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Live Event Success During COVID-19: National Sales Meeting, Jan. 2021

Event overview: 

Event Type: Medical Device Company National Sales Meeting, January 25-29, 2021

Event Location: Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, Orlando, FL

Event Planner: Astrid Schrier, CMP, HMCC – Event Consultant (Freelance) & Manager, Global Accounts, HelmsBriscoe

This post is part of the HopSkip Live Event Success Series where we interview planners and the other key players involved in creating a safe, successful live event during covid-19.  Keep and eye out as we release more stories like this as part of the Planner Success Series.

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What were the top few things that made you feel confident that you were set up for success to have your first live event since the start of COVID-19?

  1. My completion of the Pandemic Compliance Advisor (PCA) course offered through Healthcare Education Services. This course was invaluable in ensuring I had the tools, information, and resources to work with my client, venue, and vendors to hold an in-person event. Being able to provide this information put my client at ease.
  2. Our partnership with In-House Physicians, our medical contractor. They managed our on-site rapid testing on arrival day and our daily symptom checker (through our mobile app) and temperature checks. In partnership with their team, we also crafted the protocols that would be put into place should an attendee test positive or experience/exhibit symptoms which were then integrated with the hotel’s protocols.
  3. Marriott’s Commitment to Clean plan and the hotel’s Enhanced Event Protocols that ensured the venue was doing everything they could be doing to ensure our attendees health and safety

How did you find out that your attendees would be willing to travel to and attend a live event?

Because of the client being a medical device company in the mental health space, most of their salespeople have been traveling throughout the last year ensuring their doctors and patients have access to their life-saving device. Due to this, the client has an at-home testing protocol in place for those who travel that we were able to utilize (EverlyWell At-Home COVID tests) for all attendees (including vendors/staff) prior to traveling to the event and post-event.

 

Did you receive any feedback from your attendees leading up to or following the event regarding if they felt safe?

Yes. Prior to the event attendees requested additional information regarding safety and cleanliness protocols for the hotel and the event. Information was provided via the event registration page that included links to the hotel’s protocols (both overall brand and specific hotel), the city and state’s COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions and CDC guidelines. We also outlined our expectations regarding the client’s mask policy and our commitment to event design as it related to room set-ups and meal functions and asked attendees to agree to a code of conduct.

Following the event, attendees received a post-event survey that asked them to respond to the COVID-19 safety and cleanliness protocols that had been implemented.

 

Were hotels’ safety protocols and communication of them a deciding factor in choosing a property?

Absolutely. This program was sourced in September 2020, so we were able to ask for and receive all of the hotels’ safety and cleanliness protocols during the RFP process and work with the hoteliers on identifying the appropriate event space to accommodate social distancing. We were also able to utilize our CVB partners in the cities we were considering ensuring we were able to meet appropriately under their local guidelines.

 

What did the hotel do to ensure safety compliance?

The hotel followed the Marriott Commitment to Clean policy as well as their own additional property specific protocols, all of which were provided during the sourcing process, again during the planning process and are available very clearly on their website. These policies outlined how the property has adapted to the overall brand policies from Marriott International (enhanced cleaning, physical distancing/plastic dividers, contactless ability for staff interaction and services, staff health and safety protocols) as well as how they were impacted by local government restrictions.

Additionally, this information clearly communicated how the different hotel services and amenities were impacted (what was/was not open, how services were adapted, etc.) The hotel also had clear signage and hand sanitizing stations throughout the public and meeting spaces.

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How was the process of doing physical distancing room layouts? Space to rooms ratio?

Since we sourced the program with the distancing in mind, it was easier to accommodate once content decisions were made on how to set the rooms. For our general session room, we went with 3 per 72” round and our breakouts were either the 3 per 72” set-up, u-shape with 1 person per 6’ or a circle of spaced chairs (no tables). Additionally, we worked with Cort to utilize plexiglass dividers that speakers could present/act out behind based on the content being delivered in the breakouts.

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Did you find the F&B minimum to be more expensive or less expensive before COVID-19?

The only thing that impacted our F&B spend was cost for attendants for breakfast and a few more for our two receptions. Instead of a breakfast buffet, attendants served our attendees and items that may have been passed during a reception were now served by an attendant from a station. Coffee attendants for our coffee breaks were included in the cost of our break food & beverage and instead of doing a lunch buffet, we had bento boxes that were priced around the same as the buffet would have cost.

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How did masks and physical distancing affect attendee networking?

They absolutely created barriers for attendee networking, especially for a sales team that has been apart since last year’s National Sales Meeting. We were able to create some ‘forced’ mingling through rotating people in different breakouts sessions and based on the amount of testing we provided and daily symptom/temperature checks, our attendees were able to feel a bit more comfortable around their colleagues thanks to the safe and clean environment created.

 

Is there anything you wish you did differently when preparing for the event?

Since we did a virtual site visit in lieu of an in-person site visit, there were some items that we were not able to see/experience in advance that would have been helpful. One specific example that we ended up changing around a bit onsite was based on not being able to properly envision some of the sight lines in the general session room based on the distanced set-up. Having the ability to do the virtual site visit was great, especially based on our turnaround time, but there is still plenty to be said about the benefits of an in-person site visit or pre-planning meeting!

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As a result of COVID-19, will your target destinations change from traditionally popular markets to regional, drive-to, and less densely populated cities?

Ultimately no. This client did have a contingency plan to move to 5 regional meetings for this event should the air travel become a grave concern but did not feel the need to make that change.

 

As a result of COVID-19, did your sourcing workflow change in any way? More approval gates, contract negotiation, hotel communications?

Slightly. On the front end there was more communication with the local CVB offices to ensure we were sourcing cities that could accommodate our program. These relationships were key as the local city, county and state guidelines were constantly changing. During the RFP process we asked some additional questions around capacity restrictions, virtual site visits and other groups that had held events/that were on the books. The ability to conduct a virtual site visit to be able to feel more comfortable with our decision in the timeframe that we needed to without traveling was key in our timeline and I think is a great alternative to nothing at all. Then because we had sourced and the meeting was taking place while the pandemic was still in full swing, we were able to work with the hotel to build in more contract clauses to protect the client and given the circumstances, we did not have to go through much negotiation based on the hotel’s desire to gain the business and showcase that we could hold the event safely and effectively.

 


This post is part of the HopSkip Live Event Success Series where we interview planners and the other key players involved in creating a safe, successful live event during covid-19.  Keep and eye out as we release more stories like this as part of the Planner Success Series.

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