Opus Agency’s Guide to Modern Contingency Planning

Modern Contingency Planning

A conversation with Opus Agency experts on building modern contingency plans that heighten the attendee experience.
At a time when the world’s challenges seem to multiply and the expectations of our true stakeholders (our attendees) reach new heights, another dimension of event planning emerges.

The convergence of these factors requires brands to meet people where they are—to drive delight and elevate experiences—and embrace the art of anticipation. As event leaders, our commitment to excellence must outpace the expectations of the new generation of attendees-turned-stakeholders

At Opus Agency, excellence isn’t an aspiration; it’s the standard. At our clients’ events, our attendees have come to anticipate nothing less; collectively, we must rise to the occasion. This is modern hospitality, where the extraordinary is the norm and events must deliver beyond expectations. 

Alongside these heightened expectations, event leaders face new external challenges like extreme weather and complex social issues. A robust contingency plan offers more than a safety net; it is a way to carefully scrutinize an event, push boundaries, and strive for excellence. This process fortifies event plans and sparks innovation by uncovering new and unique ways of doing things that elevate the attendee experience. 

In this article, we hear from the experts at Opus Agency on best practices, modern headwinds, and tips for managing cost, transparency, and The Unexpected. 

Let’s dig in. 

Considerations for Preparing a Contingency Plan

The Setup: How to Plan for the Unexpected

“Most of the time, we find ourselves considering "what-ifs" at various phases of the planning cycle, even during the contracting phase,” explains Erica Snow, SVP of Event Management at Opus Agency. “When selecting a destination and venue, for instance, we have to consider potential scenarios and weigh the pros and cons of each location. If we're in a region prone to weather issues, we need to assess all elements that could be affected due to that risk. If we are in a new destination for the program, we must carefully consider logistics, transportation, and other unknown variables. If we are in a city experiencing strikes or protests, we have to think about attendee and speaker safety and then determine the appropriate level of staffing and planning.

“While these thoughts are present at every stage of the planning process, it doesn't necessarily mean we start planning for them right away. Instead, we focus on awareness of potential challenges and are prepared to address them when necessary. You need to have a reasonable understanding of the intricacies of an event before you can effectively plan for contingencies. Waiting too long, on the other hand, puts you at a disadvantage when trying to develop contingency plans.

“In my perspective, if you have a 20-week planning cycle, around the 10-week mark, you typically have a solid grasp of the agenda, evening events, and overall experiences. At this point, you can take a step back and assess potential issues or challenges in each scenario.” 

“The landscape has evolved significantly, and there are new components to consider, especially with the rise of social media and the interconnectedness of individuals and organizations. You need to consider additional elements, including the political climate, potential protests (depending on the client), social media dynamics, and PR/marketing-related factors. When you bring speakers or talent to an event, you expose yourself to potential liabilities. It’s important to remember that individuals have their own stories, histories, and online presence, and you must account for their past actions, statements, affiliations, and branding or marketing associations. The world has changed in the last decade, necessitating a more comprehensive approach to contingency planning than what was required in the past.”

The Execution: How to Navigate the Unexpected

“When it’s time to execute a contingency plan, transparency is crucial,” shares Snow. “Our job is to acknowledge the issue without inducing panic, which involves handling information with care. We conduct crew meetings at the start of each event, setting high-level guidelines for various scenarios. 

“Our crew’s name badges include safety information, emergency meetup points, and venue contact numbers. We also encourage clients to list emergency contact numbers on the back of attendee name badges to ensure everyone can access emergency contacts. 

“In a contingency situation, we immediately engage the necessary communications and security teams. Typically, we standardize access to information at various levels, catering to the needs of attendees, crew, clients, and planning teams. While crew members need more detailed information than attendees, planning teams require the most comprehensive understanding of contingency plans and potential situations. This tiered communication approach ensures everyone has the necessary information for their respective roles and responsibilities.

“Once all the teams have their need-to-know information, communications to attendees will occur through mobile apps or voice announcements, offering high-level guidance for immediate actions like evacuating the building.”

Although these considerations represent essential best practices during emergencies, planners must also address unexplored challenges that haven’t previously emerged. Let’s explore some of the shifting headwinds for 2024.

Shifting Headwinds

In 2024, the need for well-crafted contingency plans will be paramount. So, what should planners consider for their modern contingency plans? Here’s a closer look at a few headwinds that will make planning more critical than ever.

Technological Disruptions

In our digital age, network outages, tech glitches, cybersecurity issues, and more nefarious situations can majorly impact an event. Robust security measures and backup systems are indispensable components of any contingency plan. 

While digitally bolstered events always run a small risk of tech disruptions, implementing new technology like AI has incredible potential in event production and contingency planning. 

“AI offers a promising opportunity to streamline and boost our research process, especially in pinpointing weather and political factors for events,” says Snow. “AI-generated standard questions can provide a research foundation, guiding us towards more effective contingency planning and outcome assessment."

Catie Schreiman, Director of Event Management and Opus Agency, adds, Considering the optimal AI prompt for suggesting quick backup plans is fascinating. The ability to swiftly find the right prompt to produce scenario options aligned with program parameters holds great promise. Imagine the value in rapidly generating multiple scenarios without lengthy discussions, simply through a well-crafted prompt and a few clicks."

Union Strikes

The workforce is in flux, with labor shortages and union strikes making headlines. Event planners must anticipate and prepare for potential staffing disruptions impacting their meetings. 

"When dealing with labor strikes, we must address two critical concerns: the strike itself and the resultant staffing shortages. To tackle this, we may have to commit to a higher percentage in our staffing plans anticipating that a lower amount of staff may show.” shares Snow.  

“For added security, some of our contracts may feature provisions allowing us to access non-union labor if certain staff commitments fall short. These proactive measures are vital contingency plans, safeguarding event schedules and ensuring smooth execution. The key is to anticipate and plan for these challenges in advance.”

Schreiman adds, “In the event of strikes, our contingency plan hinges on the city's labor landscape. In many cities, like Las Vegas, the venue provides contractual support for our program. While seeking more information, one key question remains: will the strike be pre-planned and communicated in advance? Understanding union practices and how they negotiate every five years is crucial. 

“It’s also important to clarify how the venue will handle the strike and how the hotel and other amenities like coffee bars and bell check services will be affected. These considerations impact our contractual obligations, from bartenders for our welcome reception to program moments throughout the week. Fortunately, we've received reassuring feedback from our partners that makes us feel more at ease. Although they've informed us that the chances of the strike impacting us are slim, we continue monitoring the situation closely.”

Our venue partners have assured us that [a possibility of a strike] occurs every five years, and they are dedicated to keeping us informed,” adds Erica Hover, Director of Project Management at Opus Agency. “Trusted vendor and partner relationships provide invaluable expertise and readiness for situations beyond our control, ensuring we can confidently navigate any issue."

As the event planning landscape continues to grapple with labor shortages and union strikes, there lies a valuable opportunity for event professionals to foster even stronger relationships with their trusted partners and vendors. Collaborating closely with venue partners and dedicated vendors will provide essential expertise and readiness for unforeseen challenges. Many labor unions will publish their strike terms and dates in advance, which helps planners stay informed of staffing shortages.  

Construction and City-wide Events

Rapid urban development and synchronous, large-scale events present logistical challenges. Road closures, traffic delays, and competition for rooms and meeting space are top of mind for many planners. 

“In Vegas, for example, with ongoing construction and Formula 1 preparation, we are seeing a significant impact on our off-site events, including dinners and transportation logistics,” shares Hover. “Event leaders should anticipate delays and over-communicate with partners and attendees. Details are constantly evolving, so it’s mission-critical to stay on top of timelines and communications.”

The challenge posed by rapid urban development and concurrent large-scale events presents event planners with the unique opportunity to innovate and enhance the overall event experience. By embracing these urban transformations, event professionals can leverage them to create dynamic and memorable experiences. For example, planners can work closely with venues and local authorities to develop creative solutions to mitigate traffic delays, such as dedicated transportation lanes, alternative routes, or something unexpected like branded bicycles or group walks. Embracing change and proactively seeking solutions can lead to events that not only navigate challenges but also stand out as remarkable, making the most of evolving urban landscapes.

Social Issues and Political Instability

Social and political dynamics are increasingly volatile, with protests, demonstrations, and unrest becoming commonplace in many areas of the world. Event planners must assess the potential impact of such situations and have strategies to maintain safety and event continuity. 

“Timely communication is crucial for safety and event success, and it involves having a well-defined escalation plan for our leads to know who to communicate with,” explains Hover. “In instances like these, our program lead takes over direct communication and quickly involves the relevant security teams, PR teams, and other stakeholders who must be informed and engaged in the process.” 

Planners should research the political climate of their host city ahead of time and consider hosting their event in destinations that align with their brand values. If there is a shift in the political climate ahead of the event, planners should communicate openly with the audience, reinforcing brand values. Engaging with local communities and staying updated with local news is essential to ensure event success and maintain attendee trust and engagement in politically sensitive environments. 

Climate-related Issues

Climate change is looming large, bringing with it the possibility of extreme weather events. Event planners should incorporate new climate contingencies to protect attendees, mitigate disruptions, and manage travel modifications.

“We’re seeing extreme weather events more and more often,” says Snow. “Not much has changed regarding needing frequent contact with your venue partners. However, destinations that have never seen a hurricane, for instance, have a higher chance of seeing one in the next couple of years.”

Hover adds, “We were in Las Vegas for a program this summer when an incredibly rare hurricane landed on the west coast the day before our event began. We had to act across workstreams to manage flight changes, housing updates, and potential power outages. We even worked with our transportation vendor to provide last-minute buses from California to Las Vegas. Our partners were with us every step of the way, and we pulled it off without a hitch.” 

In the face of climate change and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, event planners should lead with climate-conscious and climate-positive practices. By prioritizing sustainability, planners can choose venues and destinations equipped to handle weather disruptions and promote eco-friendly practices. Events can inspire attendees to adopt sustainable behaviors and educate them about climate challenges. In doing so, events can mitigate climate risks, set a positive example for the industry, and make a significant environmental impact.

Final Tips from Our Experts

What creative strategies have you employed to develop cost-effective contingency plans that still provide security and preparedness?

“I have my ‘dino egg’not exactly a contingency line item but a fund to align with actual expenses,” says Schreiman. “A 100% finalized budget upon arrival is rare, and the need for contingency begins with the Statement of Work (SOW) budget. The budget adjusts throughout the planning process, providing a helpful figure for on-site allocation. This strategy allows us to integrate worst-case scenarios into the budget and adapt as needed. It's a twofold approach: prudent planning and continuous evaluation with flexibility throughout the program.”

What advice would you give to brand-side event leaders looking to up-level their contingency planning?

"Rather than reinventing the wheel, focus on utilizing the established resources, systems, and emergency protocols at larger-scale facilities,” shares Schreiman. “In-house teams are pivotal in bridging communication between attendees and venue operations. Effective partnerships and seamless information flow are essential during critical situations such as evacuations or power outages that rely on our internal systems.”

Snow adds, “Take a moment to ponder even the most unlikely scenario, like an alien invasion—probably not going to happen, but the ‘what-if questions’ are wild right now. Considering how you would respond is a valuable exercise. You don't need to develop a detailed plan. While resources and time are limited in event planning, acknowledging these possibilities, even without formal documentation, is a prudent practice. After all, we've seen extraordinary events unfold, and having a basic idea of how to respond is an appropriate starting point.”

Big Idea 

The ever-evolving landscape of event planning demands a heightened commitment to excellence, not just as an aspiration but as a standard. Meeting the elevated expectations of our attendees, who are our true stakeholders, means embracing the unexpected and delivering exceptional experiences. 

The challenges of our time underscore the importance of robust contingency planning and introduce a means to uncover new, innovative ways to deliver beyond expectations. Ready to up-level your modern contingency plan? Drop us a line. 

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