A few weeks ago we were honoured to be asked by Visit Cornwall to take part in a series of workshops they were planning to help businesses affected by the extreme weather. Supported by the Government, Visit England and Cornwall Council, the plan was to assemble a team of experts to help the businesses suffering from storm and flood damage get back on their feet in time for Easter and summer.

Of course we said yes before they could even finish asking, and so off we trotted with some great fellow speakers for a whirlwind tour of the county visiting Bude, Looe, Truro, Penzance and the Isles of Scilly along the way! The workshops were free to attend but we know that not everyone who wanted to come along was able to make it so here is a little recap of our part of the day – Using PR in a Crisis.

Where to start

  • Communication is key in times of crisis and the more informed people are, the calmer they’re likely to be. When speaking to your customers, it’s important to strike a balance between keeping them in the loop and not frightening anyone away
  • Remember that people are naturally curious, so as long as they still believe they’re going to have a safe, fun time, this can be utilised to draw people in.
  • Pictures are worth a thousand words and are really useful to spread the message – especially online

Make a plan

In order to better prepare for a crisis situation, having a plan in place will help everyone react promptly and effectively. So learn from what happened this winter and start thinking pre-emptively.

A great way to make a start on this is to write a holding statement that can be easily altered and bide you some time. Make sure to direct people to where they can find more information and your latest updates in the statement.

Don’t forget about internal communications. Not only will this improve staff morale, but it’ll also keep everyone on the same page – for example, if your press release says business as usual but the person answering the phone is advising people not to come, the message will get easily confused.

For those hit by the floods

  • The more people know the better – and the earlier you can tell people they won’t be able to stay the more they’ll appreciate it. Keep social media and journalists up to date with any repair work and make sure to release statements once you know when you’re able to re-open.
  • This is where reputation plays a huge part – if customers think you’re able to handle yourself in a crisis, the more likely they are to book with you in the future. Be sure to keep a positive attitude, and continue to update. If you go quiet, people might wonder why…
  • Saying thank you goes a long way, after all a tourism business is nothing without its customers so let them know that!

For those not directly hit

  • Staying quiet might mean people assume the worst, so keep your social media up to date.
  • Let journalists know that the business is still up and running, and that you’re available for comment if they’re looking for a positive news story.
  • Consider external factors such as travel – if you can let your customers know the roads are clear, the planes are flying and the ferries are running, they are more likely to come down.

Moving on

In the aftermath of a crisis it’s also important to work with the others around you to develop a cohesive message of being a great tourist destination.

Cockermouth in Cumbria suffered a similar fate in 2009 when they were badly hit by floods. As a community they took steps such as selling flood souvenirs to pay for repairs, working together and thanking people for their support, asking celebrities to jot their memories of Cumbria down on a postcard and later held a food festival to get people back to the town – all great ideas!

Our final top tips

  1. Make a plan – decide who you need to communicate with.
  2. Use your communication toolkit – social media, press releases, events, blogs, features, reviews, broadcast interviews…
  3. Develop up to three key messages – e.g. “we’ve been damaged but are on track to open by Easter”, “we haven’t been damaged”, “our refurbishment is complete and spring has arrived in Cornwall!”
  4. Provide help and useful information – advising people on alternative travel plans.
  5. Invite journalists and bloggers (national and regional) to write a review.
  6. Word of mouth is your most effective form of communication so make doubly sure that visitors are given the best customer service possible.
  7. Don’t forget to use pictures and video – they help tell your story.
  8. Keep up to date with what is going on so you can pass that information on.
  9. Work together with other businesses in your area.
  10. Stay positive – used in the right way, there’s no such thing as bad publicity!