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Making the call to cancel DogFest

by Nicola Macdonald

In the summer of 2018 Nicola Cooper of Fitz All Media was confronted with a decision no event organiser wants to make: whether or not to cancel her event.

DogFest, a festival for dog-owners and their canine companions, which had enjoyed several successful editions over the course of the summer, was due to end its run at Knebworth House with DogFest South. But there was a potential issue on the horizon.

“We started getting concerned that maybe a heatwave was going to happen,” Cooper tells EN. The DogFest team liaised with animal welfare and the Met Office, which was predicting temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius. As the event drew closer, it became clear that even higher temperatures were likely.

“What you don’t want to do is cancel and then suddenly on the day the weather isn’t that bad,” continues Cooper. “The press are really bad; they always hype up the weather and then there isn’t a cold spell or hot spell. But we understood the situation as it was going to be that weekend and knew we needed to cancel.”

The decision was made easier by the format of the event, which encourages visitors to be on the move and do activities with their dogs.

“We made a call that the weather had gone higher and that we couldn’t do these activities and that it was the right thing to cancel,” says Cooper.

“At that point we spoke to our insurance company to see what the options were. You go through a process making sure that you’re doing everything and getting everything in writing to confirm that you do the right thing. One of our major sponsors – the RSPCA – pulled out because of the weather; they didn’t want any issues, it would be really bad for us if dogs died onsite from heatstroke.”

Having made the decision to cancel, the DogFest team began to prepare for making the decision public.

“We started getting processes into place before announcing that we were going to cancel,” explains Cooper. “What you don’t want to do is cancel and then have loads of people saying, ‘why and what and how?’ We got everything into place so that when we did release it would be everything at the same time.

“We were very clear to exhibitors straightaway and visitors that they would be refunded, because otherwise people individually come back, and we gave them a timeline. It was quite a slick operation.

“You never know when you do something like this what the reaction is going to be, but it ended up being incredibly positive. People were getting onto social saying we’d made the right decision and that it was great that we were thinking of the animals and not the money.

“It turned into a really positive PR message for us. In fact we got a lot more data from it because people wanted to hear about next year’s events so they subscribed to the newsletter. The only sadness was for the team internally, who had worked incredibly hard.”

DogFest South managed to survive its brush with cancellation with visitor and exhibitor goodwill intact, the show has now been moved from July to May, hopefully avoiding similar issues in the years to come. EN

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