When Do You Pull The Plug?

If you’ve ever planned a retreat or event, you’ve probably lost a little sleep worrying whether or not people were going to sign up. The closer the event gets, the more the anxiety can build up, especially if registration is going slowly. At some point you may even have to deal with the question of whether or not to cancel the event.

One of the many things that separate Christian conference and retreat centers from local hotels is that we also plan events. As a result, we too have to deal with the dreaded question, when do you pull the plug and cancel the event?

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss this question with a good friend, Aaron Ziebarth. Aaron is the executive director for Joy El Ministries, a Christian camp and retreat center located in Greencastle, PA. Since Joy El plans many of their own events (in addition to hosting outside groups), I asked Aaron if he wouldn’t mind sharing some of his experience with the readers of our blog.

MSM – Have you noticed any changes in the reservation patterns for your events at Joy El? If so, what’s changed?

Aaron – We have seen people registering much closer to the event. In 2010, every one of our programmed events was at about 50% of our goal two weeks prior to the event. Under the old way of thinking that would have been a sign I needed to cancel the event. Instead we took it as an opportunity to do last minute marketing through email and social media. The end result was that every event came in with attendance above our goal.

MSM – Are the groups you are hosting experiencing similar reservation patterns?

Aaron – Absolutely! Their participants are waiting until the last minute to register. Unfortunately, since our average group only plans 1-2 events/year, they haven’t developed the same awareness. This results in a lot of stress for the leaders, thinking they may need to cancel the event. Therefore we make an extra effort to communicate these reservation patterns to them.

MSM – When you have an event not booking at the rate you expect, what steps do you take to try and increase your reservations?

Aaron– Great question. I believe it’s an issue of value. Despite the economy, I believe people are still doing what they value most. So, our team reassesses the value this event will provide and we make efforts to communicate this value to potential participants. We do this through social media (primarily our Facebook page) and direct email marketing. On occasion we will also call those who have attended this event, or a similar event, in the past.

MSM – What are the key factors you consider before making the decision to cancel an event?

Aaron – Consideration needs to be given to direct costs and what has already been spent. What is the cancellation agreement with the speaker and worship band? Can we at least cover our expenses if we go ahead and hold the event? As a rule of thumb, we will do everything possible to keep the event going.

MSM – What advice would you give to the meeting planner trying to decide whether or not to pull the plug on their event?

Aaron – Don’t give up if registrations seem low. Communicate the value and benefits of the event to potential participants. Keep promoting through the beginning of the event. Pray hard. Remember, the bottom line is the promise of life change. Do everything possible so your life changing event can take place.

Our thanks go out to Aaron and his team.

What about you? Was this insight helpful? How do you go about making the call to pull the plug on an event?