‘Be prepared’ and ‘keep communicating’ are two fundamental principles of crisis PR and never have they been more important to meetings industry organisations than before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that we’re preparing for the end of lockdown, communication with potential clients is more vital than ever.
Looking back to the beginning of the year, there was much talk about sustainability and the impact of Brexit as part of business plans. Within a few weeks Covid-19 was the dominant topic of discussions within organisations. Each company, according to the nature of their business, was facing very different needs – even opportunities – in handling a crisis that was on course to have a potentially life-threatening impact on their businesses.
So how have we been helping our meetings industry clients with crisis PR and media relations before and during lockdown and now in planning for the Covid-19 recovery period?
It all began in January when we saw the massive impact of the virus in China and the first cases were diagnosed in Italy. It was clearly very likely to reach the UK soon and each of our clients would certainly need our support in different ways to prepare for the potential crisis.
Throughout this period, for all our clients facing major decisions, we were providing an independent, objective opinion on their issues and options and the tone of their communications. We‘ve been bringing to the discussions our experience over the years and, standing back from the immediate aspect, providing the bigger picture and the outside view.
Practically, at this stage, we wrote or reviewed reserve statements for the media or communications to customers and staff in preparation for every potential issue that might arise, with every extra hygiene and safety precaution being taken, and issued them when necessary.
The momentum of the crisis developed and in mid March, many conferences and meetings were being cancelled, leaving venue clients with no business. We were sadly having to help the IMEX team announce the cancellation of IMEX in Frankfurt, a major moment in the increasing impact of the virus on the business events industry worldwide. Then on 23 March, the UK lockdown started and our work all changed again.
While our venue clients were now closed and destinations only able to maintain awareness, by contrast industry association HBAA transformed its activities and our programme to help its members through the crisis with expert advice and to campaign for government support to keep them in business.
Weekly news releases promoted special Covid-19 webinars on how to apply for government financial support, on managing cashflow and mental health support. At the same time, once the massive long term impact of closure was clear, we issued attention grabbing statements before or within minutes of each of the Chancellor’s statements about furloughs and business loans, highlighting the devasting potential consequences if the industry is not treated as a special case for funding. The Telegraph and The Guardian as well as the UK trade media featured many of these statements prominently.
Meanwhile, IMEX in Frankfurt was transformed into PlanetIMEX, the most spectacular virtual conference and event. The Clareville team not only launched this new virtual experience to the global business events media, but also contributed content, attended education and conference sessions and reported on them, resulting in extensive media coverage from around the world.
Riskline, the travel risk intelligence specialists, had worldwide data about the spread and regulations covering Covid-19 country by country. By distributing their weekly reports and advice to meetings, business travel, insurance and security media worldwide, we generated extensive regular coverage, many requests for comment from their experts and further developed relationships with key media.
Preparing for recovery
The shackles of lockdown are gradually being loosened in anticipation of reopening around 4 July, so destinations and venues need to assure event planners that they can book with confidence.
We’re helping our clients tell the market that they are ready with comprehensive new hygiene procedures, room layouts that comply with social distancing, hybrid meeting plans, new pre-packed food and beverage options and even thermal imaging to identify anyone with a high temperature.
With international travel and events likely to be restricted for many more months, now is the time for UK destinations and venues to increase their efforts and invest in PR to maximise their share of voice and share of business in the highly competitive new market.