Salesforce Events, Covid-19, and Decision Making

One of the most amazing parts of working in the Salesforce ecosystem is attending live events. Besides Dreamforce, TrailheaDX, and Salesforce World Tour Events, I have attended the Trailblazer Summit and the BAM Summit. And that's just the events that Salesforce puts on!

There are also the community-led events; in the last year I've attended Cactusforce, NorCal Dreamin', and ForceAcademyLA and this year, I'm planning to attend Tahoe Dreamin', Oaktown Dreamin', Midwest Dreamin', and return to ForceAcademyLA, and I expect to sponsor some of those as well.

I've also attended more than a dozen different developer, admin, and Salesforce Saturday groups! You can tell from the picture that it's not about spectacle, it's about the people. The Ohana is real, and there are lots of handshakes and hugs to go around. Yeah, I'm into it.

So when the news and social media turns the focus to the coronavirus (Covid-19), the threats and dangers, and the things we should do to avoid catching it and spreading it, I'm thinking about my upcoming plans and wondering if organizers will cancel upcoming events. Just today, Salesforce announced they've asked their own employees to work from home for the month of March, and I'll be surprised if that's not extended to April. So what's that mean for TrailheaDX in June?

Before I became a Salesforce developer, I spent over 30 years working in the corporate events industry, so I have some insight into how organizers look at this kind of risk. In the months and weeks leading up to an event, there are a lot of factors for the organizers to consider, some that are not always apparent to the public. Ultimately, it's likely to be a no-win situation, so the decision making is focused on risk management and mitigating the costs and negative impact to the brand. Questions include:
  1. Is there an objectively real danger to holding the event? If not now, is the danger likely to increase to that point by the time of the event?
  2. If we hold the conference and people get sick at the event or immediately afterwards, how do we deal with that, and what are the costs? Are there long term costs to our brand of being associated with an outbreak?
  3. Is the perception of danger likely to cause speakers/performers to cancel?
  4. Is the perception of danger likely to cause attendees to cancel? (This is called attrition.)
  5. Is the perception of danger likely to cause sponsors to cancel, or if they don't cancel, will they suffer significantly from lower attendance?
  6. What are the dangers to our own employees who will be attending? (The company that owns the conference has a higher percentage of execs and employees attending than any of the sponsors or attendees.)

All of this factors into a financial calculation:
  1. Do we lose more money by having the conference or by canceling the conference?
  2. If cancellation is a possibility, do we lose more by waiting to make that decision? What are the dates that affect how much we'll have to pay in cancellation fees?
  3. Do we lose less money if we are forced to cancel by the city or other government agency? Most event insurance policies don't cover pandemic disease, so organizers may need to be forced by those government decision makers. (SXSW was just cancelled because the mayor of Austin declared a local disaster that forced the organizers to cancel the event.)

That covers the event organizers' perspective, but what if they decide to proceed (or proceed, for now) with the event.

The easiest way out is if your employer decides for you; if you boss was going to pay for you to attend, but now the company has decided to restrict travel, the decision is done. Assuming that's not the case, you're going to have to make some personal calculations (and I'm not telling you what to decide.) With news updates ongoing, the data feeding these decisions are constantly changing, but for now, they are on a distinct trend.

Here are the questions I'm weighing as a potential attendee:
  1. What is my personal risk if I contract the virus? Am I at higher risk due to age or pre-existing conditions?
  2. If I get the virus, am I likely to spread it to at-risk people in my family or close-contact colleagues. And what about their families? And so on...
  3. How important is it for me to attend this event right now? Are there other ways or other times for me to get this content or experience?
As a potential sponsor, I'm also trying to balance the potential loss of marketing versus the cost of sponsorship at a conference with poor attendance. 

Bottom line is that pandemic is a no-win situation with no easy decisions, and ultimately, whether to attend a Salesforce event is nothing compared to the life-threatening consequences we're seeing globally. I know I've shared a lot of questions but you'll have to answer them for yourself.