The economic impact of the coronavirus is only beginning to be felt. Marketers, event planners, and public relation professionals are swiftly pivoting strategies as they navigate the unprecedented pandemic. With heightened health concerns, the global pandemic has caused the cancelation of major live events like SXSW and even suspended sports seasons like the NBA and MLB. While it’s still early to tell, the financial impact of this precarious time is starting to add up. Recode reported this week that the direct economic loss from canceled tech conferences alone will surpass $1 billion. 

Event cancellations and postponements began in February and have already impacted events planned through October. If you’re on the fence whether or not to host your event, it’s best to default to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local government officials (for instance, see guidance from the city of Austin on holding live events). It’s also important to closely monitor the decisions and precautions made by companies within your city and industry vertical.

As we adjust to our new ‘remote-work’ reality and try to offset the economic impact of the coronavirus, marketers and communications professionals have come up with alternative solutions to the in-person experience.  

The economic impact of the coronavirus  – enter virtual events

Once considered nominal, virtual events are now being accepted and embraced by vendors and attendees alike, especially as we feel the deepening economic impact of the coronavirus. Even Joe Biden has canceled his planned rallies in Miami and Chicago, opting for virtual events to supplement. Now is the time to plan your digital event strategy. Examine the events, conferences, or presentations your company has scheduled in the upcoming months. For each event, can you develop virtual alternatives or creative experiences to achieve your same goals and desired results? Paneled events may turn into live streams with intimate watch parties. You may decide to turn a keynote speech into an interactive webinar, mailing swag to attendees.

The key here is to align your virtual or micro-events with your objectives. You may also have to re-evaluate your financial objectives for the event given the overall economic impact of the coronavirus. For instance, will there be more competition for your event given the lower barrier to entry of a virtual event versus a large in-person one? Will fewer people stay committed to attending online given how easy it is to get distracted at work?

Prepare your toolkit

From live streaming to digital workspaces, taking your event digital is still an evolving landscape. The best course of action during this time is to equip your team with the proper tools to offer an engaging remote experience. One such tool is PechaKucha, a platform that tells stories in the format of 20 chosen images each for 20 seconds. When you’re shifting to a virtual event, keep in mind that digital events will be much shorter than in-person. For collaborative tools, Mural is a digital workspace to facilitate impactful meetings and workshops. Various companies like Zoom lifted limits on video calls for its free version to accommodate the increased demand of remote gatherings. Platforms like uStudio allow companies to easily create and deliver communications through video or podcasts. Podcasting is an effective and cost efficient medium that reaches a wide array of key stakeholders. Be sure to test your software prior to your event and format accordingly to fit a digital platform.


Smart, proactive messaging will be key to salvaging your event during this pandemic. Attendees, sponsors, and vendors want to hear updates about your specific event, not the latest news surrounding COVID-19. What are your cancellation or refund policies? If you proceed with your event, what is your on-site preparedness plan? What technology does your company have in place to go virtual? Be clear and concise with your messaging, leaving no room for audiences to question your company’s concern for the overall well-being of the community.

While the alarming news continues to dominate headlines and the economic impact of the coronavirus is still rumbling through our respective industries, event attendees must understand the pressure event organizers are under. They also must expect flexibility from organizers to offer refunds or event alternatives. As professional communicators, we are all tasked with the challenge to develop innovative ways to keep audiences engaged and safe. [Check out these tips on how to pitch your live event to the news media during the coronavirus.]

What’s clear now as we adapt to life during a pandemic, we expect to see a sustained increase in the use of digital experiences. The sooner you learn about and start using virtual event technology, the better you will be able to meaningfully engage with your audience.  

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