Coronavirus and Meetings
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These are difficult and challenging times for all meeting planners.
Anxiety about the worsening coronavirus crisis is spreading around the world as fast as the disease. The number of cancelled conventions, meetings and trade shows grows by the hour — as do concerns about the future of the global trillion-dollar events industry and its members. Companies and organizations are grappling with lost business, layoffs, and obsolete marketing plans.
Warwick Davies, principal of The Event Mechanic! in Lexington, Mass., said "event planners are the first responders of the meeting industry. We run towards danger when others run from it." Ironically, the Chinese word for crisis is a combination of the two characters that mean "danger" and "opportunity" — which are what business owners and event planners are being reminded of thanks to a steady stream of newspaper headlines and "breaking news" banners on news channels. But instead of being fearful, this is the time to focus on what can be done to survive the crisis and bounce back when it ends.
Steps event planners should take to cope with this crisis
Don't add to the panic
Avoid saying or doing anything that can make matters worse for you, your company or your clients. The British saying to "Keep calm and carry on" is particularly apt. So is Winston Churchill's advice that "When you are going through hell, keep going."
Stop any financial bleeding. Ask your bank or financial institution to extend current lines of credit and/or seek loans from the Small Business Administration or other institutions.
Offer new services
This is an opportune time to expand your services and expertise that can make you more valuable to clients and help attract new customers. Remember: They might be having an even rougher time than you are and would appreciate any lifeline you can throw their way, like bringing them new sponsors for future events to replace those they've lost.
Reinvent your clients' meetings
Find ways to use existing technology to substitute in-person events with virtual ones. Widespread use of the technology — which has been around for years — might become the new normal, at least for now. The expertise of companies who specialize in this field will likely be in high demand.
Look for new partners
Identify the expertise and services you lack, then link up with the best consultants, independent contractors and vendors who can help make you indispensable. Your new partners could include copywriters, editors, graphic designers, printers, list brokers, website designers, videographers, photographers and speakers.
There might be opportunities to help events continue in some capacity, said Andrea Berry of the Anber Agency, an independent event planner in Mount Airy, Md. For example, a client might want to co-locate an event in the future, and you could help make that happen. "Negotiating on behalf of your client to incorporate their event into another can be a complex process, but [it] secures income for the planner and the client."
Save what you can
Berry said it might be possible to retain some income from clients by producing or providing event-related activities, products or services such as receptions, workshops, event apps or videos. "While the income won't be the same for the planner (or the client) as producing the full event, [at least] there wouldn't be [a] total loss."
After you've started or completed these steps, it's time to get ready for the next crisis. That's because there will always be a next crisis.
Here's how to prepare for the next emergency.
Think of them as the 10 Rs of crisis management for event planners:
- Risk. Identify the meetings-related triggers that would cause a new crisis for you and your clients.
- Reduce. Take the steps that are necessary and prudent to lessen those risks.
- Ready. Have a crisis-management plan in place and ready to implement when needed.
- Redundancies. Have back-up and contingency plans if they are required.
- Research. Get all the information you can about the crisis, including details about what just happened, is happening now or what might happen.
- Rehearse. Test your plan on a regular basis — at least once a year.
- React. Know what will trigger your crisis plan and who has the authority to activate it.
- Reach Out. Immediately communicate with those who are affected by or concerned about the crisis.
- Recover. Know how you'll bounce back from the crisis.
- Remember. Keep in mind what you went through before and the experiences of your colleagues and others in the meetings industry. What can you do to repeat their successes and avoid their mistakes?
If you don't have a crisis-management plan, you can access a customizable plan on my website at GetCrisisReady.com. Go to the Customized Crisis Plan page and enter password CrisisPlan2020 (it's case-sensitive). From there, you can copy or download a template, fill in the blanks, and customize and update as needed.
Crisis-management plans are like business and health insurance policies. No event planner wants to have to use them but will be glad to have them when they are needed. The coronavirus crisis is definitely one of those times.
Edward Segal is a crisis-management and public relations consultant whose clients have included companies and trade shows in the meetings, consumer electronics, plastics and real estate industries. He is the author of the forthcoming book on crisis management: Crisis Ready — 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Contact Segal at GetCrisisReady@gmail.com or visit GetCrisisReady.com.