Your Event is Canceled Due to COVID-19—Now What?

By: Rachel Bonello

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has caused historic cancellations and postponements across the world, including iconic events like March Madness, Coachella, The Masters, and even the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. In our local market, major events like the Detroit Auto Show and Detroit Grand Prix also announced cancellations. These changes to events impact attendees worldwide as repercussions are felt in the travel, tourism and economy at large. Announcing event cancellations is now commonplace in today’s communications programs, and businesses need to look ahead and evaluate event options to ensure an appropriate plan is in place in times of unknown.

In times of crisis, time and speed are of the essence. Add in the complexities of key guidelines presented by government and health officials, and event cancellations announcements take on a new life.

What follows are steps to consider if you have an event cancellation or postponement on your hands that needs to be shared broadly and quickly. This comes from our agency’s experiences managing communications during the COVID-19 crisis for companies, attractions and specific events.

Marketing Must Come to a Halt

Stop all event promotions and marketing. That includes ticket sales, social media ads, media promotions, digital e-blasts and print mailers.

Draft an internal communications plan with your leadership team so all stakeholders are aware of the response strategy. This will keep employees from leaking any misinformation, which could quickly get out of your control. An internal plan should cover social media considerations, digital asset updates, and an external communication strategy for timely event updates or changes, including any applicable refunds or credits if your event is pre-paid.

Communications in Effect

Notify employees once a cancellation plan is in place. You may also consider arming team members with talking points around how to respond to questions related to the event should their clients or customers ask. That way everyone in the company is responding the same way with consistent and clear messaging.

Update digital assets to reflect the event change before sharing the news more broadly with attendees. Consider updating the event website and social media pages with cancellation and refund/credit messaging or to stay tuned for a postponed date.

Execute the Strategy

If applicable, notify critical attendees of the event first. This could include celebrities, sponsors, speakers, etc. The individuals who are the main focus of the event should be notified first as a courtesy. That way they can make any cancellation plans necessary and adjust their schedules quickly.

Email all event attendees with a careful note explaining why the event was canceled or moved. Link to applicable sources like the CDC website or government websites for up-to-date information and guidelines regarding the latest COVID-19 health guidelines. This email should come directly from a source of authority over the company hosting the event, such as a President or CEO.

If applicable, call attendees to confirm they are aware of the event cancellation. Ensure them you will follow up with a new date if the plan is to postpone.

Creative Options Available

Our clients have been guided through many different communications tactics they can leverage in the COVID-19 environment. Some examples include transitioning events into webinars or webcasts. We’ve also developed virtual social content to engage and delight audiences during lockdown. This has allowed clients to stay in front of their audiences proactively, so that when business return to full strength, they remain top of mind.

Follow these guidelines to ensure your event cancellation or adjustment goes smoothly. Plans need to be put into place first, then assets updated, followed by employees notified, and finally attendees informed. Do this, and your attendees will be prepared in a timely manner and remain on the lookout for your next big event. Good luck!

Are you in need of crisis messaging or internal communications support? Identity is counseling clients in real-time as we navigate the impact of COVID-19 and other unexpected moments. To schedule a discussion, contact us today.

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Updated Jan. 20, 2022