The novel coronavirus outbreak has had a big impact on business in a short space of time. In an effort to curb transmission, many companies have canceled events, cut back on business travel and urged employees to work from home if possible.
All of which makes great sense from a public health perspective.
And it’s a world away from business as usual.
Across the globe, hundreds of events have been canceled, postponed or are going virtual. Among them are Facebook’s F8 software development conference, Google I/O, Adobe Summit, EmTech Asia, SxSW and the list goes on.
This helpful article from ZDNet includes a running list of tech events canceled to date. In all probability, that list will grow much longer.
We’ve entered a new age of uncertainty which is frustrating and worrying especially for everyone who needs to advise their executive team and communicate a company’s position on the situation.
So, with COVID-19 cases continuing on an upward trajectory, what steps should you take to limit damage to your business?
Above all, you need to show empathy – for your clients, employees and other stakeholders. Unsurprisingly, plenty of people are anxious about traveling and meeting in person right now.
Don’t dismiss their concerns, bend over backwards to accommodate them. Switch from face-to-face to remote alternatives as much as feasible, for instance by connecting via Zoom and with live steaming technology.
Any downsides will likely be outweighed by the relief your people will feel at not being required to travel at this unnerving time. We’re seeing employees respond very positively to such changes.
Arm yourself with the facts about the disease and stay up to date with the latest developments. Credible sources of information include the WHO website and confirmed cases trackers from reputable scientific institutions, like this one from John Hopkins University.
You should also step up your employee and customer communications. Your team craves clarity and as quickly as you can generate company wide guidance about attending events and having people visit the office. As this is a changing situation, let your team know that your guidance will also change but make it clear how and when you’ll communicate changes. Provide an official statement that employees can share with event organizers and visitors and if your team is still attending events, prepare them with safety measures to take.
Providing the latest information will reduce speculation over your approach and demonstrates you are taking the issue seriously. In difficult circumstances, people crave clarity.
Managing Major Events
If you have events planned for the next quarter, you may be scrambling to postpone them, reinvent them as online entities or figure out what to do next. Major tech companies are postponing event participation through April or May and plan to reevaluate in a few weeks to see if they need to pull out or extend that decision. If you are pressed to make decisions in the next few weeks we recommend:
- For now, delay event exhibiting, speaking and/or hosting large events through end of April. For owned events, switch to an online format when you can. If your team is comfortable, meet in small groups, organize roundtables, small dinners and get togethers. Advise anyone doing in person meetings on the health precautions to take ie. Don’t attend if ill.
- For events that have moved from physical to virtual, work with organizers to create the best experience possible for viewers. If you’ve already put in the sponsorship or activation dollars, come to an agreement with organizers on how you might be able to re-invest those dollars with them at a later time. Now is the time to get creative with how you partner.
- Transition your in person speaking program to podcasts, video interviews and develop your own thought leadership content from the presentations you were going to give.
- Connect with your industry association leaders and understand how you can support each other and explore how they will continue to help the industry do business as events get cancelled.
For those of you with major events already in production for the fall, here’s what we recommend:
- Build a full online experience for those events now and plan for it to be core programming. Even if the coronavirus crisis is over by the fall, you’ll still benefit from having an online option. Event experience companies are experts at taking events digital.
- If your major conferences are connected to sales, plan for new marketing campaigns that can take the place of the in–person meetings.
- Don’t cancel your media meetings – take them to video. Even if the events aren’t in person, the news cycle continues. Media will already have planned news coverage for your event so continue with news and remote meetings to maximize coverage and message cut through.
- Plan for the rise of micro and community events with small numbers of attendees. These will continue even with large events cancelling.
- Leading tech companies will accelerate experimentation with new virtual experiences that combine Zoom Rooms and VR as a different way to engage audiences. Keep an eye out for the opportunities presented by such emerging tech solutions.
More information on the fast moving COVID-19 situation comes to light every day. If you need help thinking through which next steps are right for you, email us.