Handling a Covid crisis – PR in a post lockdown world

It was only a matter of time before a restaurant had to deal with a positive Covid case in our midst here in Bristol, and just a week after reopening Seven Lucky Gods at Wapping Wharf had to close their doors after a member of staff tested positive.

We caught up with director of the Hyde & Co group, Nathan Lee and Meg Pope of Duchess Media, who manage marketing and PR for the Hyde & Co group, to chat to them about how they managed the situation both operationally and through crisis communications.

Meg Pope Duchess Media “PR is arguably one of my favourite parts of my job, but along with all the positive aspects, like bagging great coverage for a client and building relationships, there’s the inevitable crisis or two.  

As restaurants began to reopen it was only a matter of time before we had to deal with a Covid case with one of our clients, but we certainly didn’t think that we’d a) be the first ones or b) have to deal with it so quickly after reopening.

On Saturday 11th July we had a phone call from Nathan, Director at Hyde & Co, to let us know that one of the team members at Seven Lucky Gods had taken a Covid test which had been returned positive. Despite having no Covid related symptoms, they weren’t taking any risks, so made the decision to close immediately.It was then up to us to set about drafting a statement to put out across all of our marketing channels. The week and a half that followed was an education to say the least, as we waited for the entire team to be tested and managed the inevitable concerns from customers. Sadly, whilst we were one of the first agencies in Bristol to have to manage a Covid PR crisis we know we won’t be the last, so we’ve rounded up what we learnt…”

Act fast

Hyde & Co had confirmation that we’d had a positive case amongst the team on Saturday morning. Within an hour they’d made the decision to close the restaurant, so we had to create a statement – fast! The member of the 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 they had to close, Hyde & Co weren’t taking any chances. They also made the call to arrange tests for all of the staff, not just those who’d been in contact with the team member in question, so we had to consider how to quickly and efficiently communicate everything we knew in a nutshell.

Be totally transparent

They say ‘honesty is the best policy’ and there’s a reason for that – it is. We worked closely with the Hyde team to help them create their restaurant manifesto prior to reopening, detailing all of the precautions they were taking to keep the team and their customers safe, and this was invaluable as we were able to refer back to it every step of the way. The whole motivation for doing the manifesto was to be totally open and honest about the plans, and the same applied with communicating what had happened with this. When drafting the first statement we laid 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 people 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.

Consult the experts

The Hyde team contacted Public Health England and Environmental Health immediately, and their expert help and advice proved invaluable. They advised them on the official processes to follow with testing, whether they needed to implement any track and trace, and when and how they 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.

Overall, our key message and learning for other restaurants, who will inevitably have to deal with issue at some point, is be open, honest and clear. Your customers are looking to you for advice and reassurance. Don’t hesitate to tell them you don’t know, if indeed you don’t know the answer to something. But endeavour to keep your channels as populated with regular updates and reassurance.

You can watch the full interview we recorded with Food Union organiser, Aine Morris talking to Nathan Lee and Meg Pope from the Hyde & Co group, by clicking here.

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