When you get the call that your venue is closing its doors and will not be available for your event anymore, it can feel like the ground has opened up beneath your feet.
This recently happened to our festival. We had three weeks’ notice to find a new venue when it had taken us a year to figure out our original space. Based on this experience, here are my tips for dealing with a venue shutdown and pivoting to a new location:
1. First, always offer condolences to all the people you worked with at that venue as now they are out of a job.
2. Put an update on your website, something to the effect of “Stay tuned as we lock in another venue!” Before we even started looking, we put a notice on our website that our venue was closing and put a link to the article that mentioned it.
3. Let everyone know. Email all of your sponsors, speakers, nominees, staff and pre-bought registrations the same info that you’ve updated your website with. When everyone has the same info — short, sweet and to the point — it helps you in the next steps.
4. While some of the people whom you approach with this news will freak out, stay focused on finding the next venue. Respond quickly with a simple, “We are on it, more soon.” Or even, “Thanks!” Communication is key, although it is overwhelming to have other people put their stress on you.
5. Some of those stress factors might include people having already booked hotel rooms or flights or not being comfortable going out of their neighborhood. I will share with you what we did: We rebooked 10 miles away from our original venue (in the same city) and still had people freaking out. Stay focused.
7. Be warned that venues could try to take advantage of your situation. I actually experienced this: Venues that thought we were in a bind tried to price gouge. Venues that didn’t respond until days later only replied “Sorry, already booked another event.”
8. Ask. Keep in mind any suggestions people provide as they may help you shape which of the venues you look at to book. In that initial email to everyone, consider also putting a note. In times like these, it is relationships that get us through. Check your contacts and see if you know anyone who may have a venue available for your dates and number of people. Listen to what people have to say — one venue could be great but expensive or with a difficult point person. Thank everyone who gives you insight. My suggestion to you is to keep searching — change your keywords and your browser search until you find something.
10. Do not overspend your budget; there is a learning curve in each new venue/space/room. Remove the venues that are out of your budget and any that are too far away from your original location. See No. 5 above; we moved only 10 miles away and people still freaked out!
11. Your venue should fit your budget, location and vibe. Any event is all about vibe and flow as well as who your contact person is; they are the gatekeeper if you will have a great event or not.
12. When you do find a venue, beware of mandatory and hidden fees and how the point person answers your questions. For example, one venue gave me the breakdown of the costs outside of renting the space, which was a $250 fee for use of the kitchen, even though we were only going to put platters in the refrigerator, take them to the table, remove the cover and throw everything away after. Instead of just saying, sorry, they replied with long verbiage about their policy that we couldn’t and would have to pay the mandatory fee. Even so, we were going to go with this space until we got what I call a hidden fee email, saying it was mandatory that we hire their valet company. After learning the high cost, I countered with a flat fee and price per car, which they declined. Always know your limits.
13. Make the reveal exciting. When you land on a venue agreement, notify everyone via email, your website and press releases about your new venue. Consider keeping it a secret that will be announced to ticket/badge holders the day before your event. This is called a reveal — an old Hollywood thing I grew up on. It might drive a few people crazy who need to know exact details, but a reveal conveys anticipation and excitement.
Needing to pivot event venues is stressful but it is a new beginning. With some quick thinking, hard work and strategic planning, you can still make your event happen.