We are now 2+ months into this global pandemic, and the world of event planners is still being turned upside down every day.
A common mentality in March was to postpone events “to the spring” since spring would be long after a 2-week lockdown. At that time, it was very difficult to tell clients that spring was too aggressive and that we realistically should be looking further out or even considering cancelling. After being cooped up for 2 months, that conversation is not getting any easier.
But cancellation is real, and many people have never had the experience of managing an event cancellation. The guidance and experience of event professionals is becoming invaluable as they navigate unknown territory.
Here are the top 5 things we are talking about with clients.
- KNOW YOUR CONTRACT. If you are considering cancelling, and haven’t read your contract recently, stop reading this and go read that. You need to understand the exact cancellation terms and cost that was mutually agreed to in your contract.
- Understand the landscape. Our venue partners may not like that we are about to say this, but the reality is they may be forced to cancel contracts based on government mandates. However, we all must remember that this industry is built on partnerships and relationships, and that foundation is a form of currency in this industry. We are all suffering through losses that are caused by reasons outside of our collective control. Additionally, when you sign a venue contact, you are not just signing for the space to be available on that date. You are also signing for the time and effort the venue staff takes to prepare for your event. If you have had any level of communication with your venue post-contract signing – a site visit, a phone planning meeting, room set drawings, etc – you have received something of value from the venue, and they have the right to be compensated for that.
- Is the cancellation fee negotiable? The simplest answer is maybe. Back in normal times, my answer may have been that everything is negotiable. But event venues and suppliers are among the hardest hit sectors, and they may not have the flexibility (or cash flow) to renegotiate and return a deposit. Conversely, venues and suppliers looking to fill a 2021 or 2022 schedule may be very willing to negotiate that fee. There is no clear answer to this and every cancellation conversation with a venue will be unique. Also, refer back to #2 – just as planners expect the right to be compensated by clients for work completed prior to a cancellation, venues have that same right to be compensated for the work they have done to-date.
- What do I tell my attendees? The simplest answer is the truth. This is not a time for marketing spin or for anything less than complete transparency. If there is a question that you know your attendees will ask, answer it before they can ask. If there is a question you know they will ask and you don’t have an answer yet, acknowledge the question and tell them you don’t have the answer yet but you will have it at a later point. Once you do have it, communicate it. Your communications strategy should be built on truth, honesty, and complete transparency. If not, your reputation may pay the price.
- What about a virtual event? A normal event cannot just be thrown together at the last minute, and the same hold true for a virtual event. A virtual event is a change in venue (a screen vs a meeting room) and requires at least the same effort as planning an in-person event. I will be talking more about making the transition to virtual events in an upcoming article.
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.