Sometimes even the most careful planned events can hit snags. Sometimes those snags can be a big deal, and they can make it impossible to carry out the event as planned. That’s one of the scariest things that can happen to an event organizer: having to cancel your event. When you have to cancel your event it disappoints everyone, but by following these steps you can minimize the frustrations ticket holders might experience and protect your brand from bad PR.
When you cancel your event, you need to talk to your attendees. They need to know why this is happening, and what you are doing to make it right. Showing compassion and understanding of the frustrating position cancellation puts your attendees in is the only way you can make it out of this with your reputation intact. In most cases of event cancellation, such as dangerous weather conditions or an ill performer, the organizer is not at fault. Most of the attendees will be understanding in these situations, and an honest message explaining the situation can go a long way. If the event is being canceled due to some error on the part of the organizer, then own it. Take responsibility and apologize. Many a small error has blown into a PR nightmare due to attempts to avoid taking blame.
That honesty means nothing if your attendees don’t see it, so a simple email will not be enough. Not everyone checks their email regularly, and emails from businesses often get caught in spam filters. You need to be calling the ticket holders, texting them, and posting updates on social media. If even one ticket holder hasn’t heard about the cancellation, let no one say that it was for lack of trying. In a Twitter happy world, all it takes is a handful of unsuspecting and disappointed folks at a closed door to spark outrage.
After you inform your audience, listen to what they say. Social media is a great tool for this, as people will post their frustrations and concerns for the world to see. Take this opportunity to demonstrate to the world that you care about the people at your events, and respond to the frustrations you see in a meaningful and thoughtful way.
2. Be consistent
Once you make the decision to cancel, sit down with your entire team and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Everyone should have a perfect grasp on why the event is being canceled, how to handle refunds, and the tone you are taking in your PR. This avoids mixed messages coming from the event organizing team, which can lead to disastrous confusions down the road.
In this same spirit of standardizing the tone of your cancellation, make sure that the first people you tell are those who already hold tickets. The last thing you want is for the people excited about your event to hear from someone else that their tickets are worthless. Sharing the news with anyone early runs the risk of a leak, and with a leak comes an angry fanbase before you are ready to face them.
The moment you cancel your event, you also need to reach out to all 3rd party ticket vendors or advertisers and make sure they have put a full stop to all ticket sales and marketing messages. It can be easy to forget this part in the customer service chaos of cancellation, especially if you have multiple ticket vendors. Yet there is little that can be more detrimental to your good will attempts than accidentally selling someone tickets to a canceled event.
If you cancel your event, your attendees deserve a full refund. There is no work around to keep your ticket revenues, not without destroying your public image. Those who hold the useless tickets will not want them, and they will raise a stink if they can’t get their money back. The process of issuing refunds may be stressful and frustrating, but it is necessary.
Issuing refunds doesn’t have to be all bad news though. Take this opportunity to create good faith with your attendees and become a brand they remember as responsible. You can do this by contacting them with a very open message explaining the refund process, and making it easy as possible for them to get their money back. As an extra measure, contact them a week or so after issuing refunds and remind them to check their bank account to make sure it went through. In these communications, include a customer service line which frustrated customers can contact.
Things are a bit more complicated if the event was only partially cancelled. For example, if an extreme weather condition causes the event to end abruptly and prematurely. In these cases, partial refunds are okay. However, you need to have a rock-solid explanation for how you calculated the refund, and you should share it with your audience. Otherwise, you’ll find as bad an uproar as you would have with no refund.
Okay, so you can’t afford to give out a refund to all ticket holders? Fret not, because there is an alternative. The ticket holders purchased their tickets because they wanted to go to your event. That interest is very unlikely to outright die if the event can’t take place on the originally planned date. So, reschedule it!
Rebooking a cancelled event is the best way to avoid a public uproar without having to refund every ticket. When you reschedule the event, everybody wins. However, attendees need to still have an option to receive a refund. The tickets they bought came with an agreement on a date, and that is the date that they planned their schedules around. The new date for the event will be a relief to many, but some will not be able to work their schedules around yours. To those people, the event may as well be canceled, and they will demand their money back.
As anyone who has cancelled an event can tell you, it can be a disaster when it happens. Event Cancellation should only be considered as a weapon of last resort. As the old cliché goes, “the show must go on!” If you absolutely have to cancel your event, it’s worth the time to sit down with your team and try to understand how you can avoid doing so in the future. Try to understand what is the root cause of the cancellation, and make adjustments so that it does not happen again. This is the best thing for your team, your brand, and your mental health.