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The art of event cancelation: Insider tips for event marketers
Event marketing strategies

The art of event cancelation: Insider tips for event marketers

Sometimes the cards aren’t in your favor, and you’re faced with the difficult decision to cancel an event. But these best practice tips and templates can help you leave a positive lasting impression.

Kait Huziak
March 11, 2024

“The show must go on” is a universal motto for event marketers. But despite that innate desire to succeed at all costs, sometimes the cards aren’t in your favor, and you’re faced with the difficult decision to cancel an event. 

While event cancelation can be a disheartening experience for event organizers and attendees, a tactful cancelation strategy can help bolster your brand's integrity. Effective communication and accountability can put you in a better position to resolve the situation smoothly and help preserve goodwill with future attendees.

How should you proceed when confronted with the challenging task of an event cancelation? This article will dive deep into best practice tips to transform a regrettable circumstance into an opportunity to leave a positive lasting impression on your attendees.

Common reasons for event cancelation

There are plenty of factors that can lead to canceling an event. But despite the possible financial and reputational consequences, sometimes, it’s still the best decision to protect the safety, security, and interests of everyone involved. The following list highlights some of the most common reasons an event might get canceled.

Internal problems

There are a lot of moving parts at play to bring an event to life, which can sometimes introduce complications. Key vendors may back out at the last moment, or you might be stuck waiting for essential permits or licenses. While certain hiccups can be resolved, other issues, such as the absence of a critical legal permit, might force your hand to cancel your event.

Issues with the venue

In cases where the selected venue unexpectedly withdraws support and no alternative location is available, you might have no choice but to cancel. Smaller events could potentially find a new spot on short notice, but it's a lot trickier for bigger ones. Plus, last-minute venues can come with a hefty price tag, which may not work for your budget.

Talent-related problems

Despite best intentions, sometimes your hired talent is unable to make it to the show. Whether there are issues at the border or other travel-related problems arise, logistical challenges beyond your control can disrupt planned appearances, which may require a reassessment of the event's viability and, in some cases, necessitate a cancelation to uphold the standard and expectations of your audience.

Bad weather

Sometimes, Mother Nature can be pretty unforgiving. Torrential downpours, strong gusts of wind, and other extreme weather events can make it challenging or unsafe for people to attend your event — especially if it’s outdoors and you need the right conditions to make it a success. If your event occurs at an outdoor venue with inadequate weather coverage, proceeding with the event could result in a disappointing turnout.

Poor ticket sales

If ticket sales are insufficient to cover event costs and generate a profit, canceling the event might be a wiser choice than moving forward. This decision depends on your ability to secure refunds from already paid vendors and whether the revenue shortfall justifies forfeiting deposits over continuing the event.

Best practices for canceling an event

1. Stop selling tickets

Once the decision to cancel your event is finalized, the first step is to stop selling tickets as soon as possible. This proactive step helps minimize disappointment among ticket buyers and avoids the complication of having to refund more people than necessary post-cancellation.

2. Notify attendees

Try to give your attendees a heads-up at least 24 hours in advance. The sooner you break the news, the better. Some attendees may be coming from out of town, requiring time to adjust travel plans, accommodations, and transportation.

Send out an email promptly, and utilize various channels, including social media, as emails may go unnoticed or end up in spam folders. Your website, marketing emails, SMS, and promotional materials are also effective channels for conveying this crucial information.

A template has been included below to help you get your email out quickly.

3. Provide refunds

If attendees have already been charged for tickets, the next move is to initiate full refunds. If your event spans multiple days and only some days are canceled, offering a partial refund for multi-day ticket holders would be acceptable. However, it’s crucial that you involve your ticketing provider in this process as you may not be able to make these calls without the assistance of a representative from the ticketing platform. 

Once an outcome has been determined and you’re ready to start communicating with attendees, provide clear details on refund amounts, when you’ll start processing refunds, and the expected timeline for refunds to be credited to their accounts.

4. Reflect and learn 

Regardless of the cancellation reason, take the time to reflect on where things went awry and if you can implement any preventative measures for future events. While certain factors, like natural disasters, are beyond your control, it may be worth considering incorporating cancellation clauses into vendor contracts or devising backup options.

Lastly, it might be worth sending a follow-up email to ticket buyers with a survey to gauge their satisfaction with your communication, cancellation, and the refund process.

Crafting event cancelation communications

Crafting event cancelation communications requires a delicate balance of transparency and empathy. While email is often the go-to platform for such communications, there are instances where alternative channels, like SMS, can prove more suitable. Both email and SMS play distinctive roles in conveying essential information, and understanding when to deploy each method is key to ensuring your message is received promptly.

Choosing the right channel

SMS Communication

In cases where cancelations are last-minute, a quick and direct SMS should be the preferred first choice to communicate with attendees. SMS is more likely to grab attention promptly, especially in urgent situations. This method is suitable for conveying time-sensitive information efficiently.

Keep in mind that SMS is limited to 160 characters per message and emojis or links leading to more information contribute to that character count. An example of an SMS message you can send is below:

📢 [Event Name] Update: Due to unforeseen circumstances, the event is canceled. Refunds will be processed. Apologies for any inconvenience.

Email Communication

For cancelations or rescheduling that allow for a bit more lead time, communicating by email is an appropriate choice. Unlike marketing emails, transactional emails like these serve a critical purpose by delivering essential information. In this case, it's crucial to clearly communicate the reasons behind the cancellation, outline the refund process, and provide contact details for inquiries.

It's important to note that transactional emails, such as event cancellations, can be sent even to individuals who have previously unsubscribed from your marketing emails. This is because transactional emails are seen as crucial, non-promotional communications necessary for the completion of a transaction or service. However, it's best practice to include an option for recipients to manage their communication preferences to ensure compliance with regulations and respect for their choices.

A template of an email you can send is below:

Subject line: Important Update: [Event Name]

Body copy:

Hi [First Name],

We know how much you are looking forward to [event name]. However, it’s with a heavy heart that we have to share that the event has been canceled due to [cancellation reason]. 

This is not a decision that was made lightly, but your safety and experience mean the world to us.

Our team is actively processing refunds for all ticket buyers through your original payment method. We get that waiting isn't fun, so we truly appreciate your patience as we hustle to navigate the high volume of transactions. Should you not receive your refund by [date], please don't hesitate to reach out to [contact info].

For updates on our upcoming events, stay connected with us on [social media platform] at [social media handle]. We're crossing our fingers to catch you at [event name] down the road!

[Closing sign off],

The [Company name] Team

Wrap up

The art of event cancellation is not merely about mitigating challenges but transforming setbacks into opportunities for exceptional customer service. By following these insider tips, event marketers can navigate the complexities of cancellations with professionalism and empathy, ensuring that even in disappointment, the experience leaves a positive mark on both brand reputation and attendee relations.