How the Coronavirus Is Affecting Event Pros

by Leigh Lucas

We surveyed our community of small business event venues and vendors. Here’s what they had to say.

A week ago, event photographer Ann Alva Wieding reported still being in shock from the South By Southwest cancellation. The slew of additional cancellations since that announcement with the rise of coronavirus in the United States has left many event professionals short of work and cash. 

Businesses and their leaders are being stress-tested and forced to make painful decisions. Ira Levy, of Levy NYC Design & Production LTD told us he had cut staff, reduced subscriptions, and reviewed every expense. Volatility in the business means Wieding plans to keep her business alive through a quick pivot into commercial photography. 

Online communities for event professionals have surged with the dearth of near-term business prospects. Our own Vendry Facebook community has 10x-ed in size and become a hub for recommendations and the sharing of information. From tips for venue sanitation, managing employees working from home, COVID-19 resiliency plans and more, advice and ideas move quickly as businesses strive to weather the storm.

Event professionals are developing creative solutions including collaborative ones. “Distributing the costs of cancellations between venues and clients is the most equitable method of absorbing the impact of this crisis,” urges Max Velasco Knott, Senior Manager at venue Bespoke. But with so many event businesses under existential threat, the spirit of cooperation is not always possible. Annmarie Pisano, of Grey Horse Full Service and PR Firm said, “I suggest delaying signing binding contracts or putting down large deposits if possible.”

Coronavirus exposed vulnerabilities in paperwork for many vendors. Many are revisiting contracts to be sure they are well-covered in the future. Knott of Bespoke urges others to be sure their contracts have clear force majeure language. “We’re extending the wording in our contract to state that events can be postponed, but cancellation forfeits the deposit,” a florist stated. 

Once you have worked through cancellation and postponement logistics, you might consider ways to improve your business during this downturn. Lauren Bruss of Élan Flowers shares the forward-looking advice to “focus on your systems and processes to maximize time and efficiency. When all this has passed, it will be easier to get back on your feet and get the ball rolling again.”

Despite the crisis, people have displayed strength and generosity, with caterers donating food to those in need, event venues lending their spaces for virus testing, and customers buying gift cards to tide over businesses they love. We at The Vendry speak for many when we say it is wonderful how people have come together to help each other make it through these hard times. 


The Vendry community shares ideas and comments

From contract advice to sanitation measures to productive ways to use free time, our community speaks on what they are doing to stay healthy and keep their businesses afloat. 

HEALTH & SANITATION

“We make sure our staff stays healthy or stays home when they are not.

—Venue Manager on The Vendry

“Our warehouse team is staying on top of hygiene and improving protective measures.”

—Florist on The Vendry

“We disinfect high traffic areas such as door handles, stair rails, bathroom levers and faucets daily.”

—Vanessa Morrow, Lightbox, Venue Manager

Lightbox venue hosts Instagram

CLIENT MANAGEMENT

“We have found that compassion and empathy towards our clients who need to cancel or postpone events goes a long way. About 80% of our clients have rescheduled to a later date (typically in July) and our willingness to work with them through the date-change has been key to securing these future events. Clients can expect the same level of service and professionalism from our company under any circumstance.”

—Janay McCullough, Avocado and Company, Catering

“As many are being forced to make some tough decisions, we are working with our clients on the necessary steps moving forward with scheduled events and sticking to deadlines to minimize losses regarding cancellations.” 

—Lauren Bruss, Élan Flowers, Florist

Élan Flowers for Vita Coco Summer Dinner

We will honor any client’s down-payment if they will postpone their event, but we will not return any payments for cancellations.”

 —DJ on The Vendry

“I am working with my clients to reschedule their events. This is impacting all of us so I am trying to be flexible to find a day and time that works. If clients have to cancel their events outright, I’m doing my best to maintain our relationship and book the next event they do plan. This has now been a big financial strain on my year and know that it has affected others so much more, my heart goes out to them and really hope this doesn’t continue much longer.

—Barbie Hull, Barbie Hull Photography, Event Photographer

Barbie Hull for Seattle Art Museum Open House

“I suggest the event industry take the same position as airlines and hotels: payments and deposits are applicable to reschedule at a mutually acceptable time. Deposits and commitments for projects should be secured far in advance, as cancellations wreak havoc on cash flow and projections.”

—Ira Levy, of Levy NYC Design & Production LTD, Lighting Professional

LEVY NYC for Alice + Olivia NYFW

CONTRACTS

“Make sure your contracts have clear force majeure language. But if possible, try to share the costs of cancellations between venues and clients.”

—Max Velasco Knott, Bespoke, Venue

Bespoke Event Space in San Francisco

“We’re extending the wording in our contract that states that events can be postponed, but cancelation forfeits the deposit.”

—Florist on The Vendry

INSURANCE

“We have insurance, but we have found that most insurance carriers do not cover “Acts of God” which is how they are classifying coronavirus.”

—Janay McCullough, Avocado and Company, Catering

There needs to be a business disruption insurance for this kind of situation, because currently, business interruption insurance only covers things like a fire.”

—Ira Levy, of Levy NYC Design & Production LTD, Lighting Professional

LEVY | NYC Creativity Lab

CRISIS MANAGEMENT

“We are severely cutting our marketing budget, laying off some staff, and doing everything we can to withstand the next few months.”

—Alex Altman, Aces Up Casino Parties, Rentals

We have cut staff, reduced subscriptions, and reviewed all expenses.”

—Lighting Professional on The Vendry

PLANNING & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

“We are working with clients to reschedule rather than cancel. We have shifted focus to future events like weddings and festivals at the end of the year.”

—Darci Kendall, Hodde Bros Beverage Co, Beverage Service Provider

Hodde Bros Beverage Co. for Basil Hayden’s Bourbon in Residence

“I am still in shock from the SXSW cancellation. I need to assess my business plan and photography offerings and consider pivoting away from an event-focus to the commercial industry for awhile.”

—Ann Alva Wieding, Ann Alva Wieding Photography, Event Photographer

“I am spending my new free time increasing my marketing and diversifying my business for more online income. Create an online aspect to your business unrelated to events. I plan to focus more on teaching, personal projects and marketing. I hope to come through this in a stronger position than I was before coronavirus.”

—James Maher, James Maher Photography, Event Photographer

“We are using the down-time to work on admin projects that have taken a back seat.”

—Darci Kendall, Hodde Bros Beverage Co, Beverage Service Provider

“Use the downtime to focus on your systems and processes to maximize time and efficiency. This way, when coronavirus has passed, it will be easier to get back on your feet and get the ball rolling again. Send out emails, come up with new short- and long-term goals and take the steps to reach them. Take advantage of the downturn by building your business internally. There is always room to grow.” 

—Lauren Bruss, Élan Flowers, Florist

“We are salvaging fall events by coming up with digital streaming plans for content.” 

Annmarie Pisano, Grey Horse, Full Service and PR Firm

“Everyone is looking into streaming right now and trying to find the best vendors and services for that, so we’re excited to see if everyone lands on one service as the best. We’re thinking about how to have immersive experiences and inspire the type of serendipity you might find in real life—online. That’s the biggest question for me—if the main point of an event is to meet and mingle with other humans, can you replicate that experience—or come up with something even better, virtually? 

Annmarie Pisano, Grey Horse, Full Service and PR Firm


To connect with peers on this topic, ask questions and share best practices, join our Facebook group.