COVID-19 is causing many events to reschedule until later 2020, others are canceling their 2020 event completely and reschedule to the following year. It is so crucial that we, as Event Organizers, control our messaging to the customers who have already purchased tickets to avoid a PR backlash.
Whether or not the refund policy terms give the customer the right to a full refund or not – you still want to have proper messaging.
The key here is to get your attendees ON YOUR SIDE. Now, more than ever, you need your event attendees to accept your offer to honor their ticket to the reschedule date (even if that’s not until 2021) instead of demanding a refund. Many Event Organizers will go bankrupt or forever end their event series if they have to refund every ticket purchaser at this point.
But here’s the good news. We’re finding that when Event Organizers properly communicate, open and honestly with their attendees, and focus on a proper messaging plan – 50% to 90% of existing ticket holders are allowing the event to hold their money and transfer their tickets to next year’s event. This is happening even in cases where technically the customers have the right to a refund.
How are they achieving this high rate of customers being “ok” with honoring their ticket 6-12 months from now? The right messaging. They are treating their customers the way they’d want to be treated.
1. How Flexible is Your Ticketing Provider?
- Control the Message! The last thing you want your ticketing provider to do is send out a mass blast to your ticket holders with a boilerplate, legal notice cold-hearted email. We’ve all received these ourselves in the past from Ticket Master, you know what I’m talking about.
You should talk to your ticketing provider and ask if YOU can create the email content that they send to your ticket holders. That way they don’t say something like this: “Technically no refund is owed. No Refunds. No Exceptions. You agreed to these legal and binding terms. Good Day.”
- All messaging from your organization, and in the content your ticketing provider sends ticket holders should include a special email address for the person in your organization who is going to handle customer questions, issues, and complaints. Many clients have created an email for this very purpose such as covid19@(yourfestivalname).com
This keeps customers off of social media, and instead brings the conversation into your email inbox. You want to have a 1-on-1 email conversation rather than a public social media comment battle.
This also allows you to share your messaging of why it helps the event if they let you rollover their ticket to 2021 instead of a full refund.
Many times, having this 1-on-1 conversation will turn a customer that emails “I was told to email here for a refund.”
into this: “You know what, keep my ticket funds, just rollover my tickets to 2021 the last thing I want to see is you guys going under – I’ve been bringing my family to your event for 11 years.”
- Make sure your ticketing provider gives you the email addresses for all ticket holders. You should email all customers your messaging content as well – don’t just rely on your ticket company to handle your customers.
2. A Video from the Heart
Make a video of the Event Organizer explaining what’s going on. Humanize it, be honest. Talk about the good your organization does in the community, that you’re not a mega corporation “profit machine,” talk about why you put on your event and how it helps people. You want to share your story. Maybe share the repercussions if you have to refund everyone i.e. no event next year, the organization may have to dissolve, etc. and remind attendees the value and good times you’ve been providing them year after year.
One of my colleagues works with an amazing festival called Country Fan Fest. They posted a great video that spoke to their attendees and created a huge amount of goodwill and support from their ticketholders:
They also posted a great message to their fans on the homepage of their website:
I have to say, Hal does an excellent job of being real. He delivers his message from the heart, and I have to say – if I had purchased tickets for his event there is no way in hell I would be asking for a refund after watching that! If anything, Country Fan Fest’s messaging and the way they handled this would make me an even bigger die-hard fan.
3. Incentives to Carryover Tickets to Next Year
I talk about this in another article here. But essentially, you want to offer special incentives to current ticket holders so that they will let you carryover their ticket to next year. If you’re creative with this, you can provide some incentives that are low cost to you, but high value to your attendees. Here’s a few ideas:
- Free comp ticket for next year.
- Free or discounted t-shirt.
- Entered into a raffle for VIP upgrades, prizes, better seating, etc.
- Free food voucher, drink voucher, or ride ticket.
- Discounts on food and drinks.
- Free tickets or discounted tickets for some other event you put on throughout the year that’s separate from this event.
- Create a special “loyal customers” portion of your event. i.e. The first 3 hours on Thursday is only open for the loyal ticket holders that honored their 2020 ticket for 2021.
- Special after party, or pre party, or special concert for the 2020 loyal ticket holders.
- Extra tasting tokens for beer/wine.
- You could offer to donate a portion of their ticket to a charity. i.e. If you keep your $25 ticket for 2020 and transfer it to 2021 we will donate $3 of your ticket to the Food Bank.
- Are your prices increasing next year? They maybe should, to help recoup some of these COVID-19 losses. If you are going to increase prices from $20 up to $25 for 2021 that is a huge incentive to hold onto their 2020 tickets!
RESERVED SEAT CONCERTS & RV/CAMPING HOLDERS
Remind ticket holders that by transferring their reserved seat ticket to next year they are guaranteed their seat or rv/campsite. You should really highlight the fact that if someone requests a refund they are very unlikely to get a good seat (or any seat at all) because most ticket holders that have a reserved seat are going to hold onto it until next year – and once the remaining reserved seats go on sale to the public they will sellout in minutes.
Non-profit organizations can potentially offer their ticket holders the option to transfer those funds into a straight up tax deductible donation.
One Last Messaging Example
For current ticket holders – those of you who keep their (FESTIVAL NAME HERE) Tickets for the future date, you’ll be eligible for some incredible perks that far exceed the value of the tickets.
We believe deeply in loyalty, and that loyalty will be rewarded. Keeping your 2020 tickets and letting us honor them for this event in 2021 means savings jobs in our community.
We’re planning things like one-off collaboration beers just for you, free upgraded glassware, deep discounts on future events our company produces, and an exclusive afterparty for anyone who stuck it out with us.
Onto Next Year!
As you can see, you don’t necessarily have to instantly auto-refund every purchaser. You can give them a choice, you can share your story and give them a reason to hold onto their ticket for next year. But it all comes down to your messaging, your strategy, and how you treat your customers.
I hope these tips help you retain the majority of your ticket sales revenue even if your event is moved to later 2020 or all the way to 2021. Please share below if you have any other useful insights or tips to help out your fellow Event Organizers!