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Is Your Event Canceled? How To Avoid The Backlash

Posted in Spotlights on March 16, 2018

It’s a dark and stormy night, and your event just happens to be outside without any cover.

Unfortunately, event cancellations just happen sometimes. Speakers cancel, equipment doesn’t work, or, as I mentioned, sometimes it just gets rained out. While we hope that your event never gets canceled, you should definitely be having an event cancellation plan in place. In this post, I’ll discuss why you should be proactive, why you should have a refund protocol in place, how to message the cancellation to your ticket holders, best practices in dealing with event cancellation policy and why you should consider purchasing event insurance.

Be Proactive

I’ve harped on why you should be proactive in multiple blog posts, the best one you can read right after this one is: Your Event Needs Customer Service. 

Most people react to things in their life, whether it be a bad hair day, a rough day at work, or even a great date. For most people, life is a rollercoaster of ups and downs that they don’t seem to have control over. Don’t let this happen with your event! So many of your problems will be solved when you anticipate issues before they become issues!

So, no matter what kind of event you are running, you should have a Plan B, or even C, in case of issues that arise. This means having backup speakers, backup microphones, and preparations for any changes in weather. While a lot of this is common sense, I’m sure that as an event organizer you have run into issues that seem obvious, but maybe they weren’t to someone else.

Set Customer Expectations

Clearly state your event cancellation policy on your event description and marketing collateral. Once you have determined your risks, build your refund policy and message that policy with clear transparency. For example:

        “In the event of cancellation- refunds will be processed within 72 hours of cancellation notice.”

        “This outdoor event is rain or shine. However, the Parks department has the authority to close the park due to high winds or flooding conditions due to rain accumulation.”

You must set expectations to avoid any negative press. If you are running a large event, coordinate with your customer service lead, marketing lead and operations lead so that all departments are aligned and messaging is correct in advance.

Set a Cancellation Protocol

Your cancellation messages to attendees should be ready to be deployed weeks before any potential cancellation.

Define your protocol for how to send out the cancellation message to attendees.

The cancellation notice should be posted to the event page and or event website. Clearly state the date or dates of the cancellation, the reason for the cancellation, and what customers can expect. If your customers understand the reason for the cancellation and have a clear expectation of next steps you can avoid friction.

At the same time, send out an email to your attendees to explain and address the cancellation.

Meanwhile, have your social team post about the cancellation. If the cancellation is due to circumstances outside of your control, this is a good opportunity to share pictures or descriptions of what caused the cancellation. Bands can’t play on a stage damaged by high winds. Patrons cannot attend a festival if the grounds are flooded with standing water.

Refunds vs Credit

The biggest issue with canceled events is the refund process. Obviously, people who paid for something but aren’t getting it, are going to want their money back. And you could very well refund anyone who asks for one. Refunds tend to be a lot easier to keep track of. The other option is crediting event goers for an event in the future. The big upside is that people are still “locked in”. The downsides, however, are that you will need to entice them in some way to actually take the credit. For most events, it could be something as simple as a drink ticket for the next event.

Refund Pros:

-Good for one-off events

-Good if events are annual

Refund Cons:

-It’s up to the attendee to determine if they want to go in future years

-Attendee needs to repurchase tickets (if there are other days), could lose them if they aren't available

Credit Pros:

-Keeps attendees “locked in”

-Good for multi-day festivals where attendees could easily attend another day

Credit Cons:

-Have to keep track of credits

-Need a system in place to transfer tickets to different days/years

Depending on your event, it might make sense to utilize a mix. A basic heuristic for marketing and customer retention is that it costs more to acquire a customer than it does to retain a customer. So, it is in your best interest to retain as many customers (in this case, attendees) as possible. A common but effective strategy is to offer a credit first for canceled events, and then offer a refund if people refuse the credit. What is really important is making attendees, even canceled ones, happy. They will be more likely to engage with you in future years.

Event Insurance

You have car insurance for if something happens to your car, home insurance if something happens to your house - you should have event insurance if something is going to happen to your event. It doesn’t just make sense, it’s also a very proactive and logical decision.

The biggest benefit of event insurance is that you can go forward with refunding customers, while also retaining the money from the tickets that you sold. This helps negate the issue that I mentioned with refunds above and means you don't really need to credit customers.

Find an insurance broker who has experience with event insurance. Purchase a policy that provides enough protection.If your event is going to be outside, you should without a doubt acquire event insurance.

Conclusion

You should always be proactive and plan for worst case scenarios when planning an event. Just by having backups or side plans, you will be prepared for just about any scenario. If your event does get canceled, you should look into utilizing a mix of refunds and credits, were realistic. Finally, you should without a doubt purchase event insurance because it will make your life much easier. Having peace of mind is priceless.

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