Coronavirus Cancellations: Alternatives for B2B Event Planning

March 17, 2020 Rayana Barnes

Every industry in the world has been hit with great impact by the current pandemic, down to every country, enterprise, and individual. Hundreds of major conferences are postponed or cancelled and many more are likely to follow.

Delaying and cancelling conferences hinders the creation of connections, endangering business partnerships and deals. All of which has created massive complications for event managers.

Not to mention: How to make up for the revenue loss from lost event leads. 

So much money is thrown into travel, lodging, specialized branding, and more when hosting or attending. Chosen by marketers as the most effective customer engagement channel, these expensive events are done with an expectation of a high ROI.

But with cancellations and delays due to the coronavirus outbreak, companies are already losing large amounts of money. The United Nations projects that the coronavirus, also known as covid-19, will cost $2 trillion in economic loss.

Not all has to be dismal in the lead gen world.

One look at the stock market will confirm that the business world is facing tough times. But generating leads at events isn’t impossible. Opportunities are out there and businesses still have their needs.

All it takes is adding a few extra steps to the event planning process, and some health and safety precautions. Read on to learn more about taking these steps:

1. Make an Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Corporate Events    

2. Support Communication and Transparency During a Pandemic    

3. COVID-19 is Here. Your Event is Happening Anyway. What Next?    

4. Examples of Company Offerings in Lieu of the Coronavirus    

5. Offer Digital Alternatives to Onsite Corporate Events    

6. Focus on Account-Based Marketing (ABM) to Remedy Loss    

7. Plan on Replacing Business After Counting Losses    

8. Assemble and Execute - We’re All in This Together    

Make an Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Corporate Events 

Preparation is key to anything, really. 

Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, preparations are important to the event planning process. But in our current situation, it’s even more critical. Take these extra steps for a safe, functional event.

1. Pre-Assess, organize, and make plans

With the guidance of a legal team and insurance agency, consider creating a pre-assessment to get a full scope of current risks. The assessment’s purpose is to measure vulnerabilities for all venues and attendees. 

Take into account where entrance and exit points are, what venue amenities are non-present (such as air conditioning), the amount of supplies needed for attendee size, and vicinity to local points of interest.

Knowing where facilities are lacking will help avoid future crises. For example - if a fire broke out at an event, fire alarms, clear exit signs, evacuation staff, masks to protect respiratory systems, and a designated evacuation area are necessary to avoid complete disaster. Strategic changes need to be made if there aren’t enough supplies or structure.

2. Find and analyze nearby danger zones

And since they are growing by the day, event managers should closely monitor pandemic red zones - geographic “hot spot” locations of where viruses have spread.

Besides a simple googling of current news, notifications can be set up for real-time updates. Google alerts are offered, or push notifications from specific news sites, but social media is an easy option since news entities have their own accounts.

With constant changes from the virus spread, local and national authorities are also making changes to public spaces by issuing crowd size guidelines

Keeping in the loop with how many people should be in a public area is crucial for planning - because no one is going to show up for an event when large crowds are subject to restriction.

3. Plan for emergency outcomes

The pre-assessment mentioned above helps with creating a crisis response plan. The coronavirus isn’t the only issue that is at hand, and each one can create multiple outcomes of disarray, such as evacuation. 

Things to consider for crisis planning include how information is shared with attendees, how duties are distributed to staff, ways crowds can exit, how supplies are distributed, and who to contact. All of which need documentation for staff, attendees, and sponsors.

Important details don’t need to be in between the lines.

Host and attendee liability is crucial to avoid issues, which requires strategic and technical legal solutions. In both contract and non-contract documentation, it should be clear who is responsible for certain situations. 

If an attendee becomes ill during an event, it should be clear what actions they have to take and what the venue is accountable for. Whether it be an attendee contacting a staff member or leaving immediately while the venue cleans up and notifies other attendees of the illness.

4. Managing important contacts

Keeping certain contacts on hand can be a time, and possibly life saver. These contacts should include:

  • Venue security
  • Nearby hotels and airports
  • Police and fire departments
  • Local hospitals
  • EMTs
  • Transportation companies

That way if someone needs to be contacted immediately, help is only a few buttons or taps away.

For keeping all important information in a consistent stream, consider creating a communication network between corporate, venue, travel, and hospitality associates. This should be in the form of a unified communication channel such as a text or email group.

5. Look over and organize contracts

This is also a good time to look over contracts from event-related businesses. 

For those attending - if there are clauses on lost attendance, especially due to, “threat of pandemic,” there might be an opportunity for restitution.

As a host, contracts should clearly outline where responsibilities lie, which assets are financially covered, and policies for unforeseen circumstances.

We all use technology for communication at work - but how can you use it while working at home? Read here to learn how!

Support Communication and Transparency During a Pandemic

If they haven’t already, attendees, sponsors, and everyone else under the sun will bombard event hosts with questions and demands. Everyone wants to know, and should know, about policies, procedures, and alternatives.

1. Manage communication channels for customers

Keep all channels of communication to ease the pain of confusion, which is ever-increasing with the current pandemic. Everyone involved with the event or conference should be kept in the loop of any updates or changes.

It should be clear which department handles what, including their key contacts. Following suit with other companies, a designated department or event page can be utilized for easy access.

For more specialized responsibilities, adding duties to certain employees (such as a social media coordinator) ensures inquiries will get to the right person. To keep up with responses, these key contacts need appropriate technologies, access to inboxes, and communication tools. This includes mobile devices, marketing email inboxes, and instant messaging.

2. Set aside teams for immediate responses

Organizing a specific team to handle inquiries from every time zone and branch speeds up the servicing process, regardless of where a customer or client is located. 

For companies in the 21st century, putting together such teams requires social media. Having social media customized for the event can help guide customer questions instead of mixing them in general company inquiries.

If your social media account looks like @abccompany, opt for @abccompanyevent.com

Having a customized email address also appropriately channels questions:

abccompanyevent@abccompany.com, if your company email is abccompany@abccompany.com

3. Clearly state risks, precautions taken, and services

For attendees still coming to a conference onsite and possibly shaking hands, risks and policies should be clearly stated and available via email, social media, company website, and signage. Easy access to any emergency plans is also essential to attendee safety.

And if attendees have any questions or concerns, appropriate services should be easy to find. This could look like a designated customer service booth or a team distributed throughout the venue.

COVID-19 is Here. Your Event is Happening Anyway. What Next?

Some attendees have already cancelled their attendance, and many companies have already temporarily barred non-essential travel. As soon as the coronavirus came onto the map, many immediately backed out. 

Those who haven’t pulled out are considering the health risk (or don’t care), so it’s a good time to encourage those who are on the fence.

1. The responsibility for personal health and wellbeing

For those hosting an event, the venue is obligated to clean frequently and offer easy access to hand sanitation.

Attendees need to be notified of measures being taken for ensured hygiene and cleanliness. Along with risks and policies, these notifications can be distributed via email, social media, or physical signage.

2. Respecting those who do not want to come onsite

Honoring the wishes of those who do not wish to attend in-person, but still want to participate should also be encouraged. Having continued interest in an event despite an outbreak shows that an attendee sees value in conferencing, regardless if it’s onsite. 

Having multiple options such as web conferences, guaranteed spots for postposed events, and virtual booths are all options to avoid in-person contact.

Examples of Company Offerings in Lieu of the Coronavirus 

To assist and maintain attendees, several events and conferences have offered flexibility in booking, travel, and hospitality. For example, TechMedia’s Digital Summit sent the following to attendees:

Courtesy of TechMedia

Conferences that are still taking place are keeping constant updates to the current state of the coronavirus and how it will affect the event. Events like The American Institute of Architects (AIA)’s A’20 conference are on standby.

Courtesy of The American Institute of Architects (AIA)

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) also held their onsite conference, HIMSS 2020 Global Health Conference & Exhibition, but with an option for digital conferencing.

Courtesy of Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS)

That aside, it is best practice to professionally accommodate those who have no interest in risking onsite event attendance. Creating turmoil over refusing arrangements hurts reputation and future business ventures. 

Everyone in the corporate world is already living in chaos, so a little professionalism can come a long way.

Are you making a lot of purchases and returns for your event? Check out our report to see which tools are best for processing payments.

Offer Digital Alternatives to Onsite Corporate Events

To avoid total cancellation, alternatives can be offered via the online world. Google Cloud Next, Adobe Summit, SAP Concur Fusion, Dell World, Microsoft WSLConf, and more have cancelled their onsite events and set up a video or virtual conference instead.

1. Here are some ideas for online events:

  • Webinars
  • eLearning courses
  • Webcasts
  • Virtual meetings
  • Live video conferences

2. Pros to working virtually or remotely

Many office workers are already working from home due to the virus, joining existing full-time remote employees. Working remotely allows better focus, increased productivity, and flexibility in working hours.

These benefits also apply to virtual event attendees. There are fewer distractions, increased focus, easier digital sharing, and more online time.

3. Words from a real event planner

Of course the major downside to digital events is missing out on the in-person experience. It will be difficult to “mimic the booth experience,” according to our own Events Coordinator, Danny Daly.

In-person conferences and tradeshows account for an average of 53% of a B2B marketer’s budget. It might sound like a save to switch to digital conferencing, but this major piece of budget pie is made for a reason. 

Meeting others face-to-face allows more direct communication. They can ask questions, see demos in person, share cards, and more. Without these moments, they have to somehow be made up across digital channels. 

In this time of uncertainty, Daly even asks, “are virtual events a thing of the future?”

Focus on Account-Based Marketing (ABM) to Remedy Loss

Though it is a huge investment risk to step away from mass lead generation, targeting accounts is a real alternative. And a focus on account-based marketing (ABM) could decrease the chance of infection.

1. Enhancing closer ties

The opportunity to broaden the number of new prospects is increasingly dwindling with the pandemic, so strengthening relationships with a smaller pool could make up for lost business.

This is a good time to reach out to existing clients to offer new products or services, or touch back to old prospects.   

2. Hosting smaller events

Restricting the size of potential clients could mean having smaller events with new and existing prospects on the attendee list. In-person contact will be a risk, but not as big of a hazard as being amongst thousands of people. Also, more local governments are placing restriction guidelines on event crowd sizes.

Plan on Replacing Business After Counting Losses

Not all hope is lost with your ROI. Lost leads and revenue can be made up in many other ways including future events, marketing campaigns, and advertisements.

1. Plan after the storm is over

Event Coordinator Daly adds, “Q3 & Q4 will be busier than normal,” with people making up for time lost in the spring months.  

For businesses, Q3 and Q4 are times for both sales and marketing teams to move forward with leads, close deals, and strategize new plans. At the same time, backlog is a priority along with planning Q1 strategies.

It is going to be the time for marketers to kick it into fifth gear. Get out those ads, pump out the content, tweet like never before. 

2. Go the digital marketing route

Like they were designed to, digital advertisements and online content drive prospects to the appropriate routes for conversion. Since in-person leads are currently on the low side, online prospecting is a marketer’s best option. 

If potential leads cannot experience a brand in person, brand awareness will have to be made through online channels. Instead of business cards, booths, and swag, marketers turn to emails, virtual events, and webinars. 

3. Arrange future events

Another thing to consider is competition between conferences events scheduled in the fall and winter months. Those that were already scheduled during that time will come face to face with postponed events moved to the same months. 

It’s a recipe for more missed leads - so plan which conferences and events will be worth it. A conference that can easily make up the cost of travel, lodging, and outside events (i.e. happy hours) in valuable leads are priority.

Assemble and Execute -We’re All in This Together

The method for a business to run smoothly at this time requires flexibility, velocity, adaptability, and a well-implemented strategy. This is especially true for conferences, which involve personal contact, online presence, logistics, and technology. 

Though sales and marketing departments deal with conferences more than other corporate employees, every other department is involved in some way. Whether that be an internal researcher analyzing attendance lists, a financial analyst going over an event budget, or a web designer deploying an event site.

Values beyond business

But most of all, empathy is going to help everyone get through this, especially those directly affected by the virus. 

Consider offering assistance to those in need, like how Google recently offered free communications services for users:

Courtesy of Google

Whether your events are cancelled, delayed, or on the course, there are tools ready to help you out!

 

About the Author

Rayana Barnes

Rayana is a Community Content Specialist where she is responsible for creating effective and on-brand content. Originally from Las Vegas, NV she now enjoys the landscape of the Pacific Northwest.

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