When an event months in the planning is about to operate and a terrorist attack happens what do you do? To pinch a popular phrase, you keep calm, deploy your event crisis management policy, and carry on as it turned out.
Toyota were launching their Russian spec Venza to the Russian press in Boston in the days after the Boston Marathon. Events took an unexpected turn and the launch was plunged into jeopardy. We caught up with project director, Nikki Colvill, to understand what happened and why being prepared avoided damaging consequences for all involved.
Monday, April 15th. A terrorist attack hits Boston. “the event was in pre-live phase and a week away, I was still in the UK but we had the technical team on the ground and the car logistics team in the air and heading for Boston. We put in place our crisis management policy for the event and immediately contacted all parties to inform and provide guidance and advice. We were monitoring the aviation situation constantly”.
Tuesday, 16th. “The logistics team had arrived, and because of Patriots' Day and the marathon, our technical crew were located outside Boston at this time and the impact was minimal. The event was days away and consultation with the relevant authorities and our team on the ground meant we could give a ‘proceed’ advice to the client. All the time we had contingencies for complete cancellation, partial cancellation and event amendment, and continue with minor amendments. Communication is critical and all were constantly informed, priority communication channels were established and known and all knew what was to happen and when”.
Wednesday, 17th. “The situation was relatively stable and we prepared to depart the UK. Aviation remained as normal. Situation monitoring, including the social media mayhem, continued. ”
Thursday, 18th. “An unfortunate lightning strike delayed the flight, so when we arrived in Boston it was immediately apparent the situation had moved on, with a robbery, the shooting of a policeman and the search on for suspects. Scheduled communications were held with all parties to inform and advise.”
Friday, 19th. “On the ground and with one terrorist dead and a manhunt underway, central Boston including where the event was based, began to be shutdown. It was not the whole of Boston contrary to widely held opinion. We went out of Boston for the vehicle photoshoot. The roads were uncharacteristically quiet. The rumours of closure of more of central Boston and the possibility of being denied entry back into Boston, meant an early return. By the evening, lock down was lifted and Boston began to open. Missing fugitive captured - our communications focused more on safety given the Chechyen factor.”
Saturday, 20th. “The situation was extremely confusing and fluid. We needed to ensure the media hysteria (especially the impact social media was having) didn’t affect the event planning, at this time still on a ‘proceed’ basis. The regular calls covered safety and more the contingencies for the leisure elements, given the driving was outside the impacted area. Our urban photo shoot proceeded.”
Sunday 21st and Monday 22nd. “As quickly as the situation became critical, it subsided and a sense of normality returned. We had our regular meetings and calls. Bomb area still shut down - the news of the opening of the area changed on a daily basis, so the programme had to be constantly updated."
Tuesday 23rd. “Boylston Street reopens and the event proceeded as planned at the outset. To the welcome relief of all."
Key Learnings for Events Crisis Management
“There are two critical elements to ensure you stay on top of any situation. A calm and rational mindset, and an organised and logical communications plan. At any point in the proceedings the primary requirement was to deal with objectivity and facts, the challenge was to avoid reactions based on perceptions and misinformation, and there was a lot of that at the time.
“Variables to consider at all times were the roles each team member had, what their primary information needs were, what time zone they were in (bear in mind we had the client and delegates in Russia, Toyota representation in the US, Europe and Japan, and on the ground staff), cultural aspects (I suspect some other cultures that weren’t Russian would have cancelled immediately) and what media to monitor and how. The frenzied feeding of the established media from social media and vice versa complicated things enormously, especially for the monitoring teams. Other things to consider were the personal side of events – all the team members and delegates have family and friends around the world who were naturally concerned.
“Times like these are why you have to have not only a crisis management policy, but have one that is rehearsed, relevant and understood by all those in the agency with a part to play. With calm, objective and fact based actions then the value of that policy pays off, in this case the client event was not impacted in terms of delegate experience and no one was put in any situations of risk”.
Read the M&IT interview with Nikki.