The unthinkable has happened. And our assumptions and business practices are changing to address our new reality. As the event marketing company for InSystems Technologies' Connect 2001 user group conference, those of us at Impact Events learned some key lessons after the attacks of September 11:

Contingency Planning and Budgeting

It's standard practice at Impact Events to develop contingency plans and budgets when managing large events. For the InSystems conference, we had already developed a plan and budget in case slow market conditions kept us from attracting the target number of attendees. But in our worst nightmares, we never anticipated the catastrophe of September 11. Although the plan we had in place helped us to react quickly to protect InSystems' interests, it didn't go far enough. In the future, we'll have to completely re-evaluate how we approach contingency planning.

Contract Negotiation

In the planning stages, we negotiated a substantially reduced cancellation penalty on behalf of InSystems. However, we're still in talks with the venue on how this situation will play out and whether we'll have to invoke the contract's force majeure clause. Clients who in the past might have been indifferent to meeting contracts are likely to have a new appreciation for our aggressive review of cancellation and attrition clauses.

Event Insurance

In our experience, it's rare for an invitation-only (nonpublic) event to carry its own event insurance unless the activities at the event are perceived as risky. In fact, we've never considered it a requirement of most corporate conferences. In this new climate, we expect more clients (and their insurance companies) to require or request event-specific coverage if the event carries risk beyond what their commercial general liability coverage permits.

Employee Travel Policies

InSystems already has a travel policy that prohibits its employees from all traveling together. However, many companies do not, and we expect that to change as companies evaluate how they can better manage risk.

Selecting Venues

In the short term, we expect a trend toward domestic rather than international events, and a general trepidation about any travel, making it more difficult to attract attendees. As border controls and travel restrictions tighten for international travelers, event managers will need to communicate with attendees to ensure that their travel is as smooth and safe as possible. We'll also have to leave more time to move products across borders. Rush shipments into the United States will likely be more difficult.

Event Security

For most of our North American events, we've approached security primarily as a means to protect property or to restrict attendance to keep an event private. We — and our clients — will be required to rethink our approach to event security to ensure the safety of our guests.

Carey Houston is principal and a founding partner with Impact Events Ltd., a Calgary-based event marketing company.