Are you ready for the next crisis to strike at your event? What plan do you have in place to communicate important messages to your attendees? Crisis communication is an essential, if often overlooked, element for all events.

In fact, I believe it is so critical that I just took the time to complete a dual master’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management & Homeland Security from American Military University on top of my certifications in Crisis and Disaster Management from American Military University, OSHA, ALICE active shooter training, and Communicating During Global Emergencies at Emory University. This is what I learned from planning and communication with internal stakeholders to PR and event cancelation best practices with examples you can use.

Start Security Smart

At the start of the crisis, it’s crucial to gather comprehensive information and create a central document, reiterate team roles and brief your team thoroughly. You might also designate a specific room as the ‘Command Center’ where key personnel from operations, legal and PR collaborate to make critical strategic decisions.

Ensure consistent messaging across all departments for a coordinated company-wide response. Create a one-pager that includes the primary message, essential documents and contact information.

Read More: How Meeting Planners Can Pre-plan for Event Crisis Management

Additionally, the broader PR team should work from a separate breakout space, ideally located near the Command Center, to maintain continuous communication with the central crisis management team.

Crisis Team Roles and Responsibilities

Determine the roles of your PR or communications team members who will manage crises ahead of time. Those slated to interact directly with the media should undergo media training. Typically, in crises, senior leaders rather than PR team members serve as spokespersons, so prepare a list of executives who will be at your event.

Clearly document approved spokespersons in your crisis response plan, including PR handlers and a well-defined command hierarchy. Choose individuals who are analytical and remain composed under pressure. Team leaders and managers should be adept at crafting statements and managing media inquiries, while other team members should handle media monitoring and administrative duties.

Every team member involved in crisis management should be thoroughly trained, even if they aren’t the public face during a crisis. Training should include both theoretical knowledge of crisis communication and practical exercises like drafting urgent statements and conducting mock press conferences to sharpen public speaking skills.

Understanding Your Stakeholders

Defining your audience and understanding their concerns is critical for empathetic communication without making promises that can’t be kept. It’s also vital to identify all your stakeholders, which may include:

  • The media
  • The general public
  • Clients and customers
  • Investors and shareholders
  • Employees
  • Government or semi-state agencies
  • Family or next-of-kin in emergency situations

Internal Updates

Keeping employees informed during a crisis is crucial to prevent confusion. Communication updates (via email, company chat, etc.) should be distributed to employees simultaneously with any media statements. These communications should reflect care, control and commitment.

In cases of injuries or fatalities, additional face-to-face interactions may be necessary to provide reassurance and show concern, possibly through team briefings or larger town hall meetings.

Each internal communication should remind employees that only designated spokespersons are authorized to speak with the media and that they should direct any media inquiries to the appropriate channels.

Holding Statement Best Practices

You want to start the preparation by pre-drafting holding statements, making email templates, creating social media templates and having a list loaded into your email and text system for fast response. Once crisis strikes, the first thing you want to send is a holding statement. Holding statements need to be issued as soon as possible; studies suggest that companies have just 15 minutes to respond once a crisis breaks out. The key is to prepare these holding statements in advance so they can be quickly adapted to cover the situation at hand.

When crafting holding statements, include only verified facts and avoid speculative details. Every statement you make should be thoroughly checked for accuracy. Additionally, the statement should be authentic and tailored to the specific crisis situation.

The holding statement should always include the following:

  • A factual headline
  • The date and time
  • The location of the incident
  • Basic details that have been confirmed
  • When the company was made aware of the issue
  • Actions your organization is taking that you are willing to make public
  • An expression of compassion or empathy (if appropriate)
  • Contact details or details on when further updates may occur.

It should never include:

  • Details that are unconfirmed or uncertain
  • Any kind of speculation
  • A response to unsubstantiated rumors
  • Statements of blame or finger-pointing
  • Names of victims in the case of death (without the family’s permission).

Example: We have recently been informed that a [what happened] at [location] involving [who] occurred today at [time]. The incident is under investigation, and more information will be provided by [time].

After the initial holding statement, follow up at the time promised with further information or any progress in the situation.

Methods to Contact Guests

When guests go through registration, are you collecting cell phone numbers and emergency contact information? You want to ensure you have more than one method to contact your audience if an emergency strikes. Methods of communication can be event apps, event websites, text messages, social media and email. Do not rely on one method. Use all methods to ensure everyone gets the information they make, not just check one location. It is your duty to provide critical information that is shared with everyone.

Read More: Why Early Bird Registration Specials Don’t Work and Other Revelations from a New Maritz Study

Event Cancellation Messages

Crafting a compelling, transparent event cancellation message is crucial to minimizing disappointment for ticket buyers. Utilize multiple channels to disseminate the cancellation news to ensure broad coverage.

Your cancellation message should include:

  • The reasons for the cancellation
  • The process for refunds
  • The expected timeline for ticket buyers to receive their money back
  • Address common questions upfront to reduce the volume of follow-up inquiries
  • Maintain clarity and brevity to prevent misunderstandings about the event’s status.

Set up a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on your website, guiding ticket holders for additional details about the cancellation. Make sure the FAQ addresses key concerns, such as the refund timeline, contact information for unresolved issues, and specific reasons for the event’s cancellation.

man smiling, wearing blue suitMark Catuogno, M.A., CGSP, HMCC, MMP, is director of global events, MC Event Consulting. He brings over ten years of industry experience, holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Iona College and a dual master’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management & Homeland Security from American Military University.

Additionally, Mark has pursued certifications in Crisis and Disaster Management from American Military University, OSHA, ALICE active shooter training, and Communicating During Global Emergencies at Emory University, among others. Before committing full-time to MC Event Consulting, Mark collaborated, planned, and consulted on events for major corporations. He serves as president of Brooklyn Dream Factory and was named Smart Meetings 2022 Meeting Professional of the Year.