Crisis Planning: Six Things To Do When the Unexpected Happens

As if corporate event and meeting planning isn’t challenging enough, you may find your event disrupted by a crisis.

How you deal with the situation will be somewhat influenced by the type of crisis. Is it an internal company disruption? An unforeseen problem with an event venue or vendor? A natural disaster?

Ideally, you’ll already have at least a basic crisis plan in place to more quickly resolve the situation and move toward a positive outcome.

But as all of us at Wellington have found out firsthand, you can’t always plan for every crisis situation. We recently sat down with one of our account executives, Monica Evans-Lombe, who knows a thing or two about navigating a crisis. She helped one of our clients successfully scramble to find a new venue for an international event. And did we mention that Monica and our client team had a little over a month to essentially re-plan the conference?!

Based on that experience, Monica helped us develop a list of six things to do to help steer your company or client through a crisis. Let’s dive in!

Six Steps to Take During a Crisis

Make a plan, then act: When a crisis occurs, it’s natural to want to immediately scramble and do what you can to fix the problem.

Yet it’s better if you can stop, think through your next steps and collectively decide on a course of action.

“You can freak out and start running around, or you can gather stakeholders, have a conversation and make a plan,” Evans-Lombe said. “When we found out about the event venue, we ended up pulling in another team member to work on planning the event — we needed someone who could quickly and efficiently oversee the next steps.”

Leverage your network: Depending on what you need to move forward, look for opportunities to tap into your network and its resources. Evans-Lombe said one of the relationships that proved invaluable in this particular situation was a tourism bureau.

“One of our saving graces was our relationship with this organization,” she said. “They helped provide ideas and gave us support.”

Pull a few people together and brainstorm individuals, groups or companies that can help you when you’re in a jam. And if someone does come through with assistance, be sure to send a thank you note or even a small gift once the crisis has passed to let them know how much you appreciate the help.

Know your priorities: If you’re dealing with a crisis that affects your event or meeting’s logistics, understand that you’ll likely have to make some compromises, especially if you’re working on a tight schedule.

Revisit your initial event or meeting strategy to take stock of your top event priorities, then do what you can to still deliver on those elements.

Evans-Lombe and her team had to make some tough decisions. They found two possible replacement venues, but each location offered its own set of challenges. They ended up sacrificing proximity to the city center and ambiance in favor of almost immediate accessibility to the airport, which, with hundreds of worldwide attendees, was much appreciated.

“Many of the attendees felt the new location was more convenient and removed the scare factor of having to navigate a foreign city,” Evans-Lombe said.

Be ready to travel: If circumstances allow and you’re dealing with a crisis that affects your event logistics, do what you can to get people to the host city. For Evans-Lombe and her team, that meant unexpected overseas trips.

Yet if you find yourself needing to quickly scout new venues, meet with clients or other stakeholders, or research new vendors or service providers, it’s often easier to navigate those tasks in person. Of course, crisis situations often come with unexpected costs, and you don’t necessarily want to derail the event budget with unplanned travel. But if you can make at least one pre-event or meeting trip happen, you can make the most of that face time while other team members focus on details back at the home office.

Create meaningful messaging: You’ll likely want to keep attendees informed about what’s happening, especially if there are any last-minute changes to the event logistics or agenda.

This is another opportunity to step back and make a plan before you simply dash off a mass email and hit send. You’ll want to consider the details of the crisis, how it’s affecting your event and what questions or concerns your attendees might have, among other factors.

Information sharing and communications were pivotal parts of Wellington’s crisis response, Evans-Lombe said. They considered how much information to share with attendees, as well as how to communicate the last-minute changes with a positive focus that wouldn’t deter people from attending the event.

Understand legal basics: Having at least a basic grasp of regulations, guidelines and other legal stipulations that could affect your meeting or event can be a huge help in a crisis situation, especially if you’re dealing with an international location.

It’s also important to understand your company or client’s internal governance structure. For example, our client’s organization is overseen by a board of directors, so as Evans-Lombe pointed out, it was imperative to gather that board at the onset of the venue crisis to keep the new plan moving forward through the proper channels.

“Our normal contracting process would have more people involved, but we knew just a couple of people needed decision-making authority so that we could act quickly,” she said. “We were able to sign a contract with our new venue in just a few days.”

If need be, enlist legal help to navigate applicable situations like a breach of contract. And if you’re planning an event or meeting in another country, make it a priority during the planning process to identify possible legal contacts. Hopefully you won’t need them, but this sort of proactive due diligence can be a huge asset if a crisis arises.

Here’s one of the most important takeaways in crisis preparation: no matter how proactive you are, “you can’t plan for everything,” Evans-Lombe said.

The panic, the scramble, the anxiety — those are natural parts of dealing with a crisis. That’s why, no matter what you’re facing, it’s so important to take a step back, assess and make a plan before you dive into action.

And if you’re worried about the size of your team or available resources, we’d be happy to chat with you about working together to fill in the gaps.

“If you’re a small team or organization, you might not always have all of the resources you need readily available,” Evans-Lombe said. “The benefit of working with Wellington is we have a variety of resources and expertise that we can pull in at different times to help you resolve the situation.”

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