In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, many event organisers are choosing to postpone their events. We gathered the MPG and AGNC teams to discuss the immediate steps marketing teams should take in the wake of a delayed event.

You’ve made the decision. A new date is set, the venue is secured. Assuming you’ve already done the following, you may feel you have all bases covered:

  1. Key internal and external stakeholders informed
  2. Event suppliers updated
  3. Event budgets adjusted and confirmed
  4. Existing software contracts extended (e.g. event apps)
  5. Reservations moved (speaker and sponsor dinners, VIP parties)

But don’t underestimate the responsibilities your marketing function has to ensure the success of your revised event plans. The strategic and tactical steps needed extend far beyond updating the dates on the website and sending out more emails.

The below checklist covers the essentials your marketing team need to action to secure the success of not only your next event, but your brand as a whole. Forward it to your marketing manager to ensure they’re considering everything, at what must be a stressful time.

 

Your marketing team’s postponement response checklist

1 – Review price points and targets

With an extended campaign timeline and the prospect of booked delegates dropping out, revisiting the core objectives of the marketing function should be priority number 1 on any marketing manager’s list.

  • Conduct an assessment on the impact of the postponement on revenue and attendee targets and set new objectives with a clear strategy of how your team will achieve them.
  • Investigate whether your pricing strategy is still fit for purpose. Be wary of running another early-bird to spark bookings – you could irritate delegates who just paid full price! Similarly, increasing the final rate to add an early-bird could be perceived as taking advantage of the situation.
  • Ensure you’ve secured the marketing investment needed to achieve new commercial targets.

2 – Conduct internal briefings to get everyone on the same page

With revised targets, an updated strategy and a very unfamiliar set of circumstances – ensuring everyone is kept up to date is essential.

  • To avoid confusion internally – and mixed messages being delivered externally – ensure your teams are fully briefed on the revised date (and the reasons for it), as well as the policies surrounding delegate ticket/sponsorship cancellations. They will need to know the answers to questions such as:
    • I can’t make the new date, can I use my ticket to attend next year instead?
    • Can I transfer my ticket to someone else?
    • We no longer wish to sponsor – can we get a refund?
    • I have already made financial commitments (such as a hotel booking) to attend – will I be reimbursed?

3 – Publish your statement

Once everything is sorted internally, it’s time to inform your community of your decision in a clear and confident manner.

  • Add a prominent statement to the homepage (and ideally also on a separate dedicated page) of your event website that clearly explains your decision and the reasons for it. Here’s a great example from a Summit in Singapore.
  • Make sure the statement is updated frequently to address any fresh challenges and include the date prominently to assure viewers they are reading an up to date announcement.

4 – Get the message out

Sharing the announcement on your website is not enough. To avoid frustration and confusion, all event stakeholders (including prospective attendees) must be informed.

  • As a priority – simultaneous to the statement being published – notify all delegates, sponsors, media partners, speakers and other event stakeholders via email and telephone of the new date.
  • Utilise email and social media to inform the wider market of the revised date. As on your website, make it clear why the decision has been made. Your event community wants to see that you are in control of the situation and acting in their best interests.

5 – Update your existing collateral

As soon as the announcement is out, focus on changing key information on your marketing collateral with new event dates and venue arrangements.

  • Review your existing collateral (brochures, agendas, interviews etc.) and update to reflect the revised date and venue (if applicable).
  • Consider how the change may affect the contents and structure of your collateral:
    • Was the venue a key selling point before, but now you’ve moved to a smaller site?
    • Does the collateral refer to the previous pricing strategy (early-birds) which may confuse people?

6 – Don’t forget your automated activity!

While dealing with ‘front-line’ activity, it’s all too easy to forget the systems you have running in the background. Take the time to re-group with your team on the automations in place and act swiftly to pause any activity that may conflict with your statement.

  • Check all your automated activity for outdated information or actions that may no longer be relevant. Here are some examples of what could trip you up:
    • Countdown ads in PPC campaigns that are due to start 1 week before the original event date
    • Autoresponder emails that are triggered by form completions on your event site
    • Pre-scheduled social media that still refers to the old event date
    • An event countdown widget on your website

7 – Re-focus your messaging

When getting back up to speed on your normal campaign activity, make sure you’re not just copy/pasting what came before.

  • In the short term – avoid copy and imagery that could invoke unease for prospective attendees. This could be:
    • Messaging around the size of the event (e.g. 500+ attendees) (also as your actual attendance numbers will be difficult to predict) and the ‘global’ nature of the event.
    • Images of large crowds in proximity, or of people shaking hands or interacting closely
  • Consider how the updated timelines and the Covid-19 impact may affect your event USPs and content.
    • Will you be adding any new digital elements to your event? e.g. livestreaming of certain sessions?
    • Will you be enhancing the app in any way or releasing it early so that delegates can get the most out of the networking opportunities your event presents?
    • Do you need to include a session dedicated to the impact of Covid-19? Substribe Summit has done this very well by adding a ‘breakfast session’ to the start of the day.
    • Is there a key piece of industry legislation that will now come into play before the event that will require you to adjust your program?
    • How else might the industry (and wider macro environment) change between now and the new date?
    • Can you try and secure new ‘big name’ speakers who maybe couldn’t attend the previous event? If you can have them join by video conference that may make it more likely they can speak at your event.

8 – Focus on lead gen

With hesitant prospective attendees, sponsors and exhibitors; collecting contact info to nurture and re-engage is more important than ever.

  • Make sure your ‘Register Your Interest/Subscribe for Updates’ forms are prominent on your website and in all comms.
  • Dial down the ‘Book Now’ messaging temporarily and focus on content-led comms and updates about how you’re enhancing the event (e.g. with digital add-ons) to build and maintain confidence in the event.

9 – Provide regular updates

With a rapidly evolving situation, your community will expect you to be vigilant and responsible.

  • Share what you (and the event venue) will do to ensure visitor safety. This could include increased frequency of cleaning and hand sanitizers.
  • Act on government and official advice and ensure your event attendees and stakeholders know you are heeding this guidance.

10 – Generate good content

To keep your audience engaged and further build confidence with all stakeholders that the event is still valuable and relevant, an increased focus on content production would be prudent.

  • Create and distribute high-value content (news updates, speaker interviews and collateral) that will keep both existing and prospective delegates invested until the new date
  • Consider creating content that directly addresses the effects of coronavirus on your industry. ‘Owning the conversation’ about the issue that is top of mind for everyone can be a powerful method of engaging your community and driving revenue, as well as ensuring your community is served with all the information they need.

Following these steps will help mitigate the short-term challenges an event postponement causes, for your marketing team and for your event’s health.

But the long-term symptoms of this outbreak will extend far beyond the pain caused by a single event’s postponement. The B2B events industry is about to undergo a period of intense self-reflection, and the outcomes of this could change the way we approach the medium for the next decade and beyond.

We’ll be diving deeper into the strategic implications of coronavirus on the world of B2B events in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. If you have any thoughts on how our industry should react, we would love to hear from you.

From all of us at MPG and AGNC, we wish you and your business all the best.

MPG recently hosted a webinar focused on marketing considerations & tactics for postponed events. See the webinar outputs here.

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