What To Do if An Event Goes South

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

The most successful event planners are those who are able to tell a story. These men and women can stand in front of an audience and connect with each person individually; they can put a human face on their brand and present it with remarkable grace and candor. There’s another trait they all share, as well: they’re all able to think on their feet.

The reason this is important is quite simple: no matter how well you plan out an event, there’s always something that can go wrong. Worse, you aren’t always going to realize something has gone wrong until the event is already over. How an event planner handles these situations can very well make or break a brand.

Every year in June, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (commonly just called E3), one of the world’s largest video game trade shows, takes place. Game developers and publishers from all over the globe attend E3 to show off new games, technology, and concepts; success at this show often has a direct impact on success as a brand.

This year, in the months leading up to the trade show, everyone was abuzz about “the next generation” of console gaming, with both Microsoft and Sony announcing plans to put out a new game system. Opinion was fairly divided regarding which of the two titans would emerge victorious when this new generation arrived… that is, until Microsoft’s pre-E3 press conference.

I can genuinely say that I’ve never seen an event botched with such efficiency.

Microsoft’s conference focused entirely on the multimedia aspects of the Xbox One, with executive after executive droning about how the device represents “a new way to watch TV;” about how it will revolutionize a medium whose glory arguably faded years ago. While this conference certainly left a few people excited, the vast majority of gamers—the Xbox’s core demographic—were left both bored and dissatisfied.

Sony, meanwhile, did the opposite, focusing chiefly on what it felt its customers wanted to hear about: games.

At this point, a savvy event planner would have returned to their office, licked their wounds, and asked what they could have done differently. They’d have examined both their event and the event hosted by their rival. They’d have read what people—both expert and consumer—were saying about their presentation. To put it simply, they’d have paid attention.

Unfortunately, they didn’t. This became abundantly clear as E3 crept up. At the show, Microsoft ended up giving one of the worst, most underwhelming presentations that year. Their presence there was marred by blunder after blunder after blunder.

They broached an issue they should have realized was sensitive to their consumers with all the grace of a runaway freight train. To make matters even worse, Don Mattrick—the man in charge of presenting the Xbox One—was nervous and un-engaging, more often than not either tripping over his words or putting his foot deep into his mouth. As a result, while the Xbox One was by no means inferior to the competition, Microsoft’s poor marketing pushed fans away from it in droves. Although Microsoft has recovered to an extent, I doubt anyone will forget its gaffe anytime soon.

At this point, I’d like to ask: what could they have done differently?

As we’ve already established, there’s a good chance that your organization will eventually manage or attend an event that goes poorly for it. How can you minimize the damage to your brand, and emerge with a smile in the process? How can you avoid a brand crisis like what Microsoft encountered?

The first, most important rule: listen. Listen to what people are saying, both at and after the event. Listen to what your competition is saying and doing. More importantly, listen to what your employees and executives are saying to the people at the event. By doing this, you might be able to catch minor stumbling points before they become major problems.

That’s where the ability to think on your feet comes into play: respond quickly, efficiently, and with candor wherever a problem arises. At that point, it becomes a simple matter of managing the problem as you would any other brand crisis.

Even the best-laid plans occasionally come to ruin. Eventually, you’re going to run an event which, for one reason or another, will end up being a dud. It’s not the end of the world—or your brand—so long as you understand how to manage it, and what you can do if and when your event goes south.