Among the many disruptions the coronavirus pandemic has caused to ordinary life, many small businesses are facing the fallout from canceled events. These include professional conferences, local festivals, sports competitions, and weddings, among others. Companies that plan or host them are busy trying to find acceptable alternatives for customers and clients.
The goal for these small businesses isn't just to protect their livelihoods. It's to protect their client relationships, as well. Here's what some businesses are doing to make the best out of a bad situation.
Communication is King
The first priority for many event planners, related support service providers, and venue managers has been communicating with clients that have events scheduled.
"At the onset, we sent a check-in email to let everyone know what steps we were taking to help them, then it was multiple follow-up phone conversations," says Daniela Grafman of Vision Event Company. She has also reassured clients that "we're not going anywhere as a business."
For many event hosts, simply knowing that their concerns are heard makes a difference. Some businesses—especially those involved with weddings—say their event planners sometimes feel like therapists.
"I have let my couples know that I am here for them, should they need to have a nonjudgmental, listening ear in order to vent their sadness and frustrations," says wedding photographer Ginny Silver of Retrospect Images.
Re-Examine Event Cancelation Policies
Whether an event is postponed or needs to be canceled depends on the nature of gathering. Many, including weddings, are being rescheduled for months or as much as a year later.
Because the situation is both extreme and blameless, businesses such as Send in the Clowns Events are deciding that their "no-refunds" and other contract cancelation policies might need to be relaxed.
"Anyone who asked received an instant refund. While this is not our typical way of handling cancelations under normal circumstances and impacts our revenue and ability to cover costs, we recognize it's necessary to maintain excellent customer service during this unprecedented time," says CEO Leesa Zelken.
Vegas Weddings is offering "a very generous" rescheduling policy. "All couples who were supposed to be married between March 19 and April 18 will now be offered a lifetime guarantee that we will honor all wedding funds paid, applying them to their future wedding," says Whitney Cox.
Annie Perezchica at marketing firm The Brand Guild, notes that "flexibility" is the word of the day. "Venues, caterers, décor, and AV companies are really working with us to apply deposits to future events. This helps maintain customer loyalty and guarantee future business for these hard-hit companies," she says.
Some event hosts have maintained their original date but moved the gatherings online. For example, an Earth Day event planned by The Brand Guild originally had multiple days of in-person classes. Those programs were moved online and supplemented with tutorials and an at-home group planting made possible by videoconferencing technology.
For some of its clients, public relations firm Grey Horse Communications is temporarily shifting strategy away from the event concept in general to pursuing news media publicity or expanding online content.
"Some folks are able to work within the new narratives—those in wellness and mental health, for example, have a lot of useful things to say right now, so finding virtual platforms for them has been key," says Annmarie Pisano, who produces events for the firm's clients. She notes that they're careful to make sure efforts aren't tone-deaf and aren't perceived as "trying to outright sell in the crisis."
Most are finding that once those involved get past the emotional component of having to change plans—there's often shock, frustration, or disappointment—participants transition to alternatives smoothly and cautiously.
"For people in the events world, now is the time to do what we do best—to be creative, and to find ways to engage. Above all else, we are all in this together and need to lean on each other," says Perezchica.