When a live event occurs in times of crisis, communication and early planning are essential. However, when current events are unfolding quickly, as they are in the fast-developing COVID-19 crisis, early preparation is not always possible. In helping our clients and partners respond to challenges, the valuable insights we have learned will help guide you through it successfully. By being proactive and transparent, addressing issues directly and providing your exhibitors and attendees with facts and real solutions, you will ease their worries by being prepared.
When you suddenly find yourself knee-deep in a situation which challenges the viability of your show, response time, consistency and clear messaging are essential. Use this communications checklist to speed the delivery of your message.
Follow this urgent communications checklist
- Hold the first meeting or conference call to assess and gather facts quickly.
> What is the current situation (cancellation rates, contracts, regulatory guidance, geography of attendees, etc.)?
> What are the options?
> What do we need to communicate to stakeholders?
- Identify stakeholders (employees, exhibitors, attendees, partners, vendors, etc.)
- Reach out to key vendors and partners. Collaboration is key.
- Coordinate with local health officials.
- Notify front-line staff (receptionists, call centers, sales, account management) to direct calls from the media and key clients to appropriate team members.
- If you have staff on-site already, notify them media may show up. Direct the media to the appropriate representative.
- Develop key messages to communicate across channels.
- Use this messaging to craft the foundation for your plan. Having a few approved messages can make all the
difference. Here is an example of must-air key messages:
> Our top priority is the health and safety of all event participants.
> We continue to plan and execute this important event which is essential to both our exhibitors and attendees.
> We are working closely with experts, stakeholders and health officials to ensure a safe and successful event.
- From those messages, create holding statements to respond to immediate inquiries.
- Statement for social media channels — here is an example:
> "The health and safety of all involved is our top priority. We are carefully monitoring the situation, and following guidelines provided by @CDCgov, @WHO and local authorities. We are communicating closely with all stakeholders and providing guidance as we continue to plan an event that is important to our industry. For more information, please click here [link to page on website.]"
Holding statement for media - here is an example:
> "The health and safety of our attendees, exhibitors, partners, vendors and employees is our top priority. We are carefully monitoring the situation, and following guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/World Health Organization (WHO) and local authorities. We are communicating closely with all stakeholders and providing guidance as we continue to plan this key industry event."
- Communicate with employees promptly and clearly.
> Your employees are likely receiving inconsistent information from a variety of sources. They need leadership to clearly communicate policies and procedures. They are your first line of defense.
- Develop a dedicated webpage to communicate updates to exhibitors and attendees.
> Provide specific actions you are taking, such as adding sanitation stations and evaluating cancellation policies. If possible, let them know when they can expect more information. Be as transparent and upfront as possible, given constraints you have identified.
- Monitor social conversation and stay ahead of them!
> Stay positive and agreeable on social channels. Connect with people and drive to offline communications for a resolution to concerns.
You can never be too prepared for effective crisis communication. Create templates for news releases, landing pages and emails, and draft social posts so you have them ready.
This piece was adapted from the white paper, "Best Communication Practices for Challenging Times," published by event production company GES.
Wendy Gibson, CMO of GES, is an accomplished marketing leader with 25 years of experience leading marketing for fast-paced, high-growth companies. Wendy's career spans hospitality, events and technology industries. Before coming to GES, she served as the CMO of Telligent (now Verint), a leader in community software for digital marketing and support communities. As the CMO of GES, Wendy manages strategy, branding, communications, product marketing, digital, exhibitor services and GES' National Servicenter.