Major event cancellations happen to the best of us. If you manage events for clients, there is a high probability you have experienced at least one unforeseen circumstance that forced the decision to cancel the event, rather than wait and see what happens.

This was my third year to work on a large outdoor community event, and the first year we made the tough call to cancel, due to the threat of bad weather that would put our performers, staff and attendees’ safety at risk. It was an unfortunate situation, but the event’s leadership team made a wise choice.

When you experience a cancellation the first time, you will learn quickly how to effectively handle a situation like this. As the voice behind the event’s social media channels, and the person in charge of responding to the majority of the comments, questions and concerns, I gained invaluable knowledge and experience.

When a cancellation isn’t handled correctly, it can turn into a serious PR nightmare. On the other hand, a well-done cancellation can be used to showcase your brand’s integrity.

Here are some tips that can help turn something negative, like a cancellation, into a positive, proactive opportunity to spotlight and support your brand’s stellar reputation.

Develop cancellation messaging
It is important that unified cancellation messaging is created to ensure the information being sent out via email, social media, phone, website, etc. is accurate and consistent. DO NOT post any information about the cancellation until this messaging has been drafted, reviewed and approved internally.

Communicate with your attendees
Once the cancellation messaging has been approved, immediately notify your attendees. Be as open and transparent as possible, explaining the reasoning behind the decision to cancel and continually updating attendees on any new, approved information. Be sure to address their immediate concern, a refund, as quickly as possible. Provide information on how your attendees can either receive a refund or otherwise redeem purchased tickets. It’s crucial to be specific and clear about the terms of the refund or alternative redemption options.

Stop selling tickets
This might be a no-brainer, but remembering to stop selling tickets can easily be forgotten during a hectic situation. Don’t make the issue worse by allowing people to continue to purchase tickets to an event that is canceled. Make sure you remove the option to purchase tickets from your website, and if you are using third parties to sell tickets for the event, remember to contact them too.Also, make sure to remove any pre-scheduled social media posts that reference purchasing tickets or attending the event. As much as you can, also pause any digital advertising campaigns that are promoting the event.

Respond on social media
After announcing the cancellation, you need to pay extra close attention to your event’s social media channels and any associated hashtags. It’s critical to watch the chatter surrounding your event, and reply to each mention, question or comment. Continue to also push out your cancellation messaging to anyone who still thinks the event is happening. When appropriate, ask people with negative comments to contact you privately to discuss the issue further.

Continually update information everywhere
There is no such thing as too much communication during this time. Make sure to add the cancellation messaging as many places as possible, including: the website, all social media channels (both main pages and any event-specific pages), in an email to volunteers, staff and team members, and in an email to your mailing list subscribers. Remember to also update the media, as they can help you spread the word during a broadcast or in an article.Depending on the circumstances for cancellation, don’t be afraid to post a funny video or picture to add a little levity to the situation. While the cancellation itself isn’t funny, humor can go a long way in easing tension.

Incentives for the following year
If your event happens annually, a last-minute cancellation could hurt ticket sales for the next year. Consider either offering an incentive or a small discount for the group of people that purchased tickets the previous year. A small offering or consideration like this can help retain loyalty and keep up attendance for the next event.

It is never easy to cancel an event, especially when unpredictable Mother Nature is to blame. If you do have to cancel, it is important to create consistent messaging, communicate quickly and answer all questions.

The way you handle this frustrating situation will not only help mitigate negative backlash, but it will also help drive ticket sales for the next year and maintain your reputation.

A Cooksey Staff Member