As the coronavirus grows in strength and numbers, it is impossible to ignore the impact it’s having on the global economy and the event marketing industry. Tradeshows, conferences and business travel are being canceled left and right. Since in-person meetings and events are the lifeblood of the communications industry, responsible marketers need to figure out a way to keep people safe, comfortable and connected to one another under increasingly complicated circumstances.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the outbreak a global public health emergency, underscoring the potential severity of the virus and the threat it poses to the global community. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also declared a public health emergency.
Suspending events, while costly, may be a necessary measure until the public learns more about threat and prevention. While the U.S. remains relatively stable, it’s important to follow the progress of the virus, potential outbreaks and advances in a vaccine. As event and experiential marketers begin working on contingency plans, client relationships and attendee communication remain key.
There is no official playbook, but informed decision making and proper planning are essential for the winter and spring of 2020. Weathering this storm for the health of the public, and Q1 and Q2 profits, are top of mind for all.
Knowledge is Power
A responsible event marketer must know what progress is being made in real-time. The WHO’s global infectious disease reports and travel warnings need to be monitored at all times. Verified sources and news alerts are your best bet. While Facebook and its subsidiaries are attempting to halt misinformation, some users have leveraged hashtags like #coronavirus to spread falsehoods or piggyback off of trending words for self-promotion. Have answers at the ready with credible sourcing when questions are asked. You can find direct links to resources below:
CDC Traveler Resources: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/communication-resources.html
Travel Alerts/FAA: https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=94991
Whether you are working with vendors or speaking with clients, it’s important to keep the conversation going. Educate your team and understand what policies are in place on-site. Communicating the facts in an open, frank manner is essential in an uncertain time. Have employee policies in place, be proactive, update your websites, ask vendors to do the same and begin outbound messaging on social media.
Can you keep people safe? What are the preventive measures available to your team as a vendor and an attendee? Ultimately, does the risk outweigh the reward? Consider all of the financial aspects and determine if it will be more expensive to press on with an event, even if attendee rates are dropping. If the answer is yes, then safety needs to be at the forefront of messaging. If it’s a no, be clear with all parties about rescheduling at future dates. Be clear about what costs can be absorbed and where the deficit can be balanced out later on in the fiscal year.
Zooms and calls can’t compare with live events, but you can’t put a price on safety. Webinars, Slack channels and digital demos should be at the ready and on offer to all parties involved in an event. Create dynamic content relevant to the canceled event and get it to attendees ASAP. Let all parties know that even if an event is still live, people will have the means to access information remotely if travel isn’t an option for any reason.
If you’re in service of a global brand or have corporate accounts with locations, hotels, credit companies and airlines, can this be used to your advantage? Since flights are being canceled daily, inquire about efforts to compensate travelers. It won’t fix the cancellation, but it will go a long way to controlling costs and improving relationships across the board.
Don’t lose sight of the larger picture. Skilled professionals are working around the clock to contain and control the coronavirus. Schedules are constantly changing in our industry and a nimble response is usually required. While this may be more than a bump in the road, it will pass. Shows will go on.