When we market our meetings, we are in the business of encouraging attendance. But have you ever been greeted with unwanted attention? Contrary to the adage, it’s not true that all attention is good attention.
Our events may attract unwanted attention for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you work in an industry that is intrinsically controversial. I have never managed a gun show, for example, but I expect the people who do are well aware of the kind of attention their products attract, both positive and negative.
More likely, the potential for negative publicity surrounding your meeting will catch you by surprise. It might come in the form of an accident, newsworthy events within your particular industry, the personal behavior of an attendee or speaker, or even a news event that coincidentally happens near your meeting. Even our industry as a whole has come under fire in recent years, and when that happens, any meeting is at risk of being publicly criticized.
If you plan for this kind of crisis, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of limiting the negative publicity your meeting or attendees attract, and in turn you will diminish the potential damage to your brand. Simply being prepared can stop a bad story from becoming a disastrous one.
If you should find yourself in this situation, here are some tips for managing the crisis from a meeting professional’s perspective:
Safety always comes first. You have been entrusted with the care of your attendees, first and foremost. In a crisis situation, you might have to deal with emergency health care, fire-code issues or crowd control. Nothing is more important than that.
Prepare a written statement. Respond to a situation quickly in limited terms, to show that you are aware of what is occurring and that you are in the process of gathering information.
Appoint a spokesperson. This should be someone in a position that will offer credibility, such as senior management, and it should be someone who can remain calm and articulate under pressure. Meanwhile, inform your team that they should not talk to the press personally, but should refer inquiries to the designated spokesperson.
Keep people informed. This includes people from outside your own event audience as well as inside. Information moves at phenomenal rates, and it doesn’t need to be true or accurate to take on life. If you make your best effort to share everything you can, the public’s desire for information will be less likely to create another version of events.
Remember, you are not expected to take on the role of public relations expert yourself. But as is true of so many elements of meetings, the person in charge of the event may be called upon to pinch-hit in numerous functional areas, including this one. Managing public relations surrounding your event may be something you rarely encounter, but the potential for personal, financial and brand damage is significant enough to require meeting professionals to be prepared.
Have you ever been faced with negative publicity surrounding your meeting or event? I’d like to hear your story. Please comment below, or via email (LizontheBiz@gmail.com).