Event Marketing Healthcare Conferences Marketing Strategy

7 Tips for Marketers When a Conference Cancels

The conference where you are a sponsor/exhibitor just announced that it has been cancelled. As a marketing/PR professional, what now? Here are seven tips to keep your marketing momentum while your competitors stumble.

A growing number of conference organizers are making the tough decision to cancel their events amidst the COVID19 outbreak that is gripping the globe. SXSW, Google I/O, Dell World, and the Game Developers Conference have all been cancelled. Last week, HIMSS, AHIP and ACHE each announced that their conferences would be suspended due to COVID19.

Cancelling these healthcare conferences is the right thing to do from a public safety standpoint. It is also prudent given that most attendees work at healthcare providers which need their staff focused at this time. Plus could you imagine how embarrassing this headline would have been: “Healthcare Conference goes ahead despite warning signs – 13 confirmed COVID19 cases”…oh wait it did (read what happened at the recent Biogen meeting).

For marketers and PR professionals in healthcare, conferences are an anchor to many publicity and lead generation programs. When a conference cancels what can be done to make up for the lost marketing opportunities? Here are 7 things you can do to fill the gap in your program when a conference cancels?

1. Virtual Meetings

This is an easy and obvious tactic.

If you had meetings with clients, partners and members of the press arranged at the conference. Email them immediately upon learning of the cancellation and switch from an in-person meeting to a virtual one. The people you are meeting with have obviously blocked their calendars so if you act quickly enough, you should be able to keep the same date/time.

Of course, keep in mind that if you were meeting with people who work at a healthcare organization, it would be wise to give them an option to rebook on a later date since it’s likely they are dealing with a lot of turmoil at their workplace at the moment.

2. Switch Presentations to Webinars

This is another easy and obvious thing to do.

If you were presenting a session at the conference with a client/partner or were part of a panel discussion, turn it into a webinar. Bonus Tips:

  • Use video so that people can see the panelists/presenters
  • Record the webinar so that it can be viewed on demand by people on a later date
  • Snip parts of the recorded webinar and use these snippets as part of marketing campaigns

It makes sense to try and hold the webinar on the same date and time as the original presentation, however, that may not give you enough time to promote it and have people register. Remember that if a conference cancels at the last minute, attendees will be dealing with flights, hotels and registration refunds so they may not be in the right frame of mind to sign up for a webinar.

Shifting to a later date may also help you avoid the rush of other presenters who will doing the same thing. You may stand out more if you schedule your webinar for a quieter time.

3. Hold your own press event

If you had planned on making a big announcement at a now-cancelled conference, then consider holding your own press event. If you are a large company or if you are in a city where there is a concentration of media, you may be able to attract a number of press folks to your announcement at your headquarters.

If you’re not IBM or Cerner, however, it’s not likely you’ll be able get a significant number of press folks in the room with you. No worries. Hold a mock presser instead.

Get a step-and-repeat backdrop (or use your booth if you don’t have a step-and-repeat handy) and have your spokesperson stand in front of it with a podium as if addressing a large room. Film them making the announcement. You can even get creative and have staff ask questions of your spokesperson. Post the video on your news page with the title “Announcement we would have made at CONFERENCE X” and use it as part of your PR campaigns.

4. Create Sales Demo Videos

At conference, salespeople typically give demos of the latest products/features to prospects and existing customers. When a conference cancels, help your sales team maintain momentum by creating personalized demo videos that they can send to their contacts.

Record each salesperson giving the demo that they would have done at the booth. If possible, film them in the actual booth if you can set it up in your office. Salespeople can then use these recorded demos as part of an outreach campaign to their prospects and existing accounts.

Here’s how the email might sound “It’s unfortunate we won’t have the chance to meet in-person now that CONFERENCE X has been cancelled, but what I wanted to show you is so important that I recorded this short demo for you.”

5. Offer up your giveaways

Exhibitors spend a lot of time and effort on their giveaways at conferences. Of course you could save those tchotchkes for the next conference, but why not turn them into potential lead generation campaign?

Put up a page on your website with a nice picture of your giveaway and a simple form that people can fill out with their contact information + mailing address. Offer to send your giveaway to anyone that signs up. If you were planning to giveaway coffee or a catered food item (like cupcakes or cookies) then consider offering gift cards as your online giveaway so that people can get their own treats locally.

Before you balk at the cost of doing this, consider, you were going to give these away at the conference to anyone who stopped by your booth in return for scanning someone’s badge. Now you’re just doing it online. Yes, there is an extra cost of shipping to consider, but I’m going to bet that the cost to mail your giveaway is about the same as what you saved from not having to pay for meals for your team to be onsite.

6. Go regional

Smaller local healthcare events are more likely to go forward since their risk profile is lower. This may be a good opportunity to look into regional events to make up for the loss of the big national one. If there isn’t one, then consider teaming up with partners and customers to hold your own regional event.

7. Up your podcast game

At most conferences these days, it’s common to see podcasters recording multiple episodes while onsite. Now that the conference isn’t happening, these podcasters will be scrambling to line up guests for their shows. Since recording interviews virtually takes more than putting on headphones and stepping up to the microphone, podcasters will have to arrange different dates/times for their guests – which may cause some of them to fall out.

Reach out to podcasters who you know were going to be at the conference and offer to help them fill those lost guest spots with your own thought-leaders.

About the author


Colin Hung

Colin Hung is an award-winning Marketing Executive with more than 15yrs of healthcare and HealthIT experience. He co-founded one of the most popular healthcare chats on Twitter, #hcldr and he has been recognized as one of the “Top 50 Healthcare IT Influencers”. Colin’s work has been published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, American Society for Healthcare Risk Managers, and Infection Control Today. He writes regularly for Healthcare Scene and here at HITMC.com. Colin is a member of #pinksock #TheWalkingGallery and is proudly HITMC. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

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