Last week’s headlines warned that the first named storm of hurricane season was strengthening. Lucky for me, it wasn’t headed in my direction, but it got me thinking about how we handle communications during these times.
News stations keep us in the loop of the development of the storm, its path and what the impact to our lives and properties could be. It’s a serious situation when the news broadcasts continuously, and yet…guests keep coming to our doors. Whether you’re a business that is in high demand in preparation for or after a disaster or whether you’re a business that people can escape to in these times, communicating with guests keeps them safe and could limit the potential danger at your properties and employees.
At my last job, we always had a so-called “crisis communication plan”. There were a select few who were trained and permitted to speak to the media but that was traditionally a response to inquiries. It wasn’t until social media became such a huge part of our lives and work that we realized we needed to be pro-active in our communications. We took a good long look at all of our communications channels and built them into a pro-active plan. This list was developed for casino operations, but they can definitely be put to use even if you’re the mom & pop grocery store (or one that’s even bigger). I don’t know about you, but when I’m running around getting my “hurricane kit” ready, it would be nice to know who has run out of water, bread, and gas, etc. It could save time and a ton of aggravation.
Typically, ads are delivered to media outlets some time in advance and a storm can shorten that timeline dramatically. Your media buyers can contact each outlet to understand the new timelines and requirements. Canceling a buy isn’t always an option. Have substitute ads ready in case you have to cancel your promotions or events. Remember to keep the safety of your employees and guests in mind when drafting these ads. Have ads ready to announce your reopening for regular business.
Do you have an email list? Whether it’s made up of 10 or 10,000 addresses, this can be a great real-time resource for you. Guests will want to know that you’ve closed, if you have a date/time set for reopening and that you’ve reopened. If you have any offers that would have been valid during the closure, it could mean a nice pick-up for a sister casino if you pre-arrange for those offers to be valid during the closure. This may involve regulatory approval. Now is the time to research what needs to be in place…before you need to.
This is a great way to send short announcements to your guests, but this channel could prove invaluable to your operation when you need to notify employees of a projected reopening. When normal cell phone communications are hindered, texts have shown to be able to get through in a pinch. Have you started building a permission-based database of phone numbers?
You better believe your employees and guests are keeping tabs on everything during a disaster. It has proven to be one of the most reliable ways to know the status of friends, family members and property. Keep in mind some of the best practices for businesses communicating via these outlets. Pictures grab the attention. Work with your agency to have graphic elements ready to communicate closures, rescheduling of events, opening times, etc.
Most importantly is coordination of the message you are distributing. For casinos, there are regulatory bodies involved, and you must be aware of their direction prior to releasing information. If you have a separate person in charge of media relations that is not a part of the marketing department, make them an honorary member during the crisis. Human Resources should also be involved. The messages you direct at guests will also be seen/heard/read by employees. It is important the messages match and that all departments are aware of what the other is doing. This is no time to get protective over your “area”.