It’s understandable if your organization is struggling with ways to address the fall out from the coronavirus pandemic. At the time of this writing, there have been only a few cases diagnosed in the United States, but that number is expected to increase—how much and where remain is to be seen.
The U.S. is behind other countries in testing at-risk patients and as the number of tests increases, the number of cases detected will also increase. As these cases increase, expect the anxiety level to increase dramatically.
For associations that include international memberships or stakeholders, the coronavirus is a meeting planner’s worst nightmare.
As each day passes, word comes down that another meeting has been canceled. Travel plans are in flux and convention space that was booked 18 months ago is in doubt. With so many issues up in the air, how does an association communication staffer wrap their arms around this issue? One way to approach this issue is to take it in small chunks, by breaking down the issue by the audiences involved. For a typical association, those audiences are often:
Members—your dues-paying members, through your committee structure, should have priority into your association plans. Not only is their schedule paramount, how you treat them in times of crisis may leave an indelible mark on them that affects future relationships. Be as informative as possible with them—the tone of your communication should reflect the trust and respect you have for them.
Exhibitors—They are a longer lead time and must act well in advance of the meeting to staff their booth, arrange for shipping and installation. If you have a fall 2020 meeting, decisions are being made now so providing updates to this group is crucial.
Meeting attendees—monitor travel plans from the larger groups of your members that are most likely to attend.
Media—issuing a statement to the media that covers your association indicating that you are monitoring the plight of the disease is important. Once your organization has made a definitive stand to either cancel or move forward with your meeting, you should immediately communicate this to media who cover you.
Employees—U.S.-based employees have a low risk now but this can vary depending on their recent travel, and their own exposure.
In a crisis, it’s important to share factual information with all audiences—you cannot underestimate how much people and companies that have a relationship with you want to hear from you. We recommend you err on the side of regular communication with them about any and new updates to ensure and build trust going forward.
Once you have an official statement, don’t forget to add this to your website as well and any other forms of communication such as blog posts, social media, etc. Thus, ensuring that your key stakeholders are constantly in the loop about what is going on pertaining to your upcoming conference.
All internal employees at your association should also be in the loop about the form of communication you are sharing with your stakeholders. Should any of your employees have to answer any questions to a stakeholder, the answer should all be the same to create any confusion moving forward.
One lung cancer association that has published research on coronavirus has created a separate section on their website to house content and resources on this issue. If this is appropriate for your organization, it can create a helpful platform that all audiences can visit regularly.
We have experience working through several crises and can help you think about this issue and how to respond. In the meantime, here are links to two trusted sources of information on the coronavirus. Encourage all your audiences to visit these sites regularly for updates: