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Why Your Event Needs a Crisis Communications Plan

Events equal opportunity. In a recent survey of CMOs by research and advisory firm Outsell, Inc., conferences, trade shows and company-hosted events rated among the most effective marketing tactics for lead generation and brand-building.

With the promise of success, though, comes the risk of failure.

Events — especially large ones — can put your brand center stage, which is not where you want to end up if something goes wrong.

When hosting or participating in an event, you can’t just hope for the best. You need to plan for the worst.

“Without a crisis communications plan in place, no one will know what to do when problems arise during your event,” says Cision Content Strategist James Rubec, one of the speakers during next week’s Managing Communication Challenges webinar. “No one will even know what warrants an executive response, or whom to wake up in the middle of the night if something truly horrible happens.”

On Tuesday, August 30 at 1 p.m. ET, James will be joined by Finsbury’s Peter Land for a conversation about the crisis communications tactics brands need to master to effectively manage a big event.

As with any crisis communications planning, you first need to know what unique issues can pop up at an event and how to prioritize your response.

“Events have common issues: complaints, ticketing problems, lost bags, drunk attendees, fights — you name it. But none of these actually count as a crisis unto itself,” explains James. “Ticketing problems if widespread could be a debacle requiring communication support; you should plan around that. Drunk people require security and crowd control, which is often provided by the venue and may require some sort of comment if attendees are truly unruly. Again — these are not crises.”

While your company may already plan for the above issues, James says a true event crisis strategy will consider less common – but more consequential – possibilities. Here are three potential crises you should prepare for regardless of the type of event.

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Protests

“In some respects protests are expected, say at a political event, but political parties and campaign teams are in constant crisis mode,” says James. “If you are holding an event that people are protesting, take your response and issue management seriously and monitor the spread of the protest message. Monitoring the issue can provide context as to whether a response is required.”

Death / injury / illness

“Serious accidents require a serious response. An example of an appropriate scale for a response is the recent death of a boy in Kansas on a large waterslide. Park operators shut down the park for two days and shuttered the ride while police investigate — the park also stopped sharing social posts. Shut off promotions during a tragedy. A crisis communications plan will ensure you know how and whom to contact to do so. Monitoring the issue allows your strategic communications team to address falsehoods or misinformation when it arises.”

Offensive speakers or performances

“You can’t predict what people will say but you can plan how you would respond if someone says something controversial. In the case that a speaker says something derogatory or a performance offends your attendees, be ready to respond with personal apologies on social media and a press release denouncing the comments. You want your event’s comment in any news stories about the episode and your social channels displaying apologies.”

While you can’t look into a crystal ball and determine whether or not your event will encounter a crisis, media and social monitoring can help.

“The unknown is a powerful force and it is impossible to be prepared for everything,” notes James. “At the same time, developing a crisis communications plan using social monitoring to find those affected or commenting on the issue, helps brands prevent further mistakes. Through real-time social monitoring you can know what your customers want immediately and more easily identify a resolution.”

“If you aren’t listening carefully, mistakes will be made. And during a crisis at a global event, it takes one mistake to destroy your brand.”

Hear more from James, as well as Peter Land, a partner at Finsbury, during Rio & Zika: Managing Communication Challenges.

When your brand is faced with an issue—even one not as big as an international health crisis—how do you handle it? Peter and James will help you answer this question on Tuesday, August 30 at 1 p.m. ET.

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Click here to register for the free webinar co-hosted by Cision and CommPRO and then join us to learn how to:

  • Prepare for all possible issues with a thorough plan
  • Avoid damage to your brand by mitigating crises in advance
  • Put event attendees at ease with effective messaging

About Cision Staff

Cision's research staff makes over 20,000 media updates to Cision's Media Database each day! For more updates and other thought leadership in the industry, follow @Media_Moves.

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