03.18.20 | Corporate Events

Crisis Communications: 5 Tips for Conference Planners

Image of hand stopping dominoes from falling.

“It’s not a crisis that does the damage… it’s the response (or lack thereof) to the crisis.”

Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing, NYU Stern School of Business

As meetings and events professionals work to responsibly respond to the coronavirus outbreak, how and when you communicate with your stakeholders can have a lasting impact. Whether you are considering canceling, postponing, or moving forward with your event, there are tried and true crisis communications strategies that are as relevant today as in crises of the past. Here are five crisis communications best practices that can help your organization navigate the current challenges.

  1. Create Internal Infrastructure
    It takes a large team of experienced staff to create an in-person experience that resonates. From sponsorship sales to exhibitor management to registration, there are a variety of team members in regular communication with those planning to attend your event. This staff needs to be armed with the most accurate information in times of crisis. Not only does this ensure your registrants have the most accurate information, but it also gives your staff the tools they need to feel empowered and valued in their roles of representing your organization.

    At Meeting Expectations, one of our core values is to “earn trust,” both among our teams and with our clients. To that end, we acted early and established shared internal channels to A) capture all incoming inquiries from event registrants; B) share updates about event status and contingency planning; and C) create and distribute customized and regularly updated messages for all audiences.

    Key Takeaway: By establishing a protocol early, we gave our staff the tools they needed to manage their areas of responsibility – and to know when to escalate issues to management.

  2. Be Proactive
    There is a common thread across successful case studies in crisis management, from the 1980s’ Tylenol tampering to 2014’s Virgin Galactic crash: immediacy. The longer an organization waits to respond, the more damage can be caused. Why? Because if your organization stays quiet for too long, your audience may start to come to their own conclusions — and those conclusions are typically not positive.

    Don’t feel like you have to have every detail nailed down; a concise message that confirms that your team is proactively monitoring the situation and will be in touch with any necessary changes can allay attendee concerns. Even a quick message to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers right now – and a promise to follow up regularly until you do – is better than silence.

    Key Takeaway: Even if your event is still months away, it is not too early to communicate your plans.

  3. Be Transparent
    The close associate to proactivity is transparency. Be upfront and honest with your attendees about the status of your event – within the constructs of any legal considerations. Uncertainty, secrecy and conflicting messages will only breed more concerns and potential negative backlash from your attendees.

    The main areas to cover include your current event status; assurance of the public health guidance you are following; any health and safety measures taken; and any actions registrants may need to take now, even if that advice is to be patient while contingencies are explored or developed.

    Key Takeaway: Honesty and transparency are rewarded with brand loyalty once a crisis has passed.

  4. Establish – and Meet – Audience Expectations
    Once you’ve set your protocols, make sure your audience knows where to find the most current information: will you be updating your website, sending emails, posting to your social pages – or all of the above? Make the information easy to find, then follow through on keeping it updated on a regular basis. Not only will this alleviate some of their concerns, it can also diminish some of the burden on your teams to be able to direct people to the latest information. Most stakeholders will check the conference website first, so be sure that information is kept up to date when and if things change.

    Be careful not to duplicate information. There is no need to paste the same text in multiple places on a single website – it could quickly get out-of-sync and leave readers wondering which version is authoritative. Instead, have one page or section that conveys all of the relevant information and direct all traffic there.

    For our clients, we identified the key communications channels and include an “Updated On” date on website pages and within FAQs, along with navigation enhancements and call-out banners for those events most immediately impacted.

    Key Takeaway: Communicate. Update. Repeat.

  5. Monitor and Respond
    In all likelihood, you’ll get questions and comments via social media. Active listening is always a critical component of social media management; even more so in a crisis. All of the tips above apply equally to social – respond quickly, be proactive and consistent. If your team is not already doing so, expand your active listening to not only include your handles and channels, but also keywords and mentions of your conference or organization that may be happening outside of your specific feeds. That way you’ll be able to identify any misinformation or negative mentions quickly and respond to correct or assuage them.

    When members or attendees do reach out publicly on social media, your responses should also be public. This helps not just the person who asked the question, but others who may see it, and lets them know your organization is actively engaged in the situation.

    Key Takeaway: Meet your audiences where they are. Respond quickly and openly.

By demonstrating that your organization understands their concerns and is doing everything it can to responsibly address them will go a long way in ensuring those relationships endure – and possibly even strengthen – once this current crisis ends.
Still have questions? Contact us and we can help.

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