When Controversy Strikes Your Event

It can be event host’s worst nightmare. Months of planning, hiring vendors, arranging speakers and setting up presentations finally comes down to one day – and then disaster hits: a controversy threatens to derail the entire occasion. Controversy can take many forms. A labor disruption could erupt at the hotel where you are hosting your event. A guest speaker could go off script and make a tasteless remark. The entertainer you hired could get into legal trouble. You might think there’s little you can do once a controversy hits, but there are strategies for dealing with an unfortunate crisis.

Act quickly. An effective response to controversy requires fast action, no matter how you decide to react. Gather all the necessary details right away, from reputable sources. The more you do within the few hours or days after the crisis hits, the better position you’re in to develop a counter action.

Set things straight. Rumors abound when a crisis occurs. It’s important that you set the record straight about what’s transpired and how your company is involved. Include chronological details and facts from credible sources to place everyone on the same page regarding the controversy. If you’re still investigating the circumstances, inform everyone that you’ll be providing updates.

Admit fault when necessary. If, unfortunately, the controversy traces back to your organization and its planning efforts, you’ll need to acknowledge your involvement. It’s smart to prepare a public apology and inform all parties of your embarrassment, perhaps with some assistance from PR experts. 

Put yourself in their shoes. Even if the crisis doesn’t involve wrongdoing on your part, you’ll need to address the situation and figure out a way to remedy it. Look at the controversy through the eyes of your event attendees and determine what action would resolve the matter.

Fill everyone in on counter measures. Once you establish a strategy for handling the circumstances, make sure you let everyone know what you’re doing to counter the impact of the controversy. Don’t put your company in a situation where you’re accused of delaying a response or not acting at all. Outline your plan and ask for input if you believe it will alleviate the concerns of event attendees.

Let it go. Once you’ve mounted an appropriate response and put your plan into action, drop the matter once and for all. It’s important to update everyone on what’s transpired and what you’re doing to remedy things, but you don’t need to keep rehashing the circumstances or issue repeated apologies. The timing on letting go is key here, as you don’t want to be seen as ignoring the situation, however, continuing to discuss it will only prolong the controversy.

Make crisis management part of your plan. While you can’t always predict where, when and how a controversy will hit your event, there are fail-safe strategies you can implement that will lessen the impact. Put together a crisis management team with specific duties, and arm them with detailed tactics that will help them accomplish the above tasks.

What do you do when controversy hits at an event you’ve planned? Feel free to offer some advice or share your stories.

For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing bduffy@onesmoothstone.com

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