How to Handle a Big Crisis at Your Event
A recent industry poll found that 77% of event planners find security and safety a growing priority for their events – which is no surprise given the world we live in today. Incidents like terror attacks are now a constant threat to society. And consequently, security is now a bigger deal than ever before – especially for those running events in high-target city destinations.
Knowing how to handle an event in times of crisis has never been more relevant.
As an event planner, you may already have your own organisation’s crisis management policies that you need to follow. The hotels and conference facilities you use will also have their own security and safety procedures that you need to carefully keep in mind. But what about how you communicate with people at your event at the time of a crisis? Knowing who you should talk to, as well as how and when you do that communication can mean the difference between failure or success.
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6 Essential Steps for Crisis Management in Events
Getting crisis communications right is not an easy thing. The ones that do it well are usually the ones who are well prepared. So if you haven’t done so already, make sure you think about it now and incorporate it as an integral part of your event management strategy. And remember, it’s important to do this for any crisis situation that has the potential to disrupt your event – from fire outbreaks and flooding to any other incident that prompts an emergency evacuation.
Have a look at six key things you can do for an effective crisis communications plan around your events:
1) Identify Your Event Audiences
You need to think about all the different types of people you deal with at and around each one of your events. In most situations, the stakeholders will include your attendees, on-site suppliers (security personnel, technology, promotion staff, venue, catering), partners such as speakers, sponsors and exhibitors, as well as journalists and colleagues (on ground and off-site).
2) Assign Audience ‘Owners’
Once you have these stakeholder groups listed out, create your internal crisis team by assigning the relationship ‘owners’ for each of your audience groups. You need to have these dedicated points of contact – you can’t have one person managing everything if you want to be affective in the way you manage a crisis. Each of these relationship owners should create contact lists for their audience groups, which can include mobile numbers, email addresses and social media handles. Collate these lists from your event registration software and make sure they are regularly updated so that you have the most current information on the day of your event.
3) Decide on Communication Channels
The next thing to determine is how you should communicate with all your stakeholders – needless to say, quick, clear and frequent communication will be appreciated at a time of crisis. It will also protect your organisation’s reputation on how well you manage the safety of your attendees. Social media (especially Twitter) is a very powerful communication tool, especially given the 24-hour information cycle we currently live in. But it’s important to remember that social media does not guarantee mass reach. According to MarketingLand, about 2 percent of your Twitter followers see your Tweets. Similarly, AdWeek has stated that Facebook organic page reach stands at a fairly shocking 2.6%. Having said that, social media is key to sharing information with media and key influencers who can help amplify your message (journalists are the largest, most active verified user group on Twitter).
Aside from social media, you also have your email databases which can be created using the stakeholders lists you put together. You may have an event app, which is also a great tool to push notifications and update attendees on what they need to do. You can also put up notices on your event website or screens you may have up around your venue.
4) Find the Best Platform for Each Audience
Notifications via event apps, emails and social media are usually the best option with your attendees. However, not all your stakeholders may be at your event. Some may be offline and miss the notices you’ve posted online. So think of other options too like text messages and phone calls. Your organisation’s management team, for example, will probably need to be updated by phone. Communications with your on-site team may be better through group calls or messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Bear in mind that immediately after a major incident like a terrorist attack, mobile networks may be unavailable due to excessive demand. Sit down with your management team and identify the most appropriate crisis communications channels for each of your audience categories and have contingency plans for every situation.
5) Draft a Communications Plan
Once you’ve identified your audiences and have a good idea on how you’ll be reaching out to them, the next step is to put together a communications plan. It’s difficult trying to figure out what you’re going to say if you’re not sure what crisis you’ll be facing. However, the last time you want to worry about on the day is putting some sort of plan together and chasing all the necessary approvals. Have your crisis communications plan pre-approved and ready to go. You could have a detailed plan for each type of crisis situation or you could have a more generalised one with clear action points.
6) Prepare Crisis Scenarios
Be proactive and start making a list of potential crisis situations around your events now – whether that be a terror attack, a power outage or a fire. Draft the key messages you want to communicate with each of your stakeholders. Be personal, transparent and genuine and make public safety your number one priority. Explain what has happened, what actions need to be taken, what information is available and the contact details of each stakeholder ‘owner’. Include what your organisation’s stance is on the on-going situation, as well as details on when and where they should expect another update. The more information you provide, the less chance of creating an information vacuum, which often causes unnecessary panic and false speculation.
Lastly, train your team members through life-like simulations of all the different crisis scenarios outlined in your plan. Make sure they don’t talk ‘at’ your audiences at a time of crisis without listening and responding to them first as this will undermine their trust in your organisation. Conduct these exercises annually or around each event.
Are there any other considerations we should include in this list? Let us know as we’d love to hear your views.
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