Written by Annie Perezchica
As news of coronavirus continues to sweep the globe and reaches a fever pitch in the U.S., live events — from SXSW to the Olympic Games — are being canceled or postponed. At The Brand Guild, I’ve spent the past three weeks helping clients postpone countless events and have currently started thinking about what events look like weeks from now and months from now.
But for producers of events of any size, these quickly evolving circumstances mean uncertainty around whether to cancel an event or forge ahead. Your decision can mean the difference between steering clear of financial losses from a canceled event or even costlier backlash from a tone-deaf response to the current climate.
Here are my five tips for deciding what to do with your event right now:
1. Make the Call
Your first move is deciding whether to cancel at all. Our events team has suggested our clients move events that were scheduled between now and May 31. Even if the virus clears up in the next month, public wariness will likely affect your attendance, and playing it too close can result in backlash from poor optics and a perceived disregard for your audience’s collective health. Additionally, we’re advising clients with spring events beyond the May 31 deadline to make the call in the next two weeks to either reschedule or hold firm.
2. Manage the Logistics
Start talking to your vendors immediately. Even if you’re not ready to pull the plug on an event just yet, get in touch with your venue and key vendors to place soft holds on alternate dates. Don’t expect to get your money back, but have a conversation with your partners about using paid costs like your original deposit toward a future date. This crisis is uncharted territory, and everyone is trying to navigate the fallout from Covid-19 together. Remember that everything is negotiable, and try to have real discussions with your partners. You might be surprised at what compromises your events community is willing to make.
3. Message Guests
Your audience is the most important part of your events puzzle. Even if you’re not sure what the future holds for your event yet, err on the side of caution and start messaging to your guests now. It’s better to share what you do know and promise to update your community as soon as you know more, whether it’s refunds or an alternate date. Now is also the time to consider hiring a PR firm to help with messaging, depending on the size of your gig. Always be sure to follow city, state and federal guidelines for your communications, but don’t be afraid to give them some character and maintain your brand’s tone. Remember, you’re speaking to real people!
4. Get Creative
Just because your event is on hold doesn’t mean you have to lose touch with your audience. Our team has quickly pivoted during this crisis and now spends time brainstorming ways in which to build community and create opportunities for engagement in this unique environment. Flexibility and agility is still key as we move to web based formats with new health mandates to consider. Start by making a list of alternative ways to keep your network engaged: perhaps a moderated book club over Google Hangouts, specially curated series of classes delivered virtually in partnership with a fitness concept, or a themed Spotify playlist to tide your audience over until your next IRL event. Finding ways to virtually tap into what your audience is interested in can serve a dual purpose: showing your network that you care about their health and safety, as well as keeping your sponsors satisfied by serving up content and an audience where there might not have been any (don’t forget to shout out your sponsors in all of your improvised communications, too.) Everything these days is being flipped on its head and nothing is off the table.
5. Take Deep Breaths and Keep Your Head Up
While the uncertainty can be overwhelming, it’s more important now than ever before to stay focused and keep your eyes on the horizon. Audiences are already starting to daydream about their first events. As an industry, we can be ready to deliver these experiences by conceptualizing ideas and planning future events right now, but to do so we have to be forward-thinking and focused. Though event formats might be modified and more intimate after coronavirus, people will be more excited than ever to socialize IRL at your events!
It can seem like a lot all at once but navigating this experience will make us more creative and nimble! As an events expert, be confident in knowing that your expertise in troubleshooting, outside the box thinking, and understanding audience needs will get you through these times. Soon enough we’ll all be back to our regularly scheduled programming with audiences eager to tune in.
About Annie Perezchica
Annie leads The Brand Guild events department where she successfully oversees more than 100 events per year ranging from brand launch parties targeting the country’s top influencers to 20,000-person ticketed festivals. Whether she’s working with iconic brands like Brooks Brothers and Kiehl’s, rapidly-scaling startups like Sweetgreen or SoulCycle or powerhouse corporate clients like Amazon and Bloomberg, Annie brings unique concepts and dynamic experiences to every event she creates. With more than 15 years of high-level event planning experience, Annie began her career at Design Cuisine, where she worked on the most high-profile events in DC including the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg White House Correspondents’ After Party, Washington Times 35th Anniversary with President George H.W. Bush and numerous Presidential inaugural events including the Presidential Inaugural Luncheon for President Barack Obama.