We’ve Heard The Dreaded “P-Word” A Million Times Over In The Last Year — “PIVOT”

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Brett Robertson, SHW President / SVP of Sales and Marketing, and Team Builder-in-Chief

Brett Robertson is a customer-focused, commercially savvy sales and finance professional with broad international experience in complex organizations. His demonstrated track record of partnering with all levels of business consistently delivers actionable insight and profitable growth. At SHW, Brett directs sales efforts, business development, and channels partners worldwide to grow sales and help customers succeed in their events.

NWES / Industry Conversations Presenting Partner

2020 was filled with cancellations, rebookings and canceling again. For event planners and organizers, we rolled up our sleeves and immersed ourselves in virtual events, streaming, platforms, and video production. Pivoting was hard. At times, it was brutal. But as difficult as 2020 was, my prediction is 2021 will be even more demanding.

“You’re crazy!” I hear you say. Well, I might be just that, but last year we knew what we were doing, or should I say not doing, and that was physically meeting. However this year we’re facing all of the same uncertainties with a new complex problem – how to gather and reconnect in person in the most challenging and changing environment in living memory. 

As we start to plan real-life events, at a 30,000-foot level, planners essentially have two questions to answer – what can we do safely and what are our attendees comfortable doing? Every company, agency, hotelier, supplier, group, client, and attendee will need to answer each question separately and each question brings a multitude of risks and further questions. Adding to the complexity, the answers are dependent on one another, so when one answer changes, so can the others. As the leader of an event agency serving a wide range of clients and industries, when it comes to attendee confidence, here are a few recommendations from the trenches as we navigate our murky, new world.

Data, Data and More Data 

When it comes to your attendees, try to understand what they want to do, what drives them, and how they feel about meeting in person. Surveys have been a great tool for us and contrary to most email marketing during the lockdown, we’ve had great completion rates with attendees candidly sharing their views. Here’s what’s worked for us:

  1. Keep your surveys simple with multiple choice answers and provide open-ended questions like “What can we do to make you feel safe to meet?” for attendees to respond in their own words.
  2. Survey again! A single survey at a specific moment in time won’t give you the full picture. The pandemic continues to evolve, as are attitudes and comfort levels. As vaccine eligibility widens and cases reduce, we’ve seen attendee confidence grow dramatically with the same audience in as little as two months.
  3. Once you’ve collected the data and feedback, analyze the trends and create plans to alleviate any concerns. A common response we’ve seen is, “I’ll attend in person if_________.” When appropriate, try and solve for those ifs and regularly publish what those plans are and why.

Plan, Plan and Plan Again

In late February and early March of 2020, before widespread travel restrictions and nationwide lockdowns were established, we found ourselves planning an event multiple times to account for the rapidly changing situation. We designed for in-person, then socially distanced, to eventually settling on full remote and virtual. For the remainder of the year, we focused on video production and virtual events. In 2021, multi-planned events will go from an aberration to the norm. Planners will need contingencies, redundancies, and options. We’ll need to work closely with our partners and vendors on space planning, event flow, and safety protocols. Plan to work on tasks you previously would do once, multiple times and share those plans with your clients and attendees.  

Communicate, Communicate and Communicate More

As an industry, we’ve done an excellent job of proactively adapting and making adjustments to welcome guests again. Every convention center, venue, hotel, restaurant, bus company – you name it, has published their safety protocols and plans. Share that information with your attendees regularly.

Along with internal plans and safety measures, we’ve become experts at reading governor mandates and regulations. We listen to all relevant press conferences and we network with our various partners. We make a point of talking through the latest guidelines at our weekly all-hands and disseminating those learnings to our clients. Be sure to stay up to date and share the latest government rules and regulations with your attendees.

2020 was historic and yes, it was harsh. While the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” is in sight, planners have our work cut out for us. Increasing attendee confidence is one of our highest priorities and will require a new P-word – Perseverance.   

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