Into every life a little rain must fall. But for event and festival organizers who spend the majority of their lives promoting outdoor events, rain is the ultimate four-letter word.
But knowing that inclement weather will be a factor and beyond the rain insurance and preparations for an impending deluge, what steps should you take during and after the fact to take a negative and turn it into a positive.
After having recently faced such a situation at an outdoor ticketed-festival, there were a few lessons learned that we thought would be worth sharing for fellow event marketers. While many of these helpful hints have to do with a weather situation, you can certainly use for any project that is interrupted by force majeure.
• Act deliberately. When making a decision to postpone, delay or eventually cancel, make the decision and stick with it. There’s no room for grey even though you may feel compelled to try and navigate and negotiate. Make a decision you can live with and then stick by it.
• Gather the team – Before going public with your announcement, make sure as many members of the team, including all key personnel are gathered to hear the same message. In the circle should be your managers for operations, guest relations, volunteers, marketing and public safety, including representatives of first responders onsite. While these first responders may not be a formal part of your team, your guests will see them and expect them to provide details. The first responders can be your greatest asset when trying to spread the word and to instill a sense of comfort for attendees, especially if there’s severe weather or some other situation that creates confusion or a lack of confidence.
• Position spokespeople prominently – Inevitably there will be questions from your guests such as: is the event delayed or canceled? Are their refunds? Is there additional news? This is why your best people get paid the big bucks. But considering most of us work with underpaid staff and volunteers, we need to make sure each person is trained and up to the task. Be sure these individuals who will function as spokespeople know precisely what to say and what not to say. The messaging is ultimately up to senior leadership and marketing to be succinct and direct about the talking points.
Reinforce that public-facing folks need to stay on script and not ad lib, no matter how belligerent a guest may become. As mentioned earlier, the first responders can help you a great deal in navigating any situation, rely on them to assist you to do the job they are trained to do.
• Communicate Immediately – Given the situation of a ticketed event being canceled or another situation where refunds are requested if not demanded, stick with your official policy. Veering from your adopted policies will only create additional situations with unintended consequences which you might wind up having to address for weeks and months into the future.
Remember whatever you might say to get out of one situation, might create 10x more situations to deal with in the future.
A simple social media post and link to an official position on your website might be good enough. If you have email addresses for the affected guests, an email with the same content is worth the effort. Distributing the email within several hours is best and may help in providing the context of how the decision was reached, what the impact is on the organization and what will be done in the future should the same situation arise.
• After Glow – Once the dust settles, it is always in everyone’s best interest to review the situation and determine what will address the issues of your guests. If this has not already been deliberated at the board level or at least in staff meetings, giving thought to how to make the lemonade needs to be done, sooner rather than later.
As a non-profit organization there could be ways to extend discounts to future events, redirect the funds to donations so that at least the guest can turn the money into a tax deductible contribution.
What if you provided a 25% discount on the next ticket purchase?
What if you entered those affected as entry-level members into your donor or benefactor club, complete with premiums to be used as gifts?
In the end the majority of folks will understand your predicament and give you the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, if you lock down, say nothing and share little, you risk a great deal of the trust you have tried to build.
What we want to do here is turn folks from disgruntled, unhappy customers into stark raving fans. What creative solutions can you come up with to take the lemons you weren’t planning on receiving and turning them into the sweetest, most enjoyable beverage you’ve ever tasted?