Imagine a world without promotion. Advertising of the past feels insensitive. Customers become allergic to pushy salesman tactics. They stop reading marketing emails. Maybe they even withdraw from social media altogether for a while.
Well, we don’t have to imagine. Those were very real side effects of quarantine this year. I had never seen anything like it.
All the more at sea were the restaurateurs, chefs, and managers, not quite knowing what to say.
What could we say?
My customers love transparency but I don’t want to tell them how much all this emotionally, psychologically, and financially affected me - do you?
So here lies the problem.
How do we communicate with our customers in a post-quarantine world?
Is there a place for promotion?
And, how do we go about promoting ourselves sensitively and respectfully?
I spoke to the PR experts who introduced Starbucks - yes, the Starbucks - to the world, Jeff Smith and Jill Sandin from JS2 PR. They shared their tips on how we as hospitality leaders can communicate effectively post-Covid.
That One Story
“We always start a client relationship with their USP. What makes them different? What makes them special? That is really the core,” Jeff revealed.
I believe a restaurant’s soul is their story. My restaurant was born from a love for the South as a humble Baton Rouge kid. Southern hospitality has always been a part of me; I wanted to spread that warmth with my customers. That authentic experience is what I believe what set us apart in the crowd of LA restaurants.
Jill then added a golden tip that really made me think.
“Getting the story is extremely challenging and competitive. We need to peel the onion back to reveal that one story. Look for the love. Look for the passion as that is where the stories lie.”
And this really resonated with me.
As I build Full Comp Media, what is the core message I want to put out into the world?
What is the personal story - that one story - that will inspire folks I am trying to reach?
Definitely food for thought.
A World in Mourning
The COVID19 crisis has been likened to 9/11. I see the parallels. The world in shock. A stillness and confusion of what to do next.
During this time, I think customers want a sense of community and belonging. Restaurants have been those pillars of the community for so long.
That nostalgia for feeling connected made me excited to have my first bite of a gourmet burger or warming bowl of my favorite ramen after lockdown. Customers are also feeling that way. It’s easy to see that after the reopening of restaurants this summer.
Even with this excitement in the air, Jeff and Jill still advised caution with communicating during the crisis. They proposed a four-phase plan for promotion.
“Our strategy has evolved from first focussing on strictly informational PR like health and safety precautions, who is open, who is delivering etc...And then dipping our toes into individual stories, connecting our clients’ reinventions with the media. The third phase was the human interest side. How are restaurants supporting their communities? Phase four is how do we communicate the restaurant reopening?”
So it seems the slow, authentic, human approach is the way to connect most with consumers.
Messaging has to be treated with care and consideration.
That gentle method isn’t always ideal for a launch or relaunch though - or is it?
After all, during this delicate time, a launch could be make or break for folks looking to save their restaurant businesses.
I questioned Jill and Jeff about their thoughts on launching or reopening in a sensitive way.
“In a post-Covid world, PR will be tricky and extremely nuanced,” Jill said, “I say less bravado and salesmanship, and even more storytelling. The more personal, the better.”
Their advice of focusing on the individual journey of the restaurant and/or restaurateur speaks volumes to me. Our customers want to connect with us as much as we want to connect with them. The road ahead is long. I think allowing customers to take that journey with me in an open and honest way is pretty terrifying. But that could be the key to welcoming customers back to our tables.