Planning an Event? Better Have a Contingency Plan

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Event planning is a difficult process, whether you’re a layperson or a public relations pro. Schedules need to be coordinated, collateral material needs to be assembled, and presentations need to be prepared. Entertainment and catering services may need to be booked, and guests must be attended to. Securing a site for an event can prove troublesome depending on the budget, and setting an agenda can be a pain when too many people are involved in the planning process. But as I learned recently, sometimes the biggest secret to successful event planning is having a contingency plan.

The weather was great in the Berkshires. I was in the mountains of western Massachusetts to celebrate the wedding of a good friend, and the guests marveled at the good fortune bestowed on us by Mother Nature.

“If only the weather was like this last week,” one guest muttered to me.

Probing, I found out that this guest had helped plan a public event to launch a new product by a company based in upstate New York, just a few hours from where we enjoying the wedding festivities. The event took place outdoors, which would have been fine had it not poured rain.

“We had no contingency plan,” the guest, an executive at the company, told me. “The people who planned it banked on good weather, and when it started to rain, we had to rush everyone into the cafeteria.”

Journalists, business partners, and employees crowded into the cafeteria, the guest said, because it was the only room in the office complex large enough to handle the crowd.

“It was a disaster,” the guest continued, asking that I not reveal his company’s name for fear of additional embarrassment. “We had to spend more than 30 minutes setting up the sound system so people could hear us and the acoustics in the cafeteria proved to be horrible.”

The rest of the event did not go much better; people’s moods soured due to the poor sound and the flustered presentations. Media coverage of the event, which the company hoped would be the catalyst for a public relations campaign, was minuscule.

“We had a wire reporter there and we were hoping that his story would make it onto the national wire,” said the executive. “He couldn’t hear the presentation though, so he never wrote about it.”

I asked the executive who was to blame and he smiled: “The public relations people, of course. They planned it.”

Preparing a contingency plan is a must when it comes to effective event planning. As the example above illustrates, weather can have an obvious impact on an event planned to take place outdoors. In this particular case, the people planning the event should have prepared the cafeteria ahead of time and shifted the event indoors once the morning weather report hit. Even a “chance of showers” can ruin an event.

I did ask the executive one more question about the event.

“Had the public relations department ever planned such an event before?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “This was the first time we ever did anything like this.”

“Lesson learned,” I said, as we toasted to the happy couple.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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