The unthinkable has happened. You’re forced to cancel your client’s event!
Sometimes Mother Nature steps in and thankfully plays the role of the heavy, but sometimes as an event planner, you’re forced to make the difficult call instead. When that happens, you want to be consistent in your messaging, communicate quickly, and answer all questions.
How you handle it will directly affect everyone’s reputation and future events, so do so carefully. The last thing anyone wants is a single cancellation turning into a confidence detractor for your employees and the next event.
So what do you do and how do you mitigate the loss and protect against negative ramifications for future events? While the answer to this question relies largely on how much time you have prior to the cancellation, there are some generalities that fit all scenarios.
Crisis PR expert Matthew Hiltzick lays out some basic tenets to follow.
Why You Over-Communicate
When canceling an event, you cannot communicate enough. How you handle it now is critical to your ability to manage events in the future. There are certain cancellations that will not affect you long term (including weather emergencies, safety concerns, or natural disasters) - these things can’t be helped and while people may complain out of disappointment, they will understand. Add every piece of cancellation information to the website, an email blast, mass phone messaging/texting, place it on social media, and add it to every one of your employee's email signatures depending on their role in the event. Remember, it is better to over-communicate than have someone reach out shortly before the event because they are just now hearing this.
Tell Attendees First
Do not tell anyone (other than the venue) before you tell those signed up to attend. If you alert anyone extraneous early, you risk someone turning to social media. In today’s world of social media news and lightning fast fingers on keyboards, it’s bound to get back to attendees from a source that’s not you. And that will not end well for your client.
Keep the Same Cancellation Messaging
Once the decision has been made, create the messaging as quickly as possible. You want to create a cancellation message so that everyone in your organization is using the exact same information and wording. Consistent messaging is very important at this time. Once you have it drafted and the client has signed off, immediately notify your vendors and attendees.
Take Charge on Social Media
After all attendees have been notified, make the announcement on social media. Chances are someone has beaten you to it, but it’s important to get your messaging out there as well. Pay extra close attention to your event hashtag. You still need to be listening for references to the event or the event’s hashtag. Reply to each mention. Cull through your pre-scheduled social media and remove all references. Scratch all blog posts that you may have written and pre-scheduled.
Depending upon the type of event -if required- let guests know when they can expect any refunds and be specific to the amount (as in full or partial). If only one element or one day of a multi-day event is canceled, then explain how that will work. If you host multiple events of this type, you could offer a credit if they would prefer or transfer their reservation/ticket to another date.
Consider an Incentive
If this is an annual event or one held several times a year, your last-minute cancellation could dampen ticket sales or employee attendance for the next one. Consider offering a small discount or entry incentive for this group that had signed up before. It’s a small gesture, but one that will likely be appreciated.
Photo Credit: Breno Machado via www.unsplash.com, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/