With event season usually starting to ramp up around now, concerns over the global coronavirus outbreak has seen a number of big-ticket exhibitions postponed or even cancelled this year.

The Geneva Motor Show has cancelled its event, with luxury brands like Rolls-Royce and Bentley scheduled for attendance. Along with marketing and technology leaders; Adobe, SalesLoft, Oracle and DemandBase having also cancelled and postponed their upcoming events and the list keeps growing.

Thresholds for a cancellation

There’s no denying the appetite for travel and live events has taken a hit over COVID-19 concerns and this is all new territory for those of us involved in the events industry.

Big-ticket events have already cancelled under the ‘force majeure’ clause. Which refers to a contractual term by which one or both parties (an event and/ or exhibitor) are entitled to suspend performances following a specified event or events beyond its control.

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It is fundamentally up to the event organiser to deem their event safe enough to stay open to the public. The best way to do this is to stay informed about the global and national precautions being taken.

Rather than taking this into your own hands, keeping an eye on GOV.uk will allow you to see the current threat level and advice given by UK authorities.

Communication strategies

Here are a few strategies you could try to implement into your event marketing campaigns to help minimise any blowback during this global health emergency.

Stay in your lane

With your event messaging it’s important to only report expert advice. Think about what might be useful to your audience, for example; refunds and cancellation policies are probably going to be the top of everyone’s lists.

Your on-site preparation will also be a top priority for attendees, knowing what you specifically plan on doing to help create a ‘safe space’ against COVID-19 will help put your attendees at ease.

Regular engagement

As an event marketer, it’s crucial that in the run-up to your event that you are in constant contact with your attendees keeping them in the know. Early outreach can help mitigate any rumours about your event that silence often breeds.

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Whether you plan on carrying out your event or cancelling it, this consistent messaging to attendees is vital. Have companies implemented any travel restrictions? Let your attendees know. Are these companies still planning on exhibiting at all? Let them know.

This clarity you can offer helps the attendees feel as though they’re part of the process, nothing causes irritation quicker than an absence of interaction.

Developing email campaigns to announce cancellations will allow you to reach the bulk of attendees, with personalisation options open to you to give that sense of directness in your messaging.

Avoid potentially ‘triggering’ content

Your position as event marketer/organiser your main priority should be to help put your attendees at ease. So, it’s important to keep your messaging away from topics that could potentially cause ‘outrage.’


For example, a food and beverage event should stay away from showing imagery of attendees eating from open trays of food. As well as choosing their phrasing very carefully, staying away from messaging that involves shared or open food.

This can also be applied to marketing imagery including large crowds or international audiences. Obviously, people are going to expect this from an exhibition, especially a large one but this is all about mitigating any blow up that could potentially happen over social media initiated through your messaging.

Virtual replacements

For your bigger conferences, virtual alternatives can help levitate the stress of travelling and being in large crowds as coronavirus worries continue.

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Virtual event platforms allow event planners to build exhibition floors with virtual booths, where attendees can download information and initiate in live chat rooms with event booth staff. Keynotes and presentations are also experiences that can benefit from these virtual replacements.


If you suspect something is wrong you should self-isolate. It is far better to be safe than sorry and this can drastically slow the rate at which coronavirus is spreading.

However, historically people can’t be trusted, so if you deem it unsafe you should take it upon yourself to cancel your event. If your insurance covers health epidemics then refund pay-outs shouldn’t harm your business too much in the long run.

Social distancing measures are probably the best defence against the spreading of COVID-19, especially as there are currently no vaccines or treatments available. It is the responsibility of everyone to do their part to minimise the spread.

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