Publishers with events in their portfolio saw a significant hit to 2020 revenue and strategy when COVID-19 safety mandates and closures went into effect in March and April.
And while some facilities are now allowing smaller groups to convene, there are still significant barriers to success that would give any publisher pause: mandated hygiene requirements, changes in networking and sponsor connections, and attendee reluctance to, well, attend.
Imagine our surprise while chatting with Kristin Leavoy, Vice President at MD Publishing, when she mentioned they had recently completed an in-person event and have another coming up in October! We had to learn more. Check out MD Publishing’s strategy — it may work for your company too!
What led to the decision to move forward with in-person events during COVID-related lockdowns and restrictions?
In April we had to postpone, and ultimately cancel, one of our largest events of the year scheduled to take place in southern California. That left a void for the attendees and exhibitors who depended on that event to gain continuing education credit and business leads.
We decided to restructure, and instead of hosting one large national multi-day event, instead offer three smaller regional one-day events. This would allow attendees in various regions of the country to attend with minimal drive time and no overnight stay required, and exhibitors would have a chance to get in front of potential customers.
What was the team’s strategy? How did you communicate the change to sponsors, exhibitors and attendees?
Our communication with our attendees and vendors has been ongoing since March. When we initially made the announcement of pivoting from one event to three, we started by personally calling the vendors one by one. We wanted them to find out about the changes, and be able to ask questions, through one of our team members.
For registered attendees, we sent them an email notifying them of the change. As the dates for the regional events approached we kept in contact with both exhibitors and attendees through email and phone.
What tips do you have for researching and working with venues that are allowing in-person events?
If you have a past relationship with a venue, and have had a good experience, I would start there. You need to have the feeling from the initial conversation that the salesperson and the property are going to work to support your event.
Ask upfront not just about the force majeure clause, but specifically about how it relates to COVID-19. Are they willing to be flexible with room attrition? Ability to revise the room commitment 30 days out? Offering reduced F&B minimums?
What was the #1 challenge or roadblock before the event? On site?
I would say last-minute cancellations and no-shows are the biggest challenge. If we are asking for flexibility with our hotel partner, we in turn have to be flexible with our attendees and vendors as they are trying to manage a business just as we are.
Uncertain numbers also make planning for room sets and accommodating social distancing more difficult, but our approach has been just to err on the side of caution and allow for more room.
What has been the feedback from those attending an in-person event?
Feedback has been positive and it’s been so reassuring to know that we have the support of our attendees and vendors. They are thankful that they were given the opportunity to come together with colleagues and we received comments that they felt comfortable and safe onsite at our events thanks to the measures we put in place like social distancing, mandatory face coverings, added cleaning procedures (implemented by the venue) and access to hand sanitizer stations.
About Kristin: Kristin Leavoy is the Vice President of MD Publishing, Inc., a leader in niche publishing and events for the medical industry. She leads production of three nationally distributed magazines, and organizes all aspects of four annual conferences. Since 2002, Kristin has been a driving force in the formation and growth of the annual MD Publishing trade shows. During her tenure, she has grown the company’s flagship conference by 400% in attendance.
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