Being an event professional in these unprecedented times is challenging to say the least. With more and more events being cancelled and postponed around the world every day, planners are left with so many questions and uncertainties not only about their own events, but about the meetings and events industry as a whole.
To answer these questions, CMEExpo spoke to Clark Grue, chairman of Meetings Mean Business Canada, to put together a comprehensive guide on what event planners should be doing during this time.
CMEExpo: What should planners be doing internally right now?
CG: For planning companies with employees, we need to be focused on the employee right now. Some employees are trying to do what is best for the company and for the client, but they also have their own personal challenges they’re going through as well. Sensitivity towards employees right now is very important, as well as being as flexible as you can be. Working from a distance in this industry is not usually a problem. Planners can work from a distance, that’s the good side of what we do. I think for planners who have employees, be sensitive to that. Communication is so important right now, so staying in communication with employees and clients right now is critical especially when we look to see how long this might last.
So right now, planners are looking either at cancellations or postponements. So most likely you’re looking at either pushing your planning cycle out three or four months if that’s possible or cancelling. Obviously, if you had an event in April and it’s been postponed to August, the smart planners would be the ones locking down their suppliers, which is hard to do right now. But planning ahead right now is what you should be doing. In a sense, you’re re-planning your whole event, which is a huge task. At the same time, you have willing suppliers who are going to work with you, so being in communication with those suppliers now is really critical. Waiting is not the best practice right now.
CMEExpo: How and what should planners be communicating to their delegates right now?
CG: I think a really important thing planners should be communicating right now to delegates would be to describe how the venue is going to be safe for them. For example, planners should be putting in place new protocols, perhaps finding a larger space to hold their event to avoid crowding, maybe rethinking how people will flow in and out of the space, etc. Either way, all of these measures planners are putting in place for their future event to be safe and hygienic, should be clearly communicated. I think that’s what’s really important right now.
I’d also add that planners should have a virtual plan if they can as well. Even after all of this is over, there will still be some people that can’t come to your event no matter how well you communicate to them the event will be safe – they will be reticent to come. So by implementing some virtual elements to your event, those delegates who can’t be there physically will still be able to enjoy your event.
CMEExpo: How can a planner minimize the damage to their business?
CG: There’s a number of resources out there right now that planners should be turning to. Here in Canada, we’ve had the announcements by the federal government on the different programs that will be available either through employment insurance and/or other emergency funds. There are ways to assist employees right now, and pointing them to federal government sites is the best way to do it. Don’t forget your provincial government as well. You should be looking at both to get the most value out of government support.
CMEExpo: How should planners handle invoicing right now?
CG: This gets tricky, as businesses still have to run in a sense. As a planner, you’re going to hear from clients they can’t pay you right now. At the same time, planners cannot afford to not get paid. And everyone wants to be sensitive to what’s happening as well. If you have to delay your invoice because your event is delayed, it’s going to be on a case by case basis. If you can invoice without hurting your business, do it. If there are clients that can pay and you’re due to be paid, send the invoice.
One way to get around sending an invoice at this challenging time is to send the invoice and give better terms. Take a look at the terms on your invoice, maybe give a discount if they pay right away. Keep in mind it’s important to look at it case by case.
I’d also look to the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). They have bridge loans available to companies looking to get through this time. So if it means getting a loan right now to be more flexible on your invoicing, that’ll go a long way right now.
CMEExpo: Any best practices on how planners and suppliers can work together?
CG: It’s about coming together and having these hard conversations and coming up with a plan together. It’s not fair for suppliers to expect planners to take the hit, just like it’s not fair for suppliers to take the hit. I think it’s very fair to have an open dialogue right now. And this is all case by case basis to work through this. It’s not an easy conversation to have and I do encourage planners and all to lean into the Canadian government supports and the BDC to help buffer this. Right now, in our industry, it’s about staying alive and keeping going as best we can. If there’s government funding available, that’s the first step we have to take.
CMEExpo: Do you think interactions will change in the meetings and events world after this is in the past?
CG: I hope we haven’t lost things like handshaking and hugging and embracing. But, I do think people will become a little more reticent to do it. This has shaken us all, and I think people aren’t going to be as willing they were to hug or shake hands. In the future, we might have to ask people for permission to shake their hand or give them a hug. We won’t know how close they were to the virus, if they lost someone to the virus, so yeah, I could see it changing the way we interact going forward. We don’t want to be cavalier about this. So, I think it’s going to be interesting to see how we interact going forward.
Here at CMEExpo, we believe that now is the time for our community and our industry to support each other more than we ever have in our past. Our philosophy is simple: We believe that we have to work together and work better in order to #SupportEvents. With that said, we hope you can stand with us, and post your support on your social media platform using our hashtag #SupportEvents. We want the support of our industry to stay strong even when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.