Planning COVID-proof experiences

Let’s dive into how you can plan experiences in a COVID-world. We’ll look at how you can create different scenarios, deliver events safely and let go of the reasons holding you back.

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There are two major things you need to consider when planning events in a COVID-world.


Plan for all the eventualities and possibilities


Deliver your event inline with the (forever changing) law

If you can pair this with letting go of an emotional connection to the “perfect show” then you will reap the rewards and feel proud in knowing you are one of the few getting ahead of this crisis.

This isn’t a motivational pick-me-up, but a slice of realism.

Why mention emotion?

This isn’t a motivational pick-me-up, but a slice of realism. Clients who have their heart and mind set on one outcome will likely get upset on this journey. These times need everyone in a team to remain flexible, willing to change and be ready for alternative plans (often at a moment’s notice).

Some things will be outside of all of anyone’s control, and no matter how “right” decisions feel, we need to be ready for all eventualities. And guess what, organisations who are pushing the boundaries of imagination are getting noticed! You can adopt this position simply by accepting the world we’re in and playing within the rules. Easy, right?

Okay, is it that simple?

As the leisure, hospitality and events industries open up, we have been supporting our industry to prepare for a COVID world. Alongside industry bodies, key clients and suppliers, we have created a cover-all process to support organisations get in front of their audience once again.

Due to the dynamic nature of COVID-19, the guidance for each and every instance has not been entirely considered by the authorities yet but we have been working hard to translate guidance across industries where safe to do so. Importantly, we’ve been helping clients create COVID-proof plans, where the plans aren’t disrupted beyond recovery in the event of local lockdown restrictions.

What is permitted?

“From 11 July, premises or locations which are COVID-19 Secure will be able to hold more than 30 people” - UK Government

We have been keeping abreast of the guidance released specifically for:

  • Business gatherings (conferences, meetings, summits)
  • Consumer shows (conventions, symposiums, fairs)
  • Mass gatherings (festivals, public events, major outdoor projects)
  • Performances (concerts, gigs, festivals)
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The “performing arts” sector has had the clearest guidance to date with the government’s published phased return to professional performing arts.
Performing arts phased return
Rehearsal and training (no audiences and adhering to social distancing guidelines)
Performances for broadcast and recording purposes(adhering to social distancing guidelines)
Performances* outdoors with an audience plus pilots for indoor performances with a limited distance audience
FROM 11.07.20
Performances* allowed indoors / outdoors (but with a limited distanced audience)
FROM 15.08.20
Performances* allowed indoors / outdoors (with a fuller audience)
NOt Permitted
No date given
* there are a list of caveats still in place including rules around music volume and instrument types
Other Key dates

04 July 2020
‍Food and beverage businesses can operate

11 July 2020Stage 3 of performing arts permitted.

01 August 2020Indoor wedding receptions and business events up to 30 people permitted (must be COVID-19 Secure).

01 October 2020
Target “go date” for large scale indoor events (plan scrapped as of 20 September 2020).

What’s the difference between normal event planning and COVID-planning?There are two major factors to consider in the live events sector now. Firstly, how you plan for projects in a COVID world and secondly, how you can actually deliver this safely. We call this COVID-proofing. In order to plan a COVID-proof event, it’s important to consider our COVID scale-up options.


COVID Scale-up Options

Many insurance companies are no longer covering events for cancellation due to local or national pandemic breakouts (resulting in lockdown restrictions). This means the supply chain cancellation clauses have become more important now than ever. It’s important that agencies and suppliers agree on flexible cancellation terms that give the best chance of live events going ahead, without pushing companies or individuals into financial difficulties.

We have devised a new tier system which means we can scale up or down plans with short notices through a series of contingency plans. Ultimately, we want to be able to offer organisers the best possible chance of their events going ahead, whilst not risking the whole show from being cancelled.

The intention of the tier system is for us to design multiple scenarios in the planning stages of the event’s strategy. In our changing world, it’s sensible to allow for multiple realities in which the event may take place.

Common scenarios are to design an event at a lower tier with the option to scale-up to a higher tier if the law allows. It’s also advised to run a digital or hybrid experience alongside the planning so it’s easier to switch between the tier system.

Higher the tier
Double red arrows
Higher the risk
Double red arrows
Higher need for alternative planning
No audience interaction
Meets the government’s Performing Arts Stage 1 category
Activities that do not demand an audience to interact with the attraction (e.g. signage)
Not specific to a timeframe
Very low risk of cancellation
Little audience interaction
Meets the government’s Performing Arts Stage 1 category
Activities that demand limited audience attention (e.g. creative visuals, projection mapping, light show)
Operates within a wide time frame to prevent mass crowding
Very low risk of cancellation
Some audience attraction
Meets the government’s Performing Arts Stage 1 category
Activities that demand some audience attention (e.g. art exhibition with extended dwell time)
Operates within a wide time frame to prevent mass crowding
low risk of cancellation
Some audience interaction
Meets the government’s Performing Arts Stage 2 category
Activities that demand some audience interaction (e.g. food market, onsite filming)
Operates within a limited date window to mark an occasion with staggered operating times (and no specific time of attraction)
Very Small risk of cancellation
Increased audience participation
Meets the government’s Performing Arts Stage 3 category
Activities that demand some audience attention occasionally (e.g. non-scheduled background entertainment)
Operates on specific dates with a window of repeated content over a given day
Small risk of cancellation
Considerable audience participation expected (with social distancing)
Meets the government’s Performing Arts Stage 4 category
Activities that demand a concentrated amount of attention from the audience (e.g. scheduled performances and screenings) but with social distancing still in place
Operates on a specific date and time (so likely to have considerable crowding)
Some risk of cancellation
Usual audience participation expected (without social distancing)
Meets the government’s Performing Arts Stage 5 category
Activities that demand a concentrated amount of attention from the audience (e.g. scheduled performances and screenings) without social distancing measures
Operates on a specific date and time (so likely to have considerable crowding)
Considerable risk of cancellation
Consider digital and hybrid experiences

In conjunction with the scale-up tier system, a lot of organisers are creating parallel plans to run events online. There is a long list of possible ways in which this can be experienced by the audience virtually, or in a hybrid situation where we can use the tier system to design a package which fits local laws whilst digital outreach gives it a much bigger appeal.

For example, a brand could activate a series of small, regional experiences with a digital campaign to link these all together and have a national reach.

Making the live experience COVID-secure

So once you have decided which tier of live event you’d like to plan, there is a list of considerations to take into account when mitigating the risk of COVID-19 spreading during the event.

Ultimately, organisers need to be certain that staff and guests have a very small chance of catching the virus by assessing the risk at every level, right through the interactions and audience journeys.

By law, a “secure” event can take place “provided they take reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of transmission, inline with COVID-19 Secure guidance and including completion of a risk assessment”.

How do you create a safe environment?

Assess the risk and review the findings
Understand best practices through official advice and research other systems in place
Implement policy (including track and trace solutions)
Adapt what systems you have to allow safe operation and install control points
Record practices taking place and run continuous improvements
Triangle graphic

COVID-secure considerations


Things you might need to create a safe environment

  • Social distancing measures (e.g. barriers, floor markers, signage)
  • “Sneezeguards” and physical baffles
  • Control points (including sanitation and temperature checks)

How will you change the approach of your teams and guests?

  • Site-specific instructions
  • Public address announcements
  • Video and animated instructions
  • Personalised messaging (proven to be more effective than generic signposts)

It’s key - marketers claim a message needs to be delivered 7 times before it’s considered…

  • Pre-event notices and reminders 
  • Signage for staff and audiences (it’s normal now, so let’s design in a tasteful way!)
  • Training for staff
  • Dedicated crowd marshalls
  • Immediate response plans with continuous monitoring and auditing

Touchpoints need to be sanitised at every opportunity

  • Sanitation stations (locations, specifics and training)
  • Mandatory face coverings (with custom opportunities)
  • Other PPE (and ensuring its appropriate use)
  • Food prep and serving areas
  • Testing (virus and antibody) 

The continuous methods which will need to be put into place following assessment

  • Top-level site design (including one-way systems and mitigating potential crowding)
  • Staggered admissions / sessions / content
  • Contactless registration / purchase / ordering / interaction
  • Alert notifications (on-site escalation policy
  • Contact recording / auditing (guest and staff registers) 
  • Messaging
  • Rain cover for outdoor areas
  • Extended licencing
  • Process for the isolation of persons with symptoms
  • Donning and doffing 
  • Safe transport 

You might be able to task some of the team to take on specific COVID responsibilities or enlist the help of dedicated professionals

  • H&S Advisors (to conduct assessments and recommend implementation)
  • COVID officers (COVID-specific supervisors with a range of roles with the mandate to ensure COVID-specific policies are being implemented and policed)
  • Medical officers (to take temperature checks, symptom analysis, provide safe care)
  • Specific training to site-wide staff (and escalation procedure design for breach of the policy)

It’s important to create sterile environments so the virus cannot survive between sessions or groups of audiences. This will reduce the spread if an outbreak is later detected

  • Anti-viral fogging (one-off)
  • Anti-viral cleaning (periodic)
  • Anti-viral service (constant)
  • Clinical waste collection (including all cleaning provisions, doffing and discarded PPE)
Get Accredited

There are some emerging schemes designed to offer confidence to visitors to live events. We can apply for these certificates or help you achieve relevant sign-off.

These include:
Visit Britain Safe to Go certificate
MIA AIM accreditation
HSE declaration


At Audience, we are naturally very keen to inject life into the live sector. We believe that, although a big hindrance, COVID-19 should not put the brakes on your communication or experience strategy. There are some very clear guidelines in place which make planning possible again, and with a consistently dynamic world, we have created systems and digital parallels to help organisers navigate these times. Remember to cover dynamic planning stages and make every effort to create COVID-secure experiences, and you’ll find yourself on the cutting edge of the sector.

Our specialist safety teams are in constant review with practitioners, advisors and policymakers from:
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
  • Guides for the performing arts
  • Guides for the visitor economy
  • Association of Event Organisers
  • Nationwide Caterers Association
  • UKHospitality
  • Public Health England
  • NHS England
  • Events Industry Forum
  • Meeting Industry Association
  • VisitBritain
  • Advertising Producers Association