Germany, Neuss, Business woman meditating on desk

I’ve written before about the curse of Murphy’s Law when it comes to field marketing. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong–aka when your event needs to be canceled due to an impending “storm of the century.” Well, that isn’t the only situation in which being calm and collected is the name of the game.

As a field marketer, there will be many times when you might get thrown off guard by situations beyond your control–but there are also ways that you can best deal with them and come out on top.

These are my three golden rules for surviving challenging circumstances:

  • Be prepared. Just like the Boy Scouts of America, or Scar from Lion King, you need to be ready for anything, and I mean anything! Prep for the worst case scenario(s)–have a Plan A, B, C…all the way through F at a minimum!
  • Be “Zen.” Panicking isn’t going to help anything. Things are going to happen–and the best way to remain calm is to take long, deep breaths. Remember that the world isn’t ending (hopefully), and like US Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez said to herself before her gold-medal balance beam routine, “You’ve got this.”
  • Be creative. There’s nothing worse than allowing a crisis to get the best of you–be solution-oriented and think outside the box. Brainstorm: what are my resources? No matter what sticky dilemma you’re in, there’s always a resolution that can make the best of a bad situation. You just need to be like Willy Wonka and live in a world of pure imagination.

And now, here are five examples from my own (and my colleagues’) experiences following the rules above for you to recall when you’re in a similar situation:

1. Raise the Alarm

I recently sponsored a live webinar for executives through a third-party vendor. I was ready–slides were in, the speaker and panelists were prepped, the quiet room was booked–and then, I got an email that we were going to be having a fire drill IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEBINAR. What’s a marketer to do?!

I thought of my resources–we have two buildings at the Marketo headquarters. The building that the presenter and I sat in was where the alarm was going to sound in 10 minutes. So, we gathered our things, switched to our cell phones, and moved to the lobby of the next building, where the alarm wouldn’t go off for another hour. The lobby was pretty loud with people ordering coffee, chatting about their weekend plans…so what now?

I ran to our IT department there and asked to use their conference room–and we got something better! The CIO offered us his office, but reminded us that it was only an hour until piercing alarms would sound (and continued to remind us via Post-It notes on the window). Lucky for us, our webinar was scheduled for an hour and 15 minutes…

So, I emailed the webinar organizer and told her our predicament. They agreed to moderate the audience Q&A with the panelists only so that the presenter and I could make it back to the other building while alarms were sounding (and we remained on mute). No one knew the difference! It was executed flawlessly thanks to my partners: my adaptable presenter, my gracious CIO, and my responsive and understanding vendor contact.

2. At Capacity

As I mentioned in a previous post about field marketing terms, with free events, you’re always going to have a drop-off of registrants to attendees (aka attrition rate). So, you need to make an educated guess (and dust off that old pencil and paper to do some algebra) in order to estimate how many attendees you’ll have at your event.

I do this often leading up to my events. I mean, what if I don’t close registration in time and end up with too many registrants to fit in the room? Also, you can’t neglect to account for your staff as well–they’d probably like to be able to sit down!

And sometimes, even with your best math skills, you won’t be ready for how excited people are to come hear your presentation (or maybe eat at the gourmet restaurant you booked) and you won’t have enough seats set up for your guests. This has happened to me…enough times to know that I’ll be okay!

The solution? Let your venue know this could happen, and ensure they’re prepared to pull in more chairs/table settings up to the max. If there still isn’t enough room, pull your staff from their tables and have them stand in the back. Still not enough room? Pull out your Plan C: apologize to the attendees, then offer to treat them to lunch in the main restaurant where one of your sales staff can walk through the presentation with them–and suggest that they schedule time with your presenter(s) at a later date and/or stay after for individual Q&A with them.

3. Missing in Action

Whenever I’m preparing for a field event, I usually print all of the name badges beforehand to send with my shipment to the venue– remember: always be prepared! This saves me valuable time, especially when there are a large number of registrants. I alphabetize them, ensure their company details fit well on the badge, and clip them into groups to lay them flat. It’s usually perfect without any problems–until this tale of shipment fiasco.

My venue contact tells me, “Your shipment is here, but it’s pretty beat up.” Little did I know that this fellow was underselling the situation. The top of the box was practically ripped off and everything was a mess. It seemed like it was all salvageable and wouldn’t be too bad–until I started to organize my registration table and realized that I only had my staff badges and registrant badges for those with last names from A to G.

Luckily for me, I was able to lean on my staff to prepare the room while I pulled my registration list and printed new badges from my portable printer that I carry in my luggage (again–always be prepared). Even then, it was rushed and my alphabetizing was poor–so I switched to on-demand badge printing as people arrived. While it wasn’t the most efficient, everyone got a name badge on-site thanks to arriving early (an hour before) and having the right resources with me.

If you’re ever in a situation where you’re missing more than just name badges or received boxes for a different event (which there’s a high potential for if your company’s running multiple events back-to-back), be creative and explore your options! Look for local resources to print or purchase anything else you need: maybe you’re in a hotel with a business center or there’s a supply shop around the corner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help either.

And then when you get back, pull some Nancy Drew moves to solve the case of the missing/switched boxes so that it doesn’t happen again! Perhaps you need a different system for labeling or maybe you need to separate shipments to go out on different days.

4. Disconnected

What’s the #1 thing you typically need for a successful webinar? The internet. What’s usually reliable (for the most part) at your company headquarters? The internet. What’s Murphy’s Law? Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And that is just what happened during one of my webinars.

We sponsored a third-party webinar, and my presenter was ready to go in his little cube to run it live–when suddenly, there was an internet outage in the entire office! Something rarely anticipated. My colleague, who was running it for me as a favor (thanks, Graham!), was so resourceful–he hurried to his computer and printed out the slides for the presenter. And what lesson did we all learn? To ALWAYS have your slides printed and with you as a presenter, because even the most reliable of tools can fail you. Another idea? If you have a portable hotspot, grab it, turn it on, and switch your connection.

5. Slideless in San Diego

When you’re presenting in person at a third-party event (think: conference), you often need to provide your slides ahead of time so they can set them up in their system and be ready to go when it’s your turn. But what happens if they fail you?

My colleague was scheduled to present a 15-minute session during one of these conferences, and when she went to speak, they realized they didn’t have her slides. Luckily, she is such a pro that she was able to carry the presentation sans slides using her practiced talk track and winning personality. She knew her content well enough that she could still be a dynamic presenter and make all of her points–she didn’t even need the visuals! She also remained “Zen” and didn’t let her fluster show.

But how could this have been avoided? Check in with your conference organizer ahead of time–ask them if they have your slides, even ask to SEE them! Visual confirmation is always comforting. Bring your presentation on a flash drive just in case…and, as you learned above, print your slides. You may not be able to wing it–so have your slides (including notes) with you to reference if needed.

As you can see, I’ve been through a lot as a marketer (and so have my cohorts). But we all made it out alive–and with valuable lessons learned. Just remember the 3 rules: be prepared, be “Zen,” and be Creative–and I promise you can make it through anything!

What are some of your worst field marketing nightmares and how did you solve them? Share your stories below!