What To Do When Your Marketing Event Is Canceled

when your marketing event gets canceled
when your marketing event gets canceled

Marketing events are one of the best ways to connect with your prospects and close deals. Sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances, they are canceled.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. With the current public health concerns over coronavirus, many companies are backing out of marketing conferences and suspending travel for employees. So, what should you do if your event is canceled? All’s not lost! There are still possibilities to consider…

Quick Takeaways:

  • Reassure your audience, speakers, sponsors and other stakeholders that it’s not the end of the world and that you’re still working towards the core objectives of the event.
  • Be totally transparent in your communications and answer all questions ASAP.
  • Host a virtual event instead. Make it as close to the real thing as possible.

The Event Industry is Reeling Under a Massive Impact Due to the Disease Outbreak

The coronavirus and fears of it spreading have already greatly affected the events industry. Those hosting the event are trying to balance the threat to public health and the huge investment that goes into these shows. Already, major global conferences have been canceled, including Facebook’s F8. Further, many big names are pulling out of shows, including Twitter abandoning this year’s SXSW in Austin this month.

On March 5, the largest global healthcare technology conference, HIMSS 2020, was canceled due to fears over the coronavirus. The move came after there were cancellations from companies like Amazon and Athena. The conference typically brings in over 100,000 attendees, leaving sponsors, exhibitors, hotels, and the attendees missing out on a huge opportunity.

A tremendous amount of time, planning, and money have already been spent on 2020 conferences. You’ve worked tirelessly on your event content, and now, you’re facing the future with uncertainty. If this is a scenario that your organization is experiencing, you’ll need a plan.

The hard costs and opportunity costs won’t likely be recouped, but there is still a chance to engage virtually and ensure that your reputation isn’t upended by not being communicative or transparent.

So, what are your options, and where do you start?

Communication and Transparency Must Be Part of Your Plan

Right now, if you’re facing cancellation, it’s in the name of public health. However, there are many other reasons an event may not go off, most of which would be outside your control. Having to cancel an event because of external concerns isn’t your fault, but you have to be strategic in how and when you communicate.

Once you’ve determined the event can’t move forward, you need to develop a communication plan. You may have different parties you need to inform including attendees, sponsors, and the media. It’s critical to be completely transparent about why the event isn’t occurring.

Next, you should offer an apology. You aren’t apologizing because you are the cause of the cancellation, but people have invested their time and money to attend, so it’s good to let them know you’re just as disappointed as they are.

Timing Your Communications

You should coordinate your communications so that everybody receives the information at the same time. That includes specific emails to impacted parties, press releases, media coverage, and social media postings. The communication also needs to be consistent and verifiable, so that no one is confused or thinks it’s hearsay.

What Should Your Communication Include?

Beyond the reason for cancellation and the apology, you need to give people facts and direction on what’s next. Depending on how close to the actual date you cancel, you may already have people traveling and freight shipped. Sooner rather than later is, of course, the best strategy but not always possible.

Here are some details that you need to communicate:

  • Information on how to get freight shipped back
  • Policies on refunds for exhibit, sponsorship, and registration fees
  • If the event will be rescheduled or if it may be held virtually
  • Cancellation of accommodations and refunds
  • Any additional logistics information

Simply sending out a cancellation notice with no details will leave attendees frustrated and feeling like they have lost a considerable investment. If you expect them to attend any future events, keep them informed and updated.

Responding to Questions

You should also set up a team of people to respond to questions. You’ll likely have questions coming from multiple channels—email, phone, chat, and social media. Responding to them in a timely manner ensures that your reputation remains intact. Developing a FAQs page to point people to is a good idea. Continue to add to it as more questions roll in and you have more information.

Dealing with the Financial Aspect

You aren’t only canceling an event; you’re also responsible for the financial fallout. Many have paid a premium to attend or exhibit at your marketing event. You have two options:

Refund all monies paid in full. While you may have contract language that says part or all of the purchase price isn’t refundable, even if canceled, you aren’t going to make any friends by refusing to issue refunds. A full refund is, however, complicated by the fact that you probably won’t receive refunds for the venue and logistics that went into planning the event. Unfortunately, you’ll probably take a big loss, but it’s possible this can be mitigated with event insurance.

Offer a carryover to the next year’s event, which you could make more attractive with incentives. For example, you may provide attendees and exhibitors with event upgrades at the same price they paid for this year’s event. If your conference is one that they typically attend each year, this may persuade them to let you carry it over.

When deciding how to handle the financial aspect, continue to be honest and transparent about what’s the best way to proceed.

But before you develop your communication and financial plan, you and your team should also think about alternatives like going virtual.

Can You Save Your Event by Going Virtual?

The answer is yes! An online event certainly won’t have the same environment or opportunity as an in-person one, but it’s certainly something to consider. The Adobe Summit and Magento Imagine, previously scheduled for late March in Las Vegas, has now become an online event. The same is true for the Google Cloud Next 2020, which was to happen in San Francisco in April.

You can go virtual and give attendees the chance to learn and interact with video conferencing. Video conferencing delivers a seamless, immersive experience for users. With HD video and a host of features, video conferencing could be the approach that saves your event from total cancellation.

But what kind of video conferencing features are most important? If you want to host an event using video conferencing, you’ll need a robust platform that can deliver the ability to engage attendees across the screen. Key features must include:

  • Screen sharing: This feature is a must for presentations. Your esteemed presenters can use video conferencing to lead a session from anywhere, and they’ll need a way to share their slides easily.
  • Multiple webcams: You may have presenters or panels of people who aren’t in the same location, so you’ll want a system that provides you with the ability to stream multiple cameras.
  • Chat features: With chat features, attendees can interact with presenters. They can ask questions via chat or offer comments on the subject. It provides a two-way communication channel.
  • Recording capabilities: If you decide to go virtual, record every session so that they are available on-demand for those who can’t join live.
  • Branding: Choose a platform that allows you to brand the experience with event logos, your company’s logo, and possibly even sponsor logos.

But will going virtual win over attendees?

In the situation that event hosts are facing right now, the fear and concern are related to public exposure and a highly contagious virus. With this in mind, attendees may feel more at ease with attending a virtual event.

They may appreciate the fact that they don’t have to travel or worry about spending time in airports and convention centers where germs are ever-present. Plus, you probably aren’t going to lose any speakers, since they already blocked off the time to attend the event and should be ready to present from anywhere. The most popular speakers in your industry have probably dealt with cancellations and know how to roll with the punches.

Can everything translate into a virtual event? No, it doesn’t make up for networking and in-person conversations, but if your event is all about marketing, those in the industry will understand and embrace the wonders of technology. Your audience is likely keenly digitally aware and uses virtual meetings platforms on a regular basis.

Nobody Wants to Cancel, But No One Can Predict the Future

Six months ago, there wasn’t constant media coverage related to coronavirus. We were all only thinking about flu season. Most could not have predicted what would befall the event industry. Clearly, it’s best to heed the warnings of the World Health Organization (WHO) on coronavirus. While a canceled event may seem devastating, it’s probably in the best interest of all.

If you are faced with this dilemma, start working on your communication plan and think about the option of going virtual. Most importantly, stay empathetic to your attendees and sponsors and work together for the best outcome.

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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