COVID-19 - Event Cancellation and Postponement Check List

You won't find the "events and event marketing" industries on the list of recession-proof businesses. That's for sure! Having worked in events and event marketing for over 15 years - I've seen the impact that a natural disaster or a terrorist attack can have on the industry. While no one can report knowing what will happen with COVID-19 and how it will impact their respective industries - as far as events and event marketing goes - we carry on. We are busy rescheduling events, staying informed about safety mandates, maintaining a positive outlook for clients, staying task-focused and being aware of the legal and contractual obligations of our clients (to convention centers, hotels, event venues, and event vendors). We are silently working on building new event plans and event marketing strategies so that when it's time...we are ready to activate our post-COVID events.

As the owner of an event planning company, I have implemented a comprehensive COVID-19 Event Action Plan for all of our clients. I wanted to make this helpful information available to anyone planning an event (of any size for any reason) in 2020.

On March 15 the Center for Disease Control recommended that for at least 8 weeks (5/15/20) that event organizers should cancel or postpone any events consisting of groups of 50 more. Shortly after, states and local leadership layered to the mandate (now including groups of 10 or less) and eventually, nearly all events are under mandatory cancellation. It remains unclear the myriad of ways in which COVID-19 will reshape our world, but for the post-COVID events industry, our new world will no doubt include significantly enhanced public safety measures. View CDC Resources for Large Community Events & Mass Gatherings.

Without question, it's safety first but then the next question is likely a financial or legal one. In particular, the legalities surrounding the cancellation or reorganization of contracts with convention centers, hotels, event venues, and event vendors. The legal industry has not yet had enough time to respond with best practices and standard COVID-19 language. The closest legal guideline we had in a Pre COVID world, was the 
"natural disaster clause" contained in most conventions, meetings, and events contracts. Which reads something like:

"In the event that any obligation of either party is prevented or delayed by circumstances of natural disaster, such party will be excused from any failure to perform any such obligation under this Agreement to the extent that such failure is caused by any such circumstances." 

It will be interesting and important to follow the legal industry's response to COVID-19 and how it will impact contractual legality and best practices for the events industry - which was valued globally at $1,100 billion in 2018.

COVID-19 Event Action Plan

1. Notify Your Event Venue in Writing - As convention centers, hotels and event venues are scrambling to build their own COVID-19 event plan safety protocol, I've been successful with 100% of the Central Florida hotels and venues that I'm currently working with to allow my clients to cancel or postpone without a penalty. You should: prepare a letter notifying them that due to CDC Guidance on large events and mass gatherings, effective as of the date of this letter, your event has been canceled. (Date it -Sign it -PDF it). Email this to everyone you've worked with at the venue and print a copy and place it in certified mail (save proof of all).

2. Notify Your Event Vendors in Writing - Your event vendor list is comprised of anyone providing a product or service for your event such as catering, decor, entertainment, audiovisual, photography, videography, parking and valet, security, etc. You should: prepare a letter notifying them that due to CDC Guidance on large events and mass gatherings, effective as of the date of this letter, your event has been canceled. (Date it -Sign it -PDF it). Email this to everyone you've worked with at the venue and print a copy and place it in certified mail (save proof of all). 

3. Communicate With Your Attendees - It's fair to say that it would likely be assumed by the general public that any event set for the Spring of 2020 is canceled. But as we enter Summer, Fall and Winter things become less clear. In any case, you will want to communicate with your attendees. 
  • Your event ticket platform will have a list of registered guests. I use Eventbrite and they offer a wonderful resource page. 
  • Send personal emails or use your email marketing platform to confirm cancellation (and ideally a new date) with all of your invited guests, whether they have confirmed or not. 
  • I use Mail Chimp - they are offering free Standard Mailchimp accounts through at least June 30, 2020, to local governments, schools, healthcare providers, nonprofits, and other organizations that are sending critical public health information about COVID-19 to their communities.
4. Communicate With Your Event Partners - Make a personal phone call as well as send an email to touch base with your sponsors, volunteers, media, in-kind donors, speakers, and local dignitaries who are a part of your event. Let them know, you will circle back when things settle. 

5. Pause All Event Marketing - Update your event website page, cancel your Facebook events. Pause any scheduled social media posts. I use Hootsuite for social media - they announced that they will provide free access to their Professional Plan to nonprofit organizations and small businesses most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

6. Re-Set your Event Plan and Marketing Strategy NOW - Work with your convention center, hotel, event venue, and event vendors to "soft hold" a tentative date in summer, fall, winter - whatever makes the best sense for your organization. Don't publish the date until it's certain. When the world un-freezes there will likely only be a handful of Saturday nights left in 2020 - so be flexible to consider adjusting to a daytime or weekday event. Stay Safe - But Save Your Place at the Table for 2020 events!