The COVID-19 outbreak has made a swift but massive impact on many industries over the last few months; virtually no one has been left unaffected in some way. Among the hardest hit, however, is those in the event industry. In the face of a global crisis where gathering in person is the most important thing for us to avoid, nearly all businesses are left looking around in panic while they wonder: What do we do now?
There are several challenges facing event companies left by the pandemic’s wake that are critical to identify, but it’s also important to talk about the ways to cope with and combat them in order to keep moving forward.
Canceled and Postponed Events
This has been the most prevalent response to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. With so much uncertainty surrounding the timeline of the virus’s effects at the beginning of the pandemic, many events were simply canceled with no formal plans to postpone. There are many complicated logistics of planning an event – accommodations, venue reservations, booked talent, staffing – that it’s not always feasible to reschedule immediately, or at all. From summer concert tours to professional conferences, hordes of cancellation notices have flooded social media timelines and email inboxes over the last few months.
While cancellations are no doubt disheartening for a number of reasons, it’s an opportunity to take the time to convey to your audience that you’re doing this in the best interest of the hosts’ and event-goers’ health.
Postponements have also been a common strategy for many event organizers – the biggest example being the 2020 Olympics being pushed to July 2021. Again, this solution isn’t without its own unique challenges – certain aspects of the event may not be available to reschedule for the later date, some people may not be able to attend.
No matter what strategy you choose as an event organizer or marketer, forming clear channels of communication with your audience to convey your plans is critical here.
- Via email. A mass email update for attendees to communicate cancellation or postponement is common, and it’s certainly more reliable than solely posting about it on your event’s social media or website where people have to seek it out, and may miss the memo. Personalizing these emails is a good idea; people want to feel like they are being spoken to directly.
- On social media. There are many people who will go to check your social pages, like Facebook or Instagram, for quick updates before traveling to your website or digging through their inbox to see if you sent them an email. Social media use has certainly seen an uptick lately, so meeting your audience with information in the place they are already hanging out is convenient.
- On your website. Your website is the home base to many of your marketing tools, often the landing page out of many email campaigns and social media updates. Utilize a static or pop-up banner to convey updates to your site visitors, or churn out a clear, but concise blog post regarding your event’s change in plans. Now is also a good time to take a constructive look at your website – is the user interface as clean and friendly as it could be to make sure people are able to easily access critical information?
The key here is having an integrated communication strategy across all your marketing channels with consistent information, so that there is less of a chance for critical updates to be missed.
Re-strategizing to Virtual Events
Virtual events have been on the rise in popularity for some time now, thanks to advancements in social media and other communication software. Considering the recent obliteration of live in-person events, though, virtual events have skyrocketed in frequency.
Some event companies have had a handle on balancing a hybrid strategy of planning in-person and virtual events for a while now, so it may feel like you’re struggling to catch up or not sure where to start. To help you plan, here are three major targets to hit when coordinating your new virtual events.
- Quality virtual event software. The key here is that you want to choose a platform that offers a high-end user experience for attendees. These tools can not only support the video broadcast of your event but augment it with content hubs that supply your audience with ancillary information and activities, such as breakout sessions or specific talk tracks. As with in-person events, the experience is what makes the impact on your audience. Utilizing software to host or broadcast your event that’s clunky, slow, or not user-friendly may cause frustration for your audience and lower the overall impression of the event — making them less eager to tune in to the next one you host.
- Real-time networking. What’s one of the best parts of attending an event? Networking with the other people who are experiencing it alongside you. If the event software you’ve chosen doesn’t have a built-in chat or forum feature, you can utilize an external app, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, so attendees can communicate presently with one another. In chat applications like these, you could create specific “channels” tailored to discussions around specific talk tracks or breakout sessions. Social media can be helpful in some instances here; come up with a specific hashtag on Twitter or Instagram, or create a private Facebook group for event attendees to connect during and after.
- Immortalize the moment. Don’t simply post just a replay of your event, though it’s helpful for those that may not have been able to catch the event live. You can edit the recording to focus on specific talks or moments for attendees to relive later, or catch certain presentations they might have missed. Repurpose the content from your event in other marketing efforts, too – rehash a presentation topic as a blog post, share clips for social media posts, or refresh interest in the event content later on by highlighting it through email campaigns.
A global pandemic halting life as we know it is certainly an unprecedented contender in the list of problems an event organizer could face in their day to day work. Despite the vicious challenge, it’s inspiring to see companies put their best foot forward and not only adapt to their current circumstance, but set themselves up to come out stronger on the other side.
Eileen Shaw is a Marketing Coordinator at MVP Visuals who is passionate about helping businesses connect with their audiences through the power of creative branding, from major league sports teams to your favorite mom & pop shop on the corner.