Monday, 10 September 2012

What To Do When Event Disaster Strikes

When event disaster strikes - and it does - to everyone in this industry at some time or other, it helps to have a game plan. There are two possible general scenarios from which you will need to recover. One occurs when the event itself is in jeopardy and something must be done to make it continue successfully. The other occurs when you have to save a client and your reputation. These situations assume that you have already taken every precaution for controlling risk and have completed proper risk assessments before the event has even begun.

Saving an Event

When you are called upon to “save” an event, it usually means you must add, delete, substitute, reconfigure, or accommodate something in order to make the save possible! In almost all cases, the “save” is necessary because of unforeseen and unimaginable circumstances. Based on the collective war stories of TEAM Net (Total Event Arrangements and Meeting Network – and the foresight of Dianne McGarey, one of the founders, the following key rules are offered for handling those eleventh hour challenges, whatever their size and scope. 

  • Keep a cool head and a professional demeanour. Your client depends on you to know the answers, fix the problems, and hold his (or her) hand through each event. If you go ballistic when faced with a challenge, you both lose!  Find a non-public place to discuss the problem with team players. Always be the expert, always remain in control of your emotions and your temper, and always be a leader. 
  • Pull your core team together and determine what options exist. Questions to ask include: What are the key elements of this event that must happen? What is the most important thing to the client? What absolutely cannot happen? What are the physical and logistical limitations? What resources do we have to make changes – financial, human and technical? What are our options?
  • Divide and conquer. As a group, determine the best one option and put all of your resources to work to make it happen. Once you have decided on the solution, make sure to clearly define individual responsibilities. During this crunch time, it’s important for everyone to be working parallel ahead toward the same goal. Don’t rule out help from your competitors. 
  • Make sure the new plan is clearly articulated to the client and approved. Also, be sure to communicate the plan to the entire event team, including all support vendors who may or may not have been contracted by you. 
  • Make it happen! Be sure to personally thank everyone who helped make the save possible! In some cases, it might be appropriate to share the “save” with the client so they can appreciate your problem-solving professionalism. 
  • Learn from the challenge. What lessons were learned from this challenge that can be applied to future events to prevent similar situations from developing?

Saving a Client – and Your Reputation

Sometimes, no matter how much you anticipate, how much you plan, how many times you double-check details, or how hard you try to make the “save,” Murphy’s Law strikes and a situation develops that has the potential to do serious damage to your reputation and your relationship with your client. Usually, it boils down to the fact that something you were contractually obligated to provide does not materialize in a manner that is satisfactory to your client. In these cases, there may be no other alternative but to come to some compromise with your client or with another player in the event such as a venue. This is often known as a “good dose of humility” or “eating crow!” Every event planner experiences this at some point in their career.

  • When an event goes wrong or something unrecoverable happens, the key points to consider are: If the event is still ongoing, minimize any adverse effects on your client, the guests and the venue. It may be possible to minimize effects if the people on your team react quickly and competently, as outlined in the first section. For example, in the case of technical problems such as microphone or audio difficulties, computer glitches and such, if backup equipment and software are available, a minor problem will remain just that and may not require any compromises. However, if they are not and the problem is not resolved swiftly, it quickly becomes a big problem and a major interruption in an event’s flow, which will probably require some settlement with the client. Preparation and anticipation are the key words here. 
  • Communicate to your client exactly what has happened and why it has happened, as soon as possible and as honestly as possible. When a problem is obvious to guests or an audience, and to your client – and obvious is the key word - the worst thing you can do is to remain silent. Your client wants to be kept “in the loop” and must know what is happening literally from moment to moment. This communication is ultimately what will probably save your reputation and your client. Without it, the client can feel as if you are trying to hide something. Even if the problem is due to someone’s incompetence, admit it up front and take immediate steps to solve the problem. Don’t hide. Be proactive! 
  • Formulate a methodology to appease and keep your client. Now comes decision time. If in your assessment  - or by way of client comments - the event was compromised by a problem, then after the event a continuing dialogue with the client is very important. Explain to him/her you are concerned that the event was not up to the standards you promised and are known for. Have ready within 24 hours after the event a solution that you believe will honestly make the client happy and will keep him/her as your client. This does not mean you have to give away the farm, but it usually means either financial restitution of some sort (read substantial discount relative to the size of the problem) or a promise of future consideration in the form of free or discounted services or products. Arrogance and an unwillingness to negotiate a fair settlement have no place in these situations. 
  • Learn from the problem. As in the case of saving an event, what lessons were learned from this problem that can be applied to future events to prevent similar situations from developing?
The next time you sense disaster about to strike, try to remember these rules and you should end up smelling like roses!

Oh, yes, and by the way, I have had more than my fair share of both types of situations. In fact, a tell-all book of these stories will hit bookshelves sometime this fall. I'll keep you posted.

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