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The impact of COVID-19 on corporate events [fact box, risk assessment checklist, recommendations]

Posted on 03/16/2020

While we can’t look down on coronavirus impacts on the events industry, getting over it might be quicker than we think.

As Coronavirus is now officially classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, a wave of fake news related to non-existent threats has spread exponentially through social networks. The dissemination of misinformation and without scientific evidence about the new coronavirus worries specialists. 

It’s essential, at this moment, that event pros work together to strengthen the community and share information among ourselves. Many of us, or most likely every single one of us working with live experiences, have doubts and need clarification about what directions to take and how to move forward. 

As much as it is a complex subject, we need to throw light on what we do know so far and eradicate misinformation that might lead us to the wrong way. So, we  summarized it in this report, extracting the most essential information for Marketers and Event Pros. It’s still a big challenge, but it’s possible to have a clear plan to protect your guests and company’s reputation.


Who is this report for

► Live Marketing Agencies who run events for clients.

► Event Planners and PR professionals working in the industry.

► Marketing Managers, Senior Managers and Executives who need to ensure efficient management of the situation.


What is this resource going to help you with

► How to build up event marketing preparedness for the challenges that 2020 coronavirus pandemic will still bring.

► How to assess risk and what points to consider for precise decision making of continuing, migrating to digital, postponing or suspending your conference.

► How technology can help you on minimizing the impact on experience/service delivery.


COVID-19 fact box

What is the coronavirus COVID-19?

Coronavirus is part of a group of viruses that can cause respiratory infections, from colds to pneumonia. This virus can reach both people and animals.

How did it begin and where it’s spread to?

This timelapse illustrates the whole spread history of coronavirus since its outbreak, in Wuhan Hubei, China, on January 2020, until March 2020.

Source:: Wawamu Stats

How is it transmitted?

The transmission of the virus occurs by air or by personal contact:

  • Spittle;
  • Sneeze;
  • Cough;
  • Handshakes;

What are coronavirus symptoms?

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shallow breathing
  • Pneumonia
  • Renal insufficiency

When will the coronavirus pandemic end?

Worldwide, it’s still growing exponentially and April is said to be the predicted month for the epidemic to reach its peak, according to WHO.

Meanwhile, an analysis made by Bain Consulting Group and published by Harvard Business Review, affirms that the recovery might be faster than we think.

Analyzing China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, some industries are already on the track of growth. Real estate, for example, saw property transactions raise up from 1% to 49% of 2019 levels (comparing the CGR for the same period). 

In this study, Bain Consulting Group business strategists warn that such pace can be expected to vary widely on different sectors. However, there’s no doubt that this a good benchmark, since some sectors predicted to have a tough 2020 are already back in track.


Coronavirus truths and myths to stick to

5 myths and non-existent threats about COVID-19

  1. Products shipped from China bring the new coronavirus;
  2. Vinegar is effective to kill the virus;
  3. Drinking hot water or hot teas kills the virus;
  4. There are specific drugs that are effective against the new coronavirus;
  5. Coronavirus can’t be contained.

5 truths about COVID-19

  1. Less than 4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died worldwide;
  2. Mortality rate is approximately 9x bigger for elderly;
  3. Washing hands frequently is an effective measure;
  4. Disinfect hands with alcohol gel helps;
  5. It could take up to two weeks for the symptoms to show after catching the virus, even though the reported average has been 5 days.


How to deal with COVID-19 impact on corporate conferences: assessing risk, making decisions that protect reputations and planning for the future.

1. Take the opportunity to create and update your Crisis Management / Pandemic Preparedness Plan.

1.a Whether you’re just starting out or doing a review, going through this Crisis Management Plan + Checklist will help you. 

1.b People come first. Planning is the best way to protect your community. Take into consideration the duration, size, demographics and complexity of your conference operations when describing the details of your emergency / crisis management plan.

1.c Have a dedicated Emergency Coordinator. Usually, crisis management is under the responsibility of a PR or Event Manager, but the current situation demands exclusive attention. A COVID-19 outbreak in a corporate event can impact staff, personnel, security, operations, activities and several other aspects of your event. Therefore, this coordinator will be responsible for outlining guidance for a variety of scenarios that might occur during the event.

1.d Assess yours and third-party preparedness and overall capabilities. Capabilities here meaning how that affects your operations, since most likely it’s time to share information and act together with your suppliers. According to Gartner Institute, approximately 50% of businesses have declared themselves “somewhat prepared” for the impact of coronavirus.

Source: Gartner Institute business continuity in response to COVID-19


2. Keep your present and future conferences participants updated

2.a Provide information on the virus rather than the pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 is causing alarmism that is not necessary and doesn’t help, while decent and reliable info and how to keep safe is harder to be found.

2.b If someone is feeling sick, they should stay home. Reinforce this kind of policy not only to people, but also to companies and managers to let their tems know that it’s necessary. 

2.c The region matters. If someone is bound to travel to a region with a high number of coronavirus cases, suspend it. 

Graphic: Reuters map with real time numbers of the coronavirus

2.d Bring on the subject, with a less is more approach. Five to ten recommendations, with clear and summarized info (look above at the truths and myths) should make the conversations stick to what is true and what is just panic or misinformation.

2.e Don’t target selective or specific groups without proper medical opinion. A policy is a policy. Therefore, while conference organizers have the permission to issue a new and strict policy during a crisis period, don’t forget it should be valid for everyone. 

2.f Don’t ever look down on risks. As much as excessive panic is harmful, when leadership pretends nothing is happening, they are clearly passing on a message they lack the minimum required capabilities of situation analysis and diagnosing.


3. Create a sanitary policy guide for attendees to adhere

3.a Handshaking free conferences are taking over. Is it just an awkward moment or something that can really help? We’ll only know in the future, as even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states:

“COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread”

That applies to every country where case numbers are on the rise. Angela Merkel, German chancellor, had her handshake refused by her fellow interior minister. 

Complete video / Source: The Guardian

3.b Integrate your efforts with national emergency planning and response plans requires efficient risk assessment and decision-making. There are COVID-19 specific measures listed by a recent release by WHO, especially designed for the events industry.

It should cover, for example, how will the disease be recognized, recommended treatment, how and where will ill participants be isolated and the respective decisions to be made regarding each trigger.


4. Follow sanitary recommendations from governments and health agencies

Cards of instructions and signalizations need to be visible at all times:  email communications, posters inside the event, reminders, etc. The Ministry of Health of Luxembourg, in Europe, has a model based on international health agencies recommendations. It highlights precautions, common symptoms and who to look for if the visitor feels that something is wrong.

 Source: Ministry of Health of Luxembourg, in Europe, has a model


5. Migrate to digital

5.a. It is definitely not the first time in history that PCO’s and event marketers are facing a major challenge. But perhaps it is an unheard of situation that, before considering the possibilities of postponement or cancellation, one can imagine that the event has great chances of happening, 100% online.

For companies and agencies that are already working on digitalization strategies for their event marketing, choosing the right tools and their integrations are a critical point of success.

For businesses that are still considering the importance of having event marketing 100% integrated into their sales funnel, this is a great opportunity. After all, it is no longer a question of “should I digitize my event marketing?”, But “when will I digitize my event marketing”.

If you need help to understand what these integrations are and which ones are fundamental for you to sell more, read the articles below, specially prepared to cover this topic.

5 digital integrations you need to sell more

Convince the boss: your business needs to go digital now

5.b. Online events: webinars, virtual meetups and live streams

Digital technologies of our daily lives opened up a universe of possibilities. One of them is the ability to hold an online event, using an integrated event management to make all your live program available.

It is ideal for those working to organize educational events, such as conferences, workshops and trainings. As well, it can be used to broadcast product launches and announcements that need an impact.

Still, this new technology allows interactions while livestreaming video information in real time over the internet. Tools especially created for 1:1 meetings, live polling, questions and answers, presentation and rich material share, news feed can all be used for an online conference.

The One Club Creative Week, for example, has announced that their 2020 live experience edition will migrate to a 100% online format. While fans that were looking forward to being in NY in May might be disappointed, it’s a considerably better solution than canceling the event.

Actual announcement on their official website: https://www.oneclub.org/ .

It is important to say that when organizing an online event or shifting from an in-person experience, we need to pay attention to some topics:

► Quality cameras and microphones, as well as their operators;

► Stable wi-fi connection to avoid problems during transmission and any kind of damage to your brand because of that.

Robust event management solution for virtual and online events, capable of delivering an experience for multiple stakeholders, while passively translating that into insightful analytics.

OnEvent: InEvent’s solution to hold 100% online events

5.c. Data analytics and AI

Chinas has deployed a combination of facial recognition + AI + Data analytics to increase the efficiency on the fight against COVID-19. Train station’s cameras can detect the temperature of anyone passing by, even if this person is not going to catch a train.

Therefore, identifying those who can’t travel at the moment is way easier than having an employee testing people with a manual thermometer. Similarly, implementing a platform with analytics and modeling capability of your event marketing can make pandemic information a regular part of your data sources.

Thus, it would be readily available for staff, who would be able to asses on real time what’s the recommended actions, according to a well planned Crisis Management / Pandemic Plan.


6. Event postponing

Due to the State of Emergency declared by California Governor Gavin Newsom, the popular Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival had its 2020 edition postponed from April to October. 

The decision comes from a scenario of high uncertainty, where guidelines and protocols are being updated, as learnings from possible consequences.

If you’re experiencing something similar, and your normal schedule for a given conference is already being modified (regardless the size of the event), considering postponing it can be seen as a way of collaborating with all of those involved in the situation to guarantee a safe and successful event.

To postpone an event, identify helpers as quickly as possible and:

► Map out everyone who’s got to be communicated (staff, guests, delegates, media, exhibitors, vendors, sponsors board members, etc) and let all parties involved know.

► Make time available to work on a new calendar. This is going to help you sorting out if a new registration process is going to be needed, for example.

► Identify communications channels. 

► Prepare an FAQ about the cancelation.

► Reinforce touchpoints of your brand, as most of the requests, doubts and answers you’ll likely receive after postponing an event are going to be about it.

► Send the bulk note, clarifying how and when you intend to hold the event again. As well, this message needs to state whom and how to get in touch for further information.

After deploying the note, sustain communications. RSA Conference, for instance – a series of IT conferences that gathers thousands of professionals -, is running live updates on a public journal. As well, USA Centers for Disease Control also has it’s own novel journal.


7. Event cancellation

COVID-19 is mutable, there’s no vaccination and the peak has not yet been reached. National borders have been closed, millions of people are quarantined, military bases are isolating areas. 

To the events industry, it’s been particularly a big concern, as major festivals were cancelled due to the coronavirus epidemic, such as: SXSW, Facebook F8 Developers Conference, Geneva Motor Show, Tokyo Marathon, London Book Fair, Tomorrowland, Adobe Summit, and Google Cloud Next.

Cancelling is not the first, second or third option for no conference organizer. It’s the worst case possible. Still, if canceling is the decision to be done:

7.a. Transparency, transparency and transparency.

Actual SXSW cancellation note: https://twitter.com/sxsw

Notice how brief and at the same time openly expressing how unfortunate the decision of cancelling SXSW was. As everyone one Earth must have heard of coronavirus at the time this note was published, there was no need to give more details about the whole situation, besides making it clear that it was being monitored and that protecting people is the main goal.

7.b. Have it clear if invited delegates will be even allowed to be present at the occasion. New travel policies of your invited delegates. Companies like Amazon, CNN, Apple and E&Y, for example, are adopting travel restrictions and more than 70 countries have already adopted travel bans to risk areas.

Source: USA CDC

7.c. While the communications phase follows pretty much the same steps of those in the situation of postponing a conference, canceling an event also requires clarification about a refund policy.

7.d. Liabilities and risks of insurance policies can include or not the cancellation of an event due to a communicable disease. However, standard insurance policies usually have a clause that cover “events beyond your control”. The discussion will probably get heated up in the next months, as festivals that are predicted to happen throughout 2020 can’t insure themselves for something that is already happening. “If your house is already on fire, you can’t then decide to buy insurance.”, said insurance broker Steven Howel to British Newspaper The Guardian, in a recent coverage of this story.


Key takeaways and what comes next

Festivals, concerts, conferences, trade-shows and conventions are suffering a strong impact since January 2020. Travel bans are being applied and several international borders are either closed or operating under special circumstances.

While the situation might be presented as catastrophic, the average infection mortality rate of COVID-19 is less than 4%. The main reason for concern about the pandemic is actually how easily the virus spreads. It’s not just another flu, but there’s no reason to panic either.

Worldwide, pandemic will reach its peak on April 2020 and, afterwards, different industries will take different amounts of time to recover – but the fact is that in China, the very first epicenter of the new coronavirus pandemic outbreak, some markets are quickly showing signs of being back in track (see “When coronavirus pandemic will end?”).

During this time, assessing risks will be a daily task for conference organizers, marketers and every professional belonging to the events and travel industries. When it comes to that, you’ll basically fall into four choices: carrying on with your live event, migrating to a digital format, postponing or suspending. And for that, keeping informed by reliable information sources is crucial. Also, the collaboration and exchange of information among the industry players becomes a vital part to go through this moment.


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