Recently, thanks to snowstorm Janus, I found myself needing to postpone an event I was hosting. Although it seems like a simple enough procedure from the outside, the process is extremely tedious. I immediately searched for related articles, anything that might help me make the date transition easier but could not find a single useful article. In pure Popcorn Productions fashion, I decided to write my own. Here are some steps to take if you ever find yourself in a similar predicament.
Step1: Breathe. Events take a lot of work –especially if you are selling tickets- and having to postpone an event can be very stressful. It’s very important that you present a unified and I’ve-got-this-under-control attitude when you reach out to your participants. So, do NOT start calling people and asking them what they think you should do. This is your event. You are calling the shots here.
Step 2: Who to actually call first. First, call the venue where your event is being held and ask them what their postponement policy is. Most of the time, if you are postponing an event due to weather or illness will be supportive and helpful. Once you have figured out possible postponement dates think about any other person or element that is time sensitive i.e. speakers, sponsors, highlight guests, catering, entertainment etc. Contact these people next and figure out which of the new dates work for them. Keep in mind that people are busy and that it might be a challenge to get back every single element you had planned. Keep the crucial elements of your events (generally this is what made participants want to come in the first place) and replace anything that is easily replaceable. Once you have confirmed all of these elements then turn to your staff. Make sure that they are able to help you at the new date too. If you are just hiring staff from a 3rd party company then you can skip this step.
Step 3: Changing Dates. The hardest part about postponement (if people paid for tickets) is how to confirm people can make the new date without having to go through the process of refunding their ticket and asking them to buy a new one. If you refund someone’s ticket they will NOT go through the trouble of buying another one unless they are a diehard fans of your event. So instead, try to make the process as simple as possible. I created a hidden free ticket on Eventbrite that I labeled “RSVP New Date” and included the special link within my announcement email to registered participants. You can also create a separate free private event only for people who had originally registered for your event that they just need to RSVP at.
Step 4: Refunds. The second tricky part is this: refunds. The requests will start pouring. Don’t worry, it is just part of the process. Know your refund policy and make sure it was clearly labeled on the event info and/or ticket confirmation. Make sure you remind people of your refund policy and where it was included. If you did not include a refund policy on your event page and/or on ticket holder’s confirmation then you are not allowed to deny a refund. Also remember this, in the long term it might be worth giving a refund instead of having to suffer from a terrible review on Yelp that will stain your reputation forever.
Step 5: The Announcement. Now that you have your elements together, craft an email you’re your participants. Include the following elements:
- Why the event is being postponed
- The new date & time & location of event
- What (if any) elements have changed
- Clear instruction on what guests should do if they CAN attend the new date (include link to where they can RSVP & explain that this new ticket is FREE)
- Clear instructions on what guests should do if they CANNOT attend the new date (this is according to your refund policy)
- Contact information in case they have questions
If you have access to participants phone number then call them. They will not only appreciate the personal touch but can also RSVP over the phone, which will make things easier for everyone. If you RSVP guests over the phone don’t forget to send them an updated confirmation of your event.
Step 6. Emergency Marketing. After you send this announcement you will see anywhere from 50-75% of your list of participants drop. Again, breathe. You will also get a flurry of emails from participants saying they cannot attend the new event. And more emails asking for refunds. Take each of these one-step at a time. Then go back to your guest list and see who has confirmed for the new date. These are your official participants. From here you should assess how many tickets you need to sell/ spots you need to fill before you have a successful event. Plan an emergency email marketing campaign and be dire in your efforts according to your time constraints i.e. 50% off tickets, invite a friend for free, Buy 2 tickets for the price of 1 etc.
Step 7. Rewards. Make sure you reward the participants who took the time to RSVP for the new date. They made time for your event TWICE. That is huge. Give them a special voucher, gift card or sweet treat. This will not only make them feel acknowledged but also help cultivate a relationship between you and your participants.