How to create the best contingency plan to minimize COVID-19 disruptions

Coronavirus is causing major business events and conferences to be canceled or postponed, which can have serious impacts on the host. Here's how to prepare your team.

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The novel coronavirus has forced many organizations worldwide to cancel or postpone major events and conferences. These changes impact businesses significantly, especially when it comes to budgeting and marketing plans. Contingency plans, however, can help mitigate the impact of these disruptions, according to Gartner research released on Tuesday. 

"Contingency planning now enables technology and service providers to remain credible with their attendees and pivot quickly, if necessary. This is likely to increase trust with customers and attendees, and reduce the impact of the change to the business objectives overall," said Christy Ferguson, research vice president at Gartner. 

SEE: How to use Zoom: 14 tips and tricks (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The CDC recommends the public cancel events for groups of 10 people or more, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Because of this, big-name events including Mobile World Congress Barcelona, E3, Facebook F8, and SXSW have been canceled; Dell World, Microsoft Build, and Apple WWDC have been moved to online-only; and Gartner Data & Analytic Summit, Enterprise Connect, and Kaspersky's Security Analyst Summit have been postponed.  

O'Reilly Media decided to not only cancel all future in-person conferences, but to also close the entire Events division of its business, given that the public is uncertain when COVID-19 will end its tear. 

Clearly, the disruptions caused by coronavirus have significant effects on business. The Gartner 2019 Product Marketing Benchmarks Survey found that tech and service providers spend an average of 11% of their marketing budget on third-party trade shows; hosted events account for 6% of tech and service providers' marketing budgets on average, which means canceling those shows are a big deal. 

"Tradeshows and hosted events combine for the largest driver of marketing qualified leads compared to other marketing channels, based on our research of technology marketers," Ferguson said. "When used as a call to action in the marketing mix, 18% of technology marketers Gartner surveyed indicated that events are the largest driver of marketing qualified leads. This leads to technology and service providers facing a gap in the top of the funnel as a result of the disruptions to face to face events."

Hosting organizations must be ready, especially in the current coronavirus crisis, to alter marketing strategies or adjust its budget due to an event cancellation or postponement, according to Gartner

Setting up a contingency plan 

Forming a contingency plan is one of the best ways businesses can soften the blow of these disruptions, Gartner found. 

"In instances when buyers (non-customers) are invited to hosted events, contingency planning can reduce the impact of a cancellation on the marketing funnel," Ferguson said. "Contingency planning across both event types also impacts marketing resources. Allowing the teams to plan now gives the team time to make the changes necessary to deliver a successful event, rather than scrambling to piece together marketing efforts at the last minute."

The key to a solid contingency plan is communication. Reaching out to attendees, registrants, and exhibitors early is critical, particularly in regards to the possibility of travel restrictions and attendance, Ferguson said. 

"Using this information, validate objectives and goals, redefine if necessary, and determine whether postponing or moving to a virtual format is best to reach the goals," Ferguson said. "Start discussions with venue, speakers and sponsors to discuss the path forward. 

"In instances of moving to a virtual event, research virtual event delivery options. For some events, such as roadshows, a webinar delivery platform may suffice," Ferguson noted. "In instances of large scale user conferences, a platform that offers a mix of live streaming and on-demand capabilities and the ability to build exhibit 'floors' with virtual booths for attendees to download relevant content may be appropriate.

"Develop ad creative and email messages now to be ready to announce the cancellation or postponement and be prepared to quickly swap these messages into campaigns when and if necessary," Ferguson added.

To effectively run a teleconference, TechRepublic's Matt Heusser recommended setting goals and using data to organize the event. Additionally, giving attendees something to do during sessions can help keep them engaged, as the online event experience isn't as interactive as an in-person conference. 

For more, check out How to plan for a productive and professional telemeeting on TechRepublic.

This article was updated on April 8, 2020 to include commentary from Ferguson. 

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