Industry reacts to Secret Cinema cancellations

Following Secret Cinema unexpectedly announcing the cancellation of the first five nights of its Back to the Future screenings, Event spoke to a number of senior event professionals for their insight into what went wrong.

Secret Cinema has not announced when screenings will commence
Secret Cinema has not announced when screenings will commence

Dale Parmenter, managing director, DRP Group, told Event the lack of communication and not being forthcoming with information has been Secret Cinema's biggest problem. "There are normally early signs when an event is not going to happen, why you would wait until the last minute to make a statement is the biggest question."

Hugh Robertson, chief executive of RPM, echoed this viewpoint: "Having both professionally admired and personally experienced the immersive experiences of Secret Cinema, and without knowing the specific factors why the cancellation of last week's ‘most ambitious project yet’ was made, it would appear some basic mandatory factors may not have been adhered to.

"Having built a loyal and engaged community, their communication plan was inadequate and should have been incorporated as part of their crisis management, especially when asking the attendees to leave their mobile phones at home."

DRP's Parmenter believed the company was forced to cancel as a result of problems within the planning stages. He said: "Sometimes with events you can be hit by unforeseen circumstances, but it seems there may have been some elements of the planning that may have been missed out."

Kevin Jackson, VP sales and marketing EMEA, for agency George P Johnson, also higlighted this point: "Scenario planning and contingency planning is vital in this industry. We always have to think: ‘what if this goes wrong?’ and ‘what if that goes wrong?’ Consumer events live and die by health and safety technicalities, so they should always be prioritised when planning an event.

"The cancellations are such a shame as Secret Cinema is such a great concept. But when you’re doing what they do, pushing boundaries, sometimes things go wrong."

RPM chief executive Robertson added: "Hand-in-hand with creative ambition is the need to ensure absolute adherence to health and safety and in the process, de-risking the experience to ensure the event success. The same is also true of the need for often complex and numerous stakeholders to be communicated with openly, formally and in a timely manner.

"Also, critical paths and scenario planning are the backbone of our business and if they had been extensively planned and stringently adhered to, any unforeseen circumstances would have been identified and collectively the team work towards a solution."

Andrew Casher, director of Cake, concluded: "Watching the situation unfold has been quite sad. Only the organisers know the reasons that forced them to delay the opening, and from their tone in social posts and public apologies, they are clearly distraught. They've worked for years to build a reputation and would not compromise that by opening an incomplete or unsafe event.

"This is every event professional's worst nightmare. Sadly consumers don't see it that way and social media amplifies their disgruntled voices. However they will be given the opportunity to see the show in its full glory at another time that suits them. For me it's no different to an artist postponing a tour due to ill health, which happens all the time. Artists get over these mishaps, so will Secret Cinema."

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