Redefining the Corporate Partner’s Experience during COVID-19 Conference Cancellations

Redefining the Corporate Partner’s Experience during COVID-19 Conference Cancellations

By Joél Payne and Megan Toal

How 911’s Professional Relations and Development Team Pivoted to Virtual Options for Members, Sponsors, and Exhibitors

As associations try to field the crisis created by the coronavirus, the teams that serve 911’s client partners and execute their conferences have had to nimbly circumvent the cancellations while ensuring that members still receive the education they need and clients meet revenue goals. With client conferences being canceled in response to Shelter in Place orders in many states, 911’s Professional Relations and Development (PRD) Team needed to rapidly change direction to create contingency plans for exhibit sales and corporate-sponsored events. With flexibility, collaboration, and an openness to any and all ideas, PRD created a strategy for exhibits and corporate sponsorships affected by current disrupted conferences and future events that may be impacted in the same way.

Taking a New Perspective

A change of direction often entails a change of perspective. With spring conferences canceled, the PRD team is drastically pivoting, taking this time to put a microscope on current standard operating procedures to see what can be improved by taking a different perspective. PRD is doing whatever they can to replace the in-person exhibit hall experience that virtual attendees are missing, with the goal of keeping exhibitors and vendors in touch with the conference attendees and members.

PRD collaborated with association executive directors to develop virtual conferences that offer their members, attendees, corporate sponsors, and exhibitors new options for connecting while maintaining social distancing, including virtual poster sessions, an online exhibit hall with downloadable literature and promotions, virtual symposia, and webinars with industry and educational speakers.. PRD has also developed a new industry sponsorship program that enables associations to give members free access to online courses to earn continuing education credits, further deepening the relationships between industry, associations, and conference attendees.

A benefit of moving to a virtual conference is that it broadens the audience for your event and provides flexibility and options for those who typically wouldn’t be able to attend an entire in-person conference, giving you more reach and potentially more revenue. As more associations define a path forward for 2021 and beyond, components of virtual conferences could remain in place even when in-person conferences resume to provide an added revenue stream. For the clients who decided not to have a virtual conference component for this year, PRD helped them roll over exhibit, advertising, and sponsorship funds to 2021. The benefit of the virtual conference component is that they may even remain in place after the global pandemic concludes, creating more options for exposure, education, and revenue in 2021 and beyond.

As everyone refocuses and readjusts, there are other great ideas for helping your team, clients, and vendors navigate these changes.

Communications Strategies

Frequency, transparency, and consistency: These are the communication building blocks that enable 911 and PRD to meet client needs during times of crisis. PRD worked closely with executive directors, marketing staff, 911 service teams, and industry partners to maintain open lines of communication between industry and the associations they work with to ensure all stakeholders were immediately in the loop when critical decisions were made. For instance, when PRD staff were at an in-person conference that cancelled halfway through, they immediately reached out to exhibitors and sponsors who were onsite with frequent updates about the changing situation in Tampa, which helped diffuse panic and strengthen trust. The exhibitors and vendors even expressed their appreciation for the transparency and updates regarding the decision to end the conference early. By staying online via email, text, and phone calls, regularly communicating with stakeholders, anticipating questions, finding resolutions, and sticking to our decisions, we’ve been able to ensure that client needs are being met during this challenging situation.

To best serve our clients and industry partners,  it’s important to be responsive and communicative within our team. We held frequent meetings to touch base not only on workload but also on our staff’s and their family’s well-being. We’re also encouraging each other to be patient, understanding and offer help and support. By banding together and maintaining constant, sincere communication within the team, as well as with our client partners and industry sponsors, we will strengthen our relationships to help us ride out the current unknowns in corporate sponsorships and evolve as is necessary, for now and for future conferences.

Joél Payne is the executive director of the PRD team and Megan Toal is a content marketing associate on the Creative Media Services team at 911.

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