Always expect the unexpected and be prepared
Anita Lowe, CEO, Venues and Events International, with some contingency planning tips from first-hand agency experience
As event planners, we understand that contingency planning is such an important part of the event management services we provide. And as experienced as we are, there are some situations that we just can’t control, but always at the forefront of our minds is delegate safety. Take the Beast from the East as an example: never could we predict the impact the level of snow would have on the country, but it’s how quickly you react to the situation and by communicating regularly with clients and suppliers, ensures the safety of delegates.
During the heavy bouts of snow earlier this year, our team was working proactively with clients on whether events should go ahead or be postponed. Postponing events is never an option we want to consider due to potential cost implications, but delegate safety is always at the heart of what we do.
A lot of hotels and venues will have clauses built into contracts where there will be either a cancellation charge or additional fees to move the event date. That’s why we work so hard on building strong relationships with our partners helping us to negotiate new event dates at no extra cost to the client.
It’s amazing how accommodating some hotels and venues can be. It’s never easy to postpone an event in these situations, and the work behind the scenes to make this happen wouldn’t be possible without their support. It makes our lives that little bit easier with their flexibility, and clients appreciate this flexibility and it encourages them to return to the venue for future events.
It’s not just the weather we need to consider for events. Sometimes, no matter how well the event is organised, things go wrong. Whether it’s technology that lets you down, or simple human error, these things happen from time to time. By working with the venue and all third-party suppliers, you should always have an understanding of their contingency plans and build these into yours. This will give you the ability to react quickly and efficiently when a problem arises.
When issues do arise at events, it’s how the problem is handled that reflects the professionalism of the event organiser. When situations are out of your control, firstly, be open and honest with your client - trust me they appreciate your honesty and respect you for it. Excellent communication between all parties involved will not only minimise any element of risk at an event, it provides the client the confidence, that as event specialists, we will oversee the situation in a professional manner.
On a recent event, we experienced a power cut early in the morning of an event for approximately 11Ž2 hours during the main event set-up. During this period, we were in regular contact with the venue to ensure we had updates on the status of the power outage. By relaying the information received to the client, we were able to provide assurance that we remained on track for the successful delivery of the event. Behind the scenes however, we were of course working on a contingency plan with the hotel should the power not come back in time for the start of the event. Thankfully the plan wasn’t required, but by having it in place, we knew we’d be able to deliver the event.
Contingency planning isn’t just about the situations that affect the actual management of an event, you need to prepare for situations such as loss of data, delegates or even your keynote speaker or entertainment acts.
We all know data should be backed up - but build it into your process to make sure it happens. Without this data you won’t know who is attending the event and what special requirements they have. With your data backed up, you know who is attending, but what if they don’t turn up?
We will always call any delegate who doesn’t arrive for an event to ensure they are safe and understand why they are unable to attend. We can then easily feed this back to the client to follow up if required. But what do you do if your keynote speaker, or entertainment act don’t arrive? Firstly - don’t panic! Normally event agendas will have the flexibility for you to move things around to source a suitable replacement. In most circumstances, these acts will have been booked by an agency, so it will be their responsibility to source this alternative. Keep the lines of communication open, even with the client, as they may know of someone internally they can reach out to in the worst-case scenario.
This brings me to my closing comment; an open and honest approach where communication is key, no matter the situation. Don’t keep things to yourself, work with others around you to help resolve the issue. We’re all experienced in our own fields, it’s how we work together to make the best out of a situation and ultimately provide a safe and enjoyable event for our clients.