Hosting an Event During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Jenny Pabila / 06 Jan 2021

PR consultant Jenny Pabila explains how to host a successful launch event when social distancing restrictions are in place

Hosting a live event offers the opportunity to showcase your brand or products to the press and potential patients, as well as engage in conversation with them, and develop and strengthen beneficial relationships.

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, it can be quite overwhelming to consider planning and hosting an event that needs to meet the requirements of social distancing and ensure that attendees feel safe and secure, whilst also abiding by local regulations.

Whether you are a practitioner, clinic owner, distributor or brand founder, this article will share advice on all the basics you need to consider for your live event to run smoothly, despite the ongoing pandemic restrictions.

Event planning

Once you have identified the purpose and date for your event, which I discuss in more detail in a previous article published in Aesthetics,1 it is important to invest time in planning it in exact detail. Attention to detail increases event success, particularly in the current landscape. It can be useful to create tools to help stay organised, such as a table outlining the schedule of the day down to the minute, together with a critical path covering all the event production planning. A critical path is a dated to-do list detailing everything that needs to be done by everyone in the run up to an event/campaign.2

Use virtual technology where possible

By utilising virtual technology, you will be able to schedule meetings with all stakeholders involved in the event, such as product distributors and external PRs. It’s important that all parties are included in the event schedule planning, particularly so they are aware of your COVID-19 social distancing policies and where physical interactions might be taking place to limit this as much as possible.

Consider your guest list

With the current COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, you should calculate the maximum number of attendees that can be accommodated throughout the launch event duration, to ensure that the optimal social distancing is observed. This will depend on the spacing and logistics of each individual clinic/location. In addition, when curating your guest list, consider researching the geographic location of your attendees and if the event location is accessible by walking or personal transport, thereby minimising their exposure to public transport.

By keeping open, transparent and honest communication, you can share your care and concern to maintain social distancing for guests to travel to attend your event, without compromising their safety, that of your team, the location staff and anyone else that will be involved in the event.

When running a press event, if your attendees are based nationally, then another option would be to consider a virtual event instead. I would also currently recommend a virtual event if the topic or reason for the event can be successfully communicated digitally. For example, if you just want to invite people in for an event to showcase your general services, perhaps now isn’t the right time, and an interim virtual event or a physical press launch held later in the year would be more appropriate.

On the contrary, if you are the first clinic to be launching a new product in the UK, then it might be necessary to have the event sooner. This was the case for a recent launch event I helped organise with Dr Preema Vig and Cutera to introduce the truSculpt flex device to the UK market. It was crucial to have a live event for this launch to secure public awareness and success of the treatment in the clinic.

Communicate well with attendees

Send out digital ‘save the date’ notifications, and then proper invitations a few weeks later. In these you should communicate the processes and procedures that will be in place at the event, such as temperature checks and hand sanitisation, to make sure that guests feel comfortable to attend and know what is expected of them to keep others safe. In addition to providing key information about the event to your attendees, utilising e-communication like emails and digital apps like WhatsApp and Instagram can form part of your engagement and relationship building journey, with the added benefit of being instant in real-time.

From my experience I find that some press are more responsive on WhatsApp or Instagram DM, so I normally email and then try one or the other platform to keep in touch with them. I’ll use this to ask if they have all the event details, whether they need anything else and let them know that I am looking forward to seeing them.

While this may not be appropriate when hosting an event for potential patients, you should consider ways to market the event successfully on these platforms. This can also impart some warmth to what may feel like a sterile and clinical experience with the current COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. In addition, it enables you to maintain an ongoing conversation about a forthcoming event and potentially engage their interest and commitment to attending.

A friendly warm reminder four to five days pre-event, and again in the morning of your event, can serve to reassure attendees. By being responsive and informative, you can put your guests at ease and address any nerves or fears they may have attending an event, reinforce your relationship with them and maximise the success of your event.

Make sure staff are on board

As well as the attendees, it is important that the staff are confident and comfortable. They should be well informed before the event, as any uncertainty and hesitation on the day can sometimes be communicated through body language and may make press or attendees uneasy. If a staff member does not feel comfortable about the event, reassure them, explore their concerns, or perhaps ask another member to step in. You can also consider executing the production of the event yourself on the day to minimise additional people in your event location, which can also eradicate further deep cleaning or sanitising for their attendance.

Plan the attendees’ walk-through

It’s important for clinics to visualise and make note of the ‘walk-through’ of the event, and any pre-event activity where you are required to attend physical locations or be around other people. Dr Vig conducted a virtual press tour for me and the Cutera team to help us plan out the logistics of our recent live launch event with precision. For us, pre-event planning included calculating the maximum and minimum time it would take a guest to navigate through the clinic and to then co-ordinate running two rooms. This amounted to 90-120 minutes for each person from arrival to departure.

You should divide your event location into zones and plan one-way routes to minimise physical contact and effectively carry out social distancing. In addition, you should ensure the sanitising or deep cleaning of these zones once they have been accessed and left by an attendee are allocated and confirmed as the responsibility of the clinic staff or the brand/PR press launch team.

If the launch event is taking place in an existing clinic with a CQC accreditation, they may already have protocols in place. It is worth reviewing these alongside your event production schedule to assess that it adheres to social distancing protocols.

Consider your event supplies

Take time to plan the third-party support aspects of the event that need to be factored in, such as anyone that needs to deliver any heavy equipment, stock, event resources or are attending to set up on-site. If you decide to manage it without physical third-party attendees then you may be taking delivery of physical items required for the launch. Where possible, take delivery of all supplies four to 10 days in advance so that items can be isolated, sanitised, collated and then stored. Ensure there is surplus stock of PPE for all event attendees, the location staff, any brand representatives and your team. If you wish to give attendees gifts, it’s worth having pre-packed kits and readyassembled products for less physical handing on the day. You can also send press releases and other paperwork electronically instead of giving out hard copies and post gifts directly to a designated address following the event. Invite guests for post-event treatments

To further keep attendees engaged with your event and new product, you should look to invite them to have a complimentary treatment. In terms of press, we found this particularly beneficial with the Cutera truSculpt flex launch and gained coverage from the likes of Alice Hart-Davis.

You can either invite people to have their treatment on the same day as the launch event, or at a time of their convenience afterwards, always ensuring you are adhering to social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols.

Conclusion

Together with some strategic planning pre-event, careful launch activity execution, and combining the implementation of virtual tools, it can be possible to host successful launch events despite the current COVID-19 restrictions. Ensure you are abiding by local restrictions at all times and always consider the safety of your attendees, staff and self as a priority.

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