Crisis Management in Event Marketing and Communication

By John Dudovskiy
July 15, 2012

Crisis Management  There are no arguments amongst special events industry researchers and practitioners that the success of special events depends on the level of effectiveness of marketing and overall management. However, the role of crisis management is greater in special events than a range of other businesses because special events are associated with unforeseen circumstances in a greater extend (Matthews, 2008).  It has been stated that “crisis management starts with avoiding action, keeping your finger on the pulse so that as soon as the pace hots up – at the first signs of the beginning of a crisis slide – you can take pre-emptive action” (Armstrong, 2008, p.162).

This article represents a brief literature review on the topic of crisis management in the management and marketing of special events and addresses the most important aspects of the issue on the basis of secondary data research.

The majority of authors who have contributed to the research area in a significant way have offered their own version of definition of its main terms. Crisis management has been defined as “preparation for low-probability or unexpected events that could threaten an organisation’s viability, reputation, or profitability” (Pride and Ferrell, 2008, p.455). An alternative definition of crisis management is offered by Lamb et al (2008) in a way that it is “the coordinated effort to handle the effects of unfavourable publicity, ensuring fast and accurate communication in times of emergency” (Lamb et al, 2008, p.527).

On the other hand, some authors (e.g., Bowdin et al, 2006, Glaesser, 2006, and Tong, 2010) have attempted to define the functions of crisis management and offered viewpoints like “crisis management as an institution refers to the group of persons who are responsible for crisis management activities. They are the dominant bearer of the functional crisis management” (Glaesser, 2006, p.21).


The Potential for Crisis in Event Marketing and Management

Most of the authors who have discussed the issues of event management in one way or the other have also mentioned the potential of crises in special events with a varying degree of depth (e.g. Bowdin et al, 2006, Silvers, 2008, Matthews, 2008, Allen, 2010 etc.). According to Blythe and Zimmerman (2004), external factors play significant role in the emergence of crisis situations most of the times. Specifically, the authors argue that “crises can also be defined within the firm’s control, or outside the firm’s control. Many firms have been beset by problems which were really not of their making: however, very few problems are entirely outside the firm’s control. In most cases, events can at least be influenced, if not controlled” (Blythe and Zimmerman, 2004, p.304).

The examples of crises in special events include accidents, mass antisocial behaviour, environmental issues, security issues, violence etc (Egan, 2007, Silvers, 2008, Allen 2010). Each of these types of crisis has its own characteristics and specifications, and accordingly different set of measures are required in order to prevent them, as well as diminish their negative impact (Egan, 2007).

However at the same time, as Allen (2010) informs, the probability of crises for any specific special event depends on a range of factors, including the level of effectiveness of management and staff, environmental conditions and others.

Secondary data authors have also specified the following negative impacts of various crises on special events:

a)      Crises are most likely to incur additional costs (Masterman and Wood, 2006, Bowdin et al, 2006, Allen, 2010)

b)      The level of achievement of event objectives are going to be compromised (Masterman and Wood, 2006, Bowdin et al, 2006, Silvers (2008), Allen, 2010)

c)      The time of the staging of special events can be delayed (Bowdin et al, 2006, Silvers, 2008)

The crisis development process is divided by Palmer (2007), as taken from Gonzalez-Herrero and Patt (1996) in four stages. Stage one is issues management where crisis indicators will be looked for by the interested parties. Stage two involves planning prevention where potential crisis has been identified and specific measures are being designed in order to prevent them. Stages three involves the actual crisis taking place and the response of the company. In the final stage four the whole experience is analysed and conclusions are derived for the future.

Moreover, it is stated that “the ability of the organisation to be proactive and responsive in order to manage itself through crises also relies heavily on PR communication with investors, financial media and shareholders in portraying how secure the organisation is and will be” (Masterman and Wood, 2006, p.91)


Classifications of Special Events and Their Implications for Crisis Management

Special events can be classified into different categories in order to explore the issues of crisis management associated with them with increased level of efficiency. Shone and Perry (2004) divide special events into four categories: leisure events (recreation, sports etc.), personal events (anniversaries, weddings, birthdays etc.), cultural events (religious, art, ceremonial etc.), and organisational events (commercial, charitable, etc.).

Some authors have explored the issues of crisis management in the cases of special events in general, whereas others have focused on specific category of the classification above. For instance, Silvers (2008), Allen (2010) and Tonge (2010) have attempted to explore crisis management on the contexts of organisational events formulating strategies of dealing with them as well as analysing the reasons of their occurrences.

Robinson (2010), on the other hand, implements an alternative approach, in a way that his work mainly addresses the issues and potential crises situations that might arise during personal events such as anniversaries, weddings and birthdays as well as leisure events like sports and recreational activities.


The Issues Associated with Crises Management in Event Marketing and Communication

Secondary data authors have formulated their viewpoints regarding various aspects of crisis management in event marketing and communication. According to Robinson et al (2010) as taken from Page (2003) three main characteristics associated with crisis are the following. First, crises may be short in duration but their negative impacts may last for considerably longer period of time. Second, crises are able to transform businesses with ‘stable’ operations into the state of chaos and uncertainty. Third, the concepts of chaos and crisis reveal the importance of flexibility and adaptability for the businesses. The above named issues have been partially addressed in the works of Masterman and Wood (2006) and Allen (2010) as well.

Chaturvedi (2009) explore these issues in a detailed manner and state that “during a crisis, the event manual is truly evaluated. The site plan, map, good signage, and contact list become very important elements. The fact that the staff forgot to put north on the site map suddenly goes from an oversight to a disaster” (Chaturvedi, A, 2009, p.192)

Classifications of crises according to specific criteria have been done by some authors; with Hindle (2008) offering one of the most effective samples of such types of works. The following table representing the types of crises and their relevance to special events has been prepared on the basis of work of Hindle (2008):

Type of Crisis Examples Relevance to special events
Acts of God TsunamiStormsEarthquakes Highly relevant
Mechanical problems Metal fatigueTechnology malfunction Relevant
Human errors Miscommunication of information‘Technical’ human errors Relevant
Management issues Ineffective managementUnderestimation of problems Highly relevant


Silvers (2008), on the other hand, explore the relationship between crisis management and various sources of risks. The following table represents the various elements and descriptions of risks that might take place in various types of businesses, including special events formulated by Smith (2008):

What is at risk? What are the risks?
People Bodily injury or death
Property Property loss or  damage
Finances Reduced revenue
Systems Reduced capacity or capability
Environment Resource availability
Image Increased demandLoss of goodwill or reputation

Source: Silvers (2008)

Various types of crises that occur at any stages of special event marketing, management and staging are also stressed to be a good learning experience for organisations by Laws et al (2007) and Silvers (2008). Specifically, it is noted that “good crisis management is partly about the ability of organisations to learn from experience (that of others as well as their own) and partly about the ability and willingness of a lead organisation to undertake the roles of researching and then disseminating the information which is required for effective pre-planning” (Laws et al, 2007, p.8)

According to Robinson et al (2010) crises may have greater negative implications in special events industry compared to many other industries, and organisations due to the fact that special events involve crowds in most occasions that tend to be emotional and are difficult to control.


The Ways of Dealing with Crisis in Event Marketing and Communication

Some researchers and practitioners in special events industry have formulated their recommendations regarding efficient ways of managing crises that might arise. Many authors including Allen (2003), Silvers (2008), and Chaturvedi (2009) stress the importance of risk manager in various types of special events. It has been specified that “the event’s risk manager must work with the event organiser to ensure that risk management is infused throughout the planning and execution of the event project and that the event organisation is risk resilient – knowing the risks and being prepared to compensate for and finance them” (Silvers, 2008, p.17).

According to Allen (2010) special event organisers have to be proactive, rather than reactive in terms of dealing with crisis situations. In order to achieve this author recommends establishing relevant on a systematic level.

Tonge (2010), on the other hand, argues that crises management team should be in place at all times for all types of special events in order to be able to deal with the issues in a time effective manner. The author states that “the crisis management team should be a maximum of four persons, preferably the Event Co-ordinator, or Chairperson, an experienced committee member, a legal advisor and a PR person” (Tonge, 2010, p.68).

The main principles required for crisis management leadership have been specified as by Blyth (2009) as knowledge, information, confidence, practice, structure, balance and pace. Each of these principles has been discussed in a separate manner by such authors as Allen (2003), Armstrong (2008) and Matthews (2008) and their importances are stressed by driving upon specific examples.

Allen (2003) states that detailed plan should be formulated in advance that ensures that any type of crisis is dealt with minimum or no losses. The author explains his idea with crisis management mode and explains that “crisis management mode – expected business behaviour in an event planning emergency crisis – consists of three parts” (Allen, 2003, p.176).  These parts are sometimes referred to as ABCs of planning and include anticipation, backup and crisis management mode.

Moreover, some authors have offered their recommendations regarding effective methods of recovering from crises. For instance, it has been suggested that “it is best not to advertise after crisis and give customers time to ‘forget’ the situation” (Oh and Pizam, 2008, p.179).

However, Robinson et al (2010) adopt a rather sceptical viewpoint regarding the applicability of advices related to the crisis management formulated above and state that each crisis and conditions associated with it are unique and it is not possible to offer general ‘recipe’ that suites all of them.



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Category: Management