The COVID-19 pandemic presented itself in early 2020. Managing Matters is an international events, creative and association management company and we quickly became aware that the new virus would likely be affecting all our clients, from events, to meetings to certification and education. Managing Matters had to quickly become experts in COVID-19 so that we could advise our clients and work with them to assuage concerns from members. Our Communications Team focused on creating messaging that was from a reliable, scientific source. The World Health Organization (WHO) and The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be the go-to sources for general messaging and guidance. As our clients’ events are international, it was also decided that if there were any events in the immediate future, we would refer to the local government’s health guidelines. It was imperative to effectively communicate how COVID-19 would affect conferences, meetings and education while also creating member value, support and community.
Strategy The overall strategy was to become experts in COVID-19’s global effects and support the membership with regular, supportive communications. We began with devising a communications plan using non-partisan, scientific sources like the WHO and CDC. One of the main challenges was the evolving nature of the virus, so we had to be able to adapt quickly when necessary. A toolkit was created that had sample communications for different types of stakeholders. This toolkit was shared with all staff and an education session was held so that everyone was comfortable with the information. Knowing that a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t apply across all clients, we discussed how to communicate with each respective association. Several weeks after the toolkit was sent out, Managing Matters conducted a client survey so that we could find how associations were fairing in the COVID-19 pandemic. We used those findings to further inform our strategy.
Solution Each team worked with the association’s stakeholders (board or volunteers) to send a general message to the membership (or encourage that a message be sent out). This message acknowledged the global pandemic and gave information on events in the near future. This allowed for a touch-base with members and a reminder that their association was watching out for their interests. The survey let us know that 75% of clients were adding member benefits and value during the pandemic. This included new webinars, white papers and virtual coffee chats to support their member base. Communicating these value-adds opened the doors to new dialogues with members around the impact of COVID-19 and how we could support them further with additional resources, like a support group.
Additionally, many associations created COVID Resource Centres on their website that pertained to their industry to further engage and support members during this time.
As the pandemic went on over several months, associations have had to quickly pivot their offerings to virtual as many were in-person and required travel. Through the client survey we saw that 85% of associations had to move or cancel events, and 83% of clients pivoted to online events. Communications around these new offerings have given opportunity to engage members more frequently and display value with online courses, webinars and networking. 35% of Managing Matters’ clients have shifted certification or educational programs online which creates new communication touchpoints and value. Though members have been receiving more email and online messages, there has not been a noticeable increase in unsubscriptions or unfollows. If anything, there has been greater engagement online as greater connections are being sought out during the pandemic. Members have told us that “more is more” during these times of uncertainty and this has given way to new campaigns and ideas.