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COVID-19: how to communicate your event has been cancelled

Words by Kavina.

As of this weekend, the NSW and Victorian governments have issued notice to shut down all non-essential business in the next 48 hours, as the states those most affected by the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. Non-essential businesses have included nightclubs, pubs and bars, though have allowed venues to offer a delivery service for their food offerings. While the rest of Australia follows suit, this means that all major events and entertainment is now to be cancelled indefinitely while most venues have opted to close their doors completely. 

Of course as with most tough times, we know that this too is temporary. But with all the other things on your mind, cancelling your venue's events during the current uncertainty can be a hard one to communicate to your customers. Especially when we know they turn to our hospo venues as places to offer them some cheer and relaxed atmosphere during these stressful times.

While delivering bad news is heartbreaking, for some reason my mind has drifted back to a simpler time when we were faced with the dreaded end of those Blues Clues episodes as a kid. When you know things are winding down and Steve is about to start singing the ‘goodbye song.’ No matter how sad it was, you always left the show feeling upbeat, and hopeful to face another day of solving mysteries with Blue and Steve again tomorrow. Ok yes, we were five, but the art of ‘goodbyes and come again tomorrows’ are something that I feel we’ve picked up early on in life, long into the last call at the bar.

We got this. 

Finding the right words and trying to remain positive 

Our venues are pillars of our community, and hold a very strong voice amongst their customer base. We’re in some rough times but the underlying message can always be of hope. First you’ve got to establish the facts. Who, what, when, where and why? All event dates affected, the venues involved, procedures for ticket returns or new shows, whether there is a rescheduling and why you’ve had to cancel. 

As a venue in an industry heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, use your platform for spreading awareness by expressing why mass gatherings aren’t safe right now. Set an example for customers to watch out for their community while taking social-distancing precautions seriously. 

It’s also a great time to do your part by bringing the focus to the bigger picture. Raising awareness for the eldery and encouraging people to let you know if anyone needs help in these difficult times, even with picking up the groceries or delivering the paper, shows your neighbourhood that you’re a solid foundation for lending a hand. They’ll appreciate knowing it’s not just about the bottom line and it will keep you relevant amongst your peers as more than just a place to get a drink.

Once you've covered the facts and added some encouraging words, finish off your message by relaying when you reckon you’ll get back out there or that you’ll let everyone know when it’s safe to start setting some solid event/gig dates. soon there’ll be toilet paper for everyone and you’ll be back, bigger and stronger than ever! 

Social media is the fastest way to get the message out there 

Customers will see the news on social media first. Use your instagram to keep everyone in the loop and keep it short and sweet with an initial message on twitter too. Sometimes160 characters is a blessing because you can relay the important facts in that short space, so the vital information isn’t lost in a longer message. Keep the messaging similar over your different platforms so you don’t leave out any information, and use graphics and pictures to show tour dates cancelled, words to express the cancellation terms further in your picture texts and short messages on twitter to instantly direct people to the cancellation. Don’t get to update ticketing platforms like eventbrite. 

Send an email out if there’s more to the story

While you’re sending the quick shout-out on social media to let everyone know the update right away, you could back it up with an email letter to your subscribed followers to explain the situation at further length. From your take on what’s happening, expressing further your apologies, putting your commitment to your customers in writing regarding ticketing etc. Email correspondence shows your followers that you’ve taken the time to let them in on what exactly is happening and it’s a great way to keep them involved in an evolving situation. Especially on how the industry is currently being affected by what’s going on. David Walsh led a brutally honest statement for the cancellation of Dark Mofo as things started to decline, and it captured many of those affected. You have a voice and your customers will be honored at the opportunity to support you in this time too. 

A little video story, a message on your front door, use the little touches to stay connected.  

It’s the little touches that make the biggest difference to people at the end of the day. Times are grim for now, but nothing says heartfelt like a little “we’re sorry about this guys” video. It’s also really nice to see a smiling face and real people behind the words accompanying cancellations, instead of a traditional cancellation statement from an agency or venue manager/owner.  Or a little letter on your front door for customers to read as they walk past on the way to the supermarket. Use all modes of communication to stay connected to your customers, and they’ll still remember you when you come back stronger than ever. By turning the current drama into something that’ll put a smile on their faces, you’re still doing that awesome thing hospo venues do, by giving your customers some cheer during this time. And seeing their outward support towards you will warm your heart too.  

We’re all in this together!

Collaborate with the artists from the cancelled events to give your followers a little treat in the meantime

There’s nothing to ease the sting of bad news like a cheeky little treat to tide everyone over and keep everyone distracted and it’ll also help keep you relevant in the meantime. Since this whole social distancing thing, DJs and artists who have cancelled their tour dates have taken to streaming from their home studios during self-quarantine. Take a leaf out of Neil Young’s book and have your featured artists from the events record a little session or do an hour live stream of a mix. Carl Cox is doing one for every live show he’s missing in shout out to the cities he won't be visiting and we’re sure the artists missing out on gigs would love to be involved. We predicted that 2020 would be the year of virtual reality parties, but we never expected it to be in this capacity! 

Alternatively, you could put together some playlists of music to tide over your customers at home right now. Once again, keeping your customers interested online, will mean you’ll have heaps ready to come back when this is all over. 

 Rescheduling your events

Take your time, especially when things are constantly evolving at such a fast pace. We could wake up to a lovely vaccine ready for the world tomorrow, allowing live music and hospitality venues to return to the spotlight, or it could be months down the line. As venues have gone into temporary closure in the light of economic repercussions of social-distancing, it’s not an ideal time to be putting undue pressure on yourself during this current time by releasing new dates to keep people interested. 

Your customers will totally understand, and are highly adaptable. We’re sure that if you live-tweeted a block party for tomorrow arvo they would back it up and show up, so rest assured, we know that they’ll be here to support you ASAP. 

Here at Muso we’re keeping our fingers crossed and banding together to do our part for the live music scene. We appreciate how hard your venues have been working to keep everyone's thirst quenched and bellies fed. There’s no time like the present to embrace the mandatory downtime and let your venue and your staff have a little break too. Check out all the awesome musicians on Muso and keep the dream alive online by using the power of music and social-media to engage with your customers. They’ll be there to back you up too. 

We’re with you in music, mind and spirit! 

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