Handling a Covid crisis - PR in a post lockdown world
It was inevitable. As restaurants and bars began to reopen somebody was going to be the first to have to deal with a confirmed Covid case in their venue, but we certainly didn’t think it was going to be us....
On Saturday 11th July we had a phone call to let us know that one of our team members at Seven Lucky Gods had taken a Covid test which had been returned positive. Despite having no Covid related symptoms, we couldn’t take any risks, so we made the decision to close immediately, and set about drafting a statement to put out across all of our marketing channels, and have spent the past week and a half managing the situation the best we can. Whilst we may have been the first venue in Bristol to have to tackle this, unfortunately we know we won’t be the last, so we wanted to share our learnings - if we can help other businesses even a little with navigating the minefield that is public relations crisis management then that’s a little positive to come out of a tough situation…
We had confirmation that we’d had a positive case amongst our team on Saturday morning, and within an hour we’d made the decision to close the restaurant and had put out a public statement. The member of our team who had tested positive hadn’t actually been working when he came in - in fact he’d only popped in briefly for a team meeting four days prior - and whilst the advice from Public Health England and Environmental Health didn’t state we had to close, we weren’t taking any chances. We also made the call to arrange tests for all of our staff, and not just those who’d been in contact with the team member in question - their health as well as that of our customers will always be our top priority and we’d rather be safe than sorry.
Be totally transparent
They say honesty is the best policy and there’s a reason for that - it is. When we published our restaurant manifesto prior to reopening the whole motivation for doing so was to be totally open and honest about our plans, and the same applied with communicating what had happened with this. We worked with our marketing team at Duchess Media to pull together an initial statement, laying out everything we knew, and kept our social media channels updated as we got more information, test results and updates from PHE and EHO.
Keep in touch
Keeping in touch with your customers on social media and through email is essential at the best of times, and even more important when things hit the fan. Expect to get a lot of questions and queries from people who are understandably concerned, so be prepared to dedicate a lot more time than usual to managing replies on social media and email. Again, be honest with your customers and if you don’t have all of the information they need just say - people are generally really understanding and if you make sure you keep them updated as soon as you have more detail it’ll be appreciated. On the plus side stay engaged with the positive comments - you’ll likely need a little boost and the positive support will do just that, as well as showing your customers feel like they’re valued.
Equally, making the team knew exactly what was happening, what they needed to do and our next steps was key. Between our senior management team and our venue management team we made sure we were in constant contact with everyone, checking in on how they were doing and making sure they were updated on every development.
Consult the experts
We contacted Public Health England and Environmental Health immediately, and their expert help and advice proved invaluable. They advised us on the official processes to follow with testing, whether we needed to implement any track and trace, and when and how we could begin to reopen again. Make the most of these services as they’re there to help and it’ll certainly put your mind at ease to know the official bodies are supporting you through it.