Corona Canceled Your Event. Here's How to Handle Sponsorship...
In uncertain times, clarity and honesty are staples of leadership that we all look to. So it's no surprise that partners and sponsors often look for and expect the same in times of crises. In the past week, major events have been canceled globally. While, sponsorship may not be the #1 thing on your mind during an outbreak, it's important to both be prepared, but also keep things in perspective. This will eventually pass, and with that in mind you want to a) maintain thriving partnerships that will survive a circumstance that is out of your control and b) be well positioned to grab your share of pent up marketing and sponsorship spend that is sidelined in due to canceled events and activations in March.
With that in mind, here are a few sponsorship action items to consider.
1. How will contingencies affect sponsor assets. While event organizers are busy scrambling to develop contingency plans dealing with venues, tickets, tv, etc. you may be the only one in your organization that can think through the lens of the benefits that you've sold to sponsors. If contingency plans are still internal, you should start thinking through how they will affect your existing partners, even if not yet announced.
2. Communicate the possibilities to partners. Ideally, there should be no surprises and sponsors should be an extension of your organization privy to any major changes being considered. With that said, releasing sensitive cancellation plans can affect other parts of the event and it's likely your other team members are going to want a streamlined communication plan in place. What you may be able to do though, is paint some different hypothetical scenarios to your partners. If it gets cancelled, we'll look at rescheduling for the Fall. If there's no on-site hospitality, we'd be open to adding more media. No one knows exactly how this whole thing will shake out, but giving clarity on the different possibilities can definitely help.
3. Availability. It's looking increasingly likely that some offices may be closed for a period of time. While this may not necessarily affect the event, how will it impact your availability for meetings or their ability to ship sampling product for example. Set-up Zoom for your sponsors and takes steps now to ensure you're on the same page with how you'll interface in the event of an office shutdown.
4. Review Contract, but Be Flexible w/Make-Goods. It's likely that in your sponsorship contract, there is specific force majeure wording dealing with exiting a contract due to unforeseeable conditions (at least there should be!). It’s likely you forgot what’s in there, if you ever read it in the first place, but it’s times like these when it pays to have good legal counsel. Review it ASAP so you'll know contractually what options are on the table from both sides of a deal, but be generous and open to make-goods. For example, if talent won't be available for the meet-n-greet how can you offer a comparable benefit? Being proactive about offering make-goods on the sponsorship benefits that you've sold will help you maintain goodwill with your partners rather than having to face a tense negotiation with a lost partner.
5. Employ New Activation Technologies. With some events going virtual this year (particularly conferences), be quick to adopt new technologies that can help to minimize the impact to sponsors and attendees. While nothing can fully replace the live event experience, help sponsors authentically activate social technologies to help attendees mitigate the impact of going virtual.
6. Be sensitive to selling, but don't stop starting conversations. While it's understandable that you may have the inclination to stop the hard sell during times of uncertainty, stopping your mission isn't going to resolve anything except put you in a worse position down the line. Rather than stopping outreach, pay particular attention to the tone of your pitch and reach out to open a conversation under the context that all details may not be finalized until there's more clarity on the Corona situation. Prospective partners will appreciate the candor and if it's the right opportunity Corona may change the timing, but shouldn't change the outcome of your pitch. On the upside, you may not be in competition with as many other proposals!