When it comes to planning events, I thought I had seen it all. But in 20 years as a professional event strategist, my worst-case scenarios for what could go wrong never contemplated the effects of a worldwide pandemic.
Fortunately, years of practice in responding to the unexpected have prepared me and my team to guide our clients through this nerve-wracking time. It’s our job to remain calm and focused, but we can’t help feeling their pain.
Many clients were charging full speed ahead toward an event only weeks away when they had to slam on the brakes and skid to a stop. A moment later they were shifting into reverse and asking us to help them undo commitments and contracts entered into during many months of careful planning.
With estimates for the duration of the coronavirus crisis now stretching into summer, tough choices are facing the leaders of corporations, associations, nonprofit organizations and public sector entities who had meetings and events scheduled this spring.
Here are 10 tips for making the best choices possible under these unprecedented circumstances.
- Don’t postpone until you must. Depending on the contracts you signed, you may be liable for certain expenses if you postpone merely to follow guidelines. Instead, wait until a city or state ban requires you to do so.
- Don’t expect deposits returned. In most contracts, the vendor keeps the deposit as compensation in case of postponement or cancellation for any reason. Try to negotiate no additional deposit for a new date.
- Learn from contract mistakes. Perhaps you regret having agreed to certain contract terms that seem unfair under today’s circumstances. Get legal advice to better protect your organization in new contracts.
- Pad your budget by 15-20%. Many spring events are being rescheduled for fall, creating high demand for venues and vendors. The supply will not increase. The laws of supply and demand will push prices up.
- Reschedule in 2020 if you can. Venues and vendors want to recoup lost revenue in this calendar year. They likely will be more lenient with contract terms if you pick a 2020 date than if you reschedule for 2021.
- Be flexible about day of week. Postponed spring events will compete for dates with pre-booked fall events. You increase your chances of getting a date if you are willing to take any available day of the week.
- Don’t rush to reschedule. Instead, revisit the strategic planning and decision making that went into choosing the original date. Be sure to build in sufficient lead time for rebooking and ticket sales promotion.
- Wait to say ‘save the date.’ Despite your eagerness to announce a new date, you risk a second round of disappointment if you don’t first sign a contract with the venue, key vendors and speakers.
- Wait to start marketing. Your message will not be heard until people stop obsessing about COVID-19. Save up your marketing dollars for a big push when daily life is starting to return to normal.
- Weigh benefits of canceling. If your nonprofit raised enough money from sponsors to hit your net goal, and you can cancel everything without financial recourse, you may be better off with no event this year.
Mazda T. Miles, CMM, is the owner and chief strategist at Perfection Events in Philadelphia. The firm specializes in design, planning and production of meetings and events for corporations, associations, nonprofit organizations and public sector entities. Learn more at perfection-events.com or call 888-267-1859.