It’s been close to a year since Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast US and wreaked devastation on thousands of people, families and businesses. I was close enough to have friends and family impacted by it, yet fortunately far enough away to have avoided personal catastrophe (aside from losing cable for 24 hours…), so I count my blessings.
So I do not mean to negate the tremendous impact it had on the lives of many, but wanted to point the storm as an example of why it’s imperative to have contingency planning built into your events.
A year ago, I was putting the finishing touches on marketing JUMP, a launch event organized by Econsultancy, scheduled in New York on November 1, 2012. Plans were going smoothly, attendance was beginning the final, nerve-wrecking uptick of last-minute registrations. For me, it was nose to the grindstone time, and I was not particularly paying attention to the weather forecast. It was not until the weekend prior, with word coming in that we were all bracing for a 'storm of a magnitude unseen before' that it started getting on our collective radar.
The reality is we were, organizationally, reluctant to impact the revenue and forego the sunk costs which would have been the result of a postponement. So in the face of a ton of attendee and sponsor inquiries, we sent out an email on Monday (the day of the storm, prior to its impact) stating that yes, JUMP was still going to happen. The (very optimistic in hindsight) thinking was there were still two days to clean up and move on. In fairness, there was also no real way to conceptualize how devastating the storm would be.
Fast forward 24 hours and the decision was obviously reversed for us: the Metropolitan Pavilion, like much of New York City, was dark and partially underwater, transportation was out of the question, lives were turned upside down.
This, of course, left me, as the marketing lead, with the responsibility of fulfilling due diligence in communicating to 750+ attendees, sponsors, and speakers. Fortunately, I was able to:
- Place an automated telephone call to everybody informing them of the postponement (I had this cued up and ready to go the end of the prior week). This was done via ListeNation, a service on the west coast not impacted by the storm.
- Coordinate with our headquarters (London) to email all individuals regarding the postponement. (Note: this was a step I was going to take until I was relegated to my cell phone for communication when I lost cable around noon on Tuesday 10/30.)
Of course, attendees had to have known that there was not going to be an event on November 1 at the Metropolitan Pavilion – but we needed to take the step of letting everybody know. It was an important step and the right thing to do.
The lesson again is contingency planning – as an event marketer, thinking through (and continually evaluating) all the “What Ifs” that can happen in the course of an event campaign. A one-in-a-century storm is one thing (although I have been involved in two events postponed due to weather over the past 8 years), but thinking through all the aspects of an event you either directly impact or influence, and what to do if things deviate from plan, will go towards making you, as an individual, that much more appreciated and needed in an organization and will reflect positively on your organization overall.
PS Next I'll detail lessons learned post-storm - stay tuned!