The Public Relations Society of America wisely cancelled its annual conference in light of Hurricane Wilma. Unfortunately, the financial implications are large for this national, non-profit association.
Even the International Association of Online Communicators rallies support for the organization with a call for ideas to help the PRSA maintain momentum for the year based on this decision. In an announcement on the PRSA site, it appears they may try and reschedule.
Unfortunately they also posted the following statement regarding refunds:
To request a refund, we ask that you write a letter to PRSA to include the following information:
Your name, organization, phone number and e-mail address;
The reason for your being unable to attend the Conference (please be specific -- e.g., your flight was cancelled, the seminar you were planning to attend was cancelled, etc.).
Ouch. The PRSA should make it a bit easier to get a refund. I can already see the piles of letters, printed dutifully on official company stationery. The "specific" reasons submitted for being unable to attend should be passionate if nothing else.
The PRSA may reschedule the event and get good attendance. Maybe I can even attend this one. But posting the standard refund policy in a unique situation like this is bad form. The PRSA might lose a few bucks, but bad buzz is even more expensive. Making it easy for registered attendees to get their money back is just good business. Here are some constructive ideas on how PRSA can move past this setback.
* Hold the Event. Online. Promoted properly, they can offset some of the financial loss and still deliver valuable programming to the membership. Handouts could be hosted in an online library for download and a handful of PR bloggers/podcasters might be given media passes to promote the online event to a wider audience. Attendees registered for the cancelled event would get a partial refund and registration would be opened up to a larger, international audience. Sponsorship might also be revisited to see if any new opportunities present themselves. Webex might be interested in helping host the online event.
* Make Lemonade. Whether it is rescheduled or not, EVERY registered attendee should receive follow up communication from the PRSA. The letter should restate the decision and outline next steps. It should also include a discount voucher for the 2006 event and ask the recipient if she would be interested in helping create next year’s program through an online focus group. The 2005 crowd would be more likely to cash in these coupons if they had buy-in to next year’s content.
These ideas won't erase the financial loss, but they could build some good buzz for the organization. Be sure to add your ideas to this list or stop by IAOC blog and join their thread on this topic.