know what’s involved in these new-normal times. One thing that AM&P people are involved strongly in is communications, and that was a big emphasis on the webinar.
“Having consistent messaging across all channels is critical,” said Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications U.S. “The verbiage you put out there needs to be consistent.”
Rich Luna, director of publishing and editor in chief for AM&P member Meeting Professionals International, gave their Nine Crisis Communications Best Practices:
1. Communicate Across Multiple Platforms. Utilize every way in which you typically communicate with your attendees.
2. Be Clear and Consistent.
3. Share Updates Early, Regularly. Communicate important updates to all stakeholders as soon as possible.
4. Explain Changes to Norms. Inform attendees how the social norms at your event may have changed. No handshakes for one
5. Tell the Truth. Do not, under any circumstances, mislead your stakeholders.
6. Have Compassion. That means refunds if necessary, though all three panelists emphasized trying to transfer the money to another event and provide added value.
7. Explain Contingency Plans.
8. Be Available to Answer Questions. Endeavor to have staff available online and onsite to answer attendee questions and concerns.
9. Provide Resources. Provide clear, relevant guidance from trusted sources, such as the CDC and WHO.
“You’re trying to communicate what’s going on while also trying to keep it compact,” said Cuthbert. “We had a hosted buyer event this week that we postponed along with an awards presentation. We decided to hold off on [the rescheduling] announcement. We said, ‘given the circumstances, we will be back in touch with you shortly.’ Then we sent a single message. We have templates for all the emails going out, even for internal communications. Give them the best information you have; the idea is to save the long-term relationships [even if it means] taking the short-term hit. We’re also protecting our people so they know what to say.”
Northstar actually created a task force that meets weekly to discuss all the permutations taking place. Evanko emphasized that if you do cancel events, you want to continue to engage these communities. And they’ve formed another “Silver Linings” group charged with heartwarming and encouraging stories in the industry. They also just had a virtual happy hour with their members.
It’s imperative to “continue to engage with the audience during this tough time,” she said. “If you are cancelling an event as we are today, try to give something else that they can roll their money over for next year. We’ll also create value-add for them if they do that—something that doesn’t cost us anything. Maybe it’s creating a new blog or newsletter, where there are also opportunities to give our sponsors a presence in 2020.
“It’s always best to be proactive rather than reactive in cases like this,” Luna said. “There’s great complexity to this story. You want to seek out multiple sources of information. But we also don’t want to lose sight of the humanity here.”
The webinar will be available shortly for members to view.