Over the past few weeks, we have seen the ramifications that the COVID-19 outbreak is having on various professions, including event marketers. Venues that were set to host in-person events are shutting their doors and airlines are cutting back on flights for the safety of the public. To meet annual goals, event marketers are looking at alternative options including moving their in-person events to be virtual. But it can be daunting to know where to start. There are event coordination and logistics questions to address, from knowing how and when to cancel or postpone to what to communicate to customers. Then there is the challenge of understanding how to engage attendees and create a similar experience online vs. in-person.
To help you navigate this uncharted territory, we asked two of our resident marketing experts about how they’re changing their event strategies and producing successful online events in response to COVID-19. In the first of this two-part blog series, we interviewed Katie Wengenroth, Manager of Corporate Events at LogMeIn about handling in-person events during this time.
Q: As you recognized the impact that COVID-19 was beginning and is continuing to have on in-person events, what were some of the first steps you took to handle the situation from a logistics and event coordination standpoint?
KATIE: First, we assessed the number of events we had globally in March, April, May and June. We reviewed the presence at each event, the event contracts (cancellation and rebook clauses) and reached out to event organizers to understand where they stood on canceling or postponing due to COVID-19. With our leadership team, we came up with a plan that would protect our employees while also working toward hitting our goals and making use of all the work that had already been done. In most cases, event organizers were on the same page as us and are working on postponing large tradeshows to the fall. In other cases, organizers are moving toward virtual general sessions and exhibit halls to help folks interact from home.
LMI: When should you postpone or cancel an event?
KATIE: Take a united stance as a company and put the health and safety of your team and your attendees first. Our leadership team has been extremely transparent and consistent in their messaging, which has made it easier to make decisions on cancelling or moving events. I would also advise planners to utilize the relationships you have built with hotels, DMCs, and exhibit houses to work together to find a solution that will benefit both parties. Postponing an event is suggested, if possible, but if you must cancel, consider reusing any resources possible from the in–person event and apply them to the virtual event or a future event. For example, if you have swag, send it to your attendees with a personalized note. If you have built a brand–new tradeshow booth that you won’t be able to use, look at ways to break down or build up the exhibit and reuse it for other events you have coming up. I would work with your partners to get creative on how to repurpose funds and work that has been done.
If your event does get cancelled, use the originally scheduled time to meet with customers or prospects. Most likely, their calendars have not booked up since the event was postponed or cancelled so keep the scheduled time to meet virtually instead. You can host sessions, share content, create message boards for interacting and come up with some virtual gifting options to show your appreciation to those who are taking the time to still meet with you even though it’s not in person.
LMI: How have you handled attendee communications through this disruption? Any tips you can offer fellow event marketers?
KATIE: Be completely open and honest with attendees. If you’re planning to postpone the event, keep them updated as plans for the new date and location are set. If you’re planning to cancel the event, be supportive and help them figure out the best way to cancel their travel and lodging. This is an uncertain time for us all, and people are generally sympathetic and understanding, especially if you go above and beyond to ensure their questions and concerns are addressed in a timely manner.
Stay tuned for an interview with Erica Maki, our resident webinar expert, on how to engage virtual attendees and create a similar experience online that you would have had at an in-person event.
For more guidance on how to manage this unprecedented time, check out our remote resources for marketers.