Covid-19 Crisis Communications, Marketing & Culinary

Crisis Communications, Marketing & Culinary

Covid-19 Crisis Communications, Marketing & Culinary


Mike Peacock: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Cosmic Soup. Thank you so much for joining us again. You know news is changing by the minute during this COVID-19 situation and we’re getting a lot of calls from clients with questions. We all have to be flexible and ready to pivot, so we’re recording a second COVID-19 special today.

This time, we’re going to have an open discussion with experts in operations, culinary public relations, and marketing to hopefully deliver some calm and intelligent information that could be helpful to everybody.

Hey, guys. Thank you so much for joining us today. Let’s find out who’s on the call today.

Cynthia Thurlow Cruver: Hi! This is Cynthia from 3rdThird.

Shawn Boling: This is Shawn, your culinary coach.

Cheri Carl: This is Cheri with 3rdThird.

Cynthia: We also have joining us today, Derek Dujardin, our creative director, and Cecil Rinker, our operations genie is going to be joining us later on in this show. Thank you, Mike. We’re excited about recording this because we are indeed getting phone calls and emails every hour from all of our clients. We’re helping them with communications on their websites. We’re getting a lot of questions about crisis communications, and so we thought it would be really nice just to provide a variety of pieces of advice.

Mike: Amen.

Cynthia: Yeah. Let’s start with you, Shawn.

Shawn: Yeah.

Cynthia: One of the things I’m hearing a lot about right now is communities are now going to room service for all of their dining to keep residents from perhaps spreading a virus in the dining room. I thought that’s a pretty specific thing to do, so maybe you could talk to us about that.

Shawn: Yeah. Well, I think the first thing is it’s doable and we want to be ahead of the game here. If your community isn’t delivering right now, it probably will be in the next few days, I would think, or at least plan for that. Which means, right now you can be proactive and, if you don’t have to-go containers, this is where you want to get them.

Go in your storerooms. Look and see what you have. You’re going to need clamshells, the 9×13 containers, so hopefully, it’s compostable because everything has to be put in a to-go container and then in a paper bag and then delivered to the residents’ rooms. If you can get that out of the way and get stocked up with that. When you have to feed three meals a day, you’re going to go through a lot of paper products.

Don’t panic. It’ll be okay. The first couple of days are a little awkward just getting everything planned out.

Just real quick, some steps that you can do. Like I said, figure out how many to-go containers, cold cups, hot cups that you need. Get those in stock, ready to go. Look at your menu.

I was with a community that had the Norovirus and we delivered for almost three weeks, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was going to cut the menu but I told the residents, “Let’s just see how this works,” and we wound up doing the full menu.

There were 15 floors in this one community. For breakfast, it was all hands on deck. The whole crew, kitchen crew, front of the house. Because front of the house folks aren’t in the dining room because it’s closed, they helped get all the food together, stuff it in the bags. Then we went and put them on carts. Went door-to-door.

We did not knock on the door. We had gloves, masks. You can tap the door with your foot.

We don’t hand anything to anyone. Just put it there on the ground and walk away. Stay your six feet distance, for sure. Then you just go floor-by-floor-by-floor or hall, however, you’re set up in your community.

Then just make it — I use the word fun in a lot of things, but this is the time where you really want to be on your game–hot food hot, cold food cold–because you’re going to be judged heavily with this and the residents will really like it. I know, at the end, it was a really cool thing. They gave us standing ovation after about a month and gathered us all together.

It’s doable. It’s cool. Don’t be afraid of it.

Cynthia: Well, I have so many questions.

Shawn: Okay.

Cynthia: Of course, communication always comes to mind. How did you communicate with the residents? What did that look like about switching from dining room service to room service?

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Cynthia: How much lead time did you give them? How did that all work out?

Shawn: That’s a really good question. In hindsight, I’d do it a little bit different. We got hit real quick and we didn’t have any time to really project exactly how we should go about it. Right now, if your community doesn’t have the virus, I would call all the residents in. Have not an emergency meeting. It might freak them out a little bit. Just tell them we want to stay ahead of the virus and here is our game plan if we have to go to room service.

Then you can talk with them and let them know that when this does hit our community, here are the venues that are going to be shut down. Here’s what to look for. The menu might have to be trimmed down a little bit. The hours may change slightly. Remember, we’re trying to feed everybody all at once, so give us a little grace on getting there, but we will get you fed in a reasonable amount of time. That calms the seas.

We had to do it through speaker because we didn’t want them gathering because they had already been sick. It was a little bit harder in that sense but, hindsight, if you have time like most of us do now, get those procedures out of the way with your residents where you can call them in, in special groups, and let them know what to expect when it hits.

Then when it does hit, they know not to go to the dining room. They know the library will be closed. They know what to expect. That their meals will come within 30 minutes of the regular time or whatever it is.

Then if they see menu options that aren’t there, “Oh, we’ve been told that.” Obviously, put it on your website. If they have their mailboxes. Stuff their mailboxes with the same information that you’d be telling them.

Cynthia: Slip it under their door, maybe.

Shawn: Slip it under the door. Yeah, just inundate them with information. Now is the time to do it – right now.

Cynthia: Great. Well, thank you.

Shawn: Yeah.

Cynthia: Now, onto communications, crisis communications right now is huge. My gosh, the national news, we’ve seen articles here in the Seattle market featuring some people that we know very well. Cheri Carl, number one, I would love for you to tell our audience about your background.

Cheri: Okay.

Cynthia: Then also, what would you recommend that people do to get prepared for this?

Cheri: Thanks, Cynthia. Hi, I’m Cheri Carl and I worked for Starbucks Corporation for 17 years. I did live crisis communications when I was there in addition to proactive public relations.

I think one of the most important things right now is to be open and honest in your communication. Be proactive and consistent. It’s important to determine how often are you going to communicate and how often do you need to communicate, depending on what’s going on.

If you are going to communicate daily, let people know that. Especially remember all of your audiences. Communicate with your residents, communicate with your staff, and communicate with the families of the residents living there. I think that’s really important because they want to know what’s going on.

They want to be able to call and talk to their loved one. Maybe we set up something where they can call in, you take the phone in, and you can facetime with them so that they’re able to talk to their son or daughter. Then that makes them feel more comfortable and not as scared.

It’s important to try and stay calm during all of this. Really, let them know what’s going on.

I have a few other things, but did you have any questions on that?

Cynthia: Yeah. No, I love that. I think that certainly being organized. Is there a set of information that a community should get together now and formalize in some way to be prepared for a potential crisis?

Cheri: I think it’s important, first of all, to identify who your spokesperson is going to be ahead of time and how you’re going to route media inquiries to them. Is your spokesperson going to be always available or perhaps you could draft a short sentence that you’re comfortable with everyone using? But you’re going to have to remember to keep updating as things change.

I think you do put your communications plan in place now. You can draft different statements. Draft what you’re doing now, so what procedures have you changed? Talk about the room service, for example, and talk about that you’ve increased the cleaning schedule. Maybe it’s just one person coming in at a time to visit. What does that look like? Let people know. The more they know, the less questions they have.

Secondly, you want to draft something if you do get a Coronavirus outbreak there, whether it’s an employee or one of the people who are living there. You want to make sure that you’re ready, that you have the information drafted ahead of time so you’re not reacting because it’s harder to put everything into writing after the event. Then have something ready as well for when things start getting better and let people know that it’s over and what’s going on.

Cynthia: Yeah. I love that. It just gives people confidence knowing what to do. I would think, as a public relations person, your worse nightmare is perhaps a newspaper, some reporter shows up on-site at your community and starts asking questions of unqualified people who just have no idea what to say. Then you have no idea what they might say, which may not even be accurate to the press.

Cheri: Exactly. That’s really critical. It’s important that you communicate with your employees what’s going on and that, if the media shows up, they know who to send them to or they know what they can say, what’s been okayed. That’s really, really important because, yeah, if people are out there talking and they don’t have the right information or they’re giving misinformation, that can really swirl.

Mike: We ran into that at a company that I used to work for. We ended up having to create an entirely new position just for somebody to deal with either the media or journalists. People would come in, even people that weren’t necessarily working for the media, but they would just call in and ask questions of all the employees. The employees didn’t either know how to answer or who to direct them to. It is important to know there is a person who is in charge of this communication. All questions are going to go through this person. Then maybe that person can have a team or say, “Okay, yeah, you can handle this kind of an inquiry, and you can handle this kind of an inquiry.” Otherwise, yeah, it can be very chaotic if everybody is answering things they’re not qualified to answer, for sure. Good call on that.

Cheri: Yeah and doing a little media training for those people would be a great idea too.

Mike: Yeah. How do you think you’d set up media training?

Cheri: Well, 3rdThird could help with that or you could hire someone else to come in and just work with them on their key messages. Really, put together the soundbites. What are they going to say? Practice Q&A with them back and forth. If they think they’re going to get cameras, you take in the video crew there and you work with them and let them practice. The more practice, the better they’ll be.

Mike: Yeah, some good roleplay, for sure.

Cheri: Right. Yeah.

Cynthia: Yeah, we are getting requests for crisis communication. What we’re doing is we’re helping our clients with just working through a plan and kind of just brainstorming what are all the scenarios that could happen and how we can be prepared for those, so very cool.

Cheri: You know one other idea is they could set up a designated email, too, not only for media but for families. If you have questions, you can send in an email. A lot of times then you can email the statement out and it’s also a great way if you have the email for families where you can communicate with them at least on a daily basis, letting them know what’s going on.

I know in some places they’ve implemented even calling. It depends probably on how many people you have, how many resources, but calling and letting them know how their family member is doing.

Mike: Yeah. Great.

Cynthia: That’s great. What else do you have in your public relations bag of tricks for this situation?


Cheri: What else do you think would be helpful to this audience?

Cynthia: No, I mean that’s good. You’re fine then.

Cheri: I think a few other things. Just as you’re thinking about how you’re communicating, make sure you’re communicating consistently and with the same messages across all your channels. If you have a website, put information up there. If you have social channels, communicate out through your social channels too.

I think the more proactive you are, again, that’s really important, and the more often you do it, especially if you do have a crisis going on, then that’s going to be something that is really helpful. It’s great for the families, it’s great for the residents, and it’s great for the community because the community wants to know what’s going on too.

Cynthia: Absolutely. Well, that’s a really good segue into our next segment, which is communications and marketing during that time. It’s so natural for communities to want to pull back and go, “Oh, these are bad times. We don’t want to market right now.” Some of that is because communities are used to doing event marketing, which is a really good tactic that we may not be able to do event marketing for literally it could be 90 days; we don’t know how long.

To the contrary, this is not the time to pull back and stop marketing. There are multiple reasons for that. Number one is, you want to just continue to establish confidence about your brand. It gives you an opportunity to communicate what your brand is doing that is proactive to make your resident life safe and happy during this time.

Then we also want to just continue to build the leads list. Even if they can’t come into your community right now, you want to build a leads list so that when all of this settles, you’re going to have something that we can nurture, get them in for tours, and then, hopefully, move them to resident status.

Derek, I know you’ve been really thinking a lot about this and so I’d love to hear what you’ve got in your bag of tricks for communications right now.

Derek Dujardin: Yeah, I’m excited to talk about this. I know it might seem dire at the moment, but we have to remember that there have been crises in business and industries for years. There are businesses who adapt. They innovate.

They decide, “Oh, I’m going to try something different.” Maybe they can’t get a material or whatever and they try a new kind of product, a new channel, or they go to a niche market. A lot of times, those things end up being wildly more successful than what they were doing before.

If we can take that as a lesson and realize, “Lt’s not put our heads in the sand and just lament our situation. Let’s go ahead and get creative.” It doesn’t mean necessary to get creative like, “Okay, we’re doing something wild and crazy,” but what else might we try and give that a shot.

Here are some ideas that we’ve been brainstorming around the office to give a shot. The first one is webinars. Now, webinars have been around forever. We know that AARP does a lot of webinars and they have great success with that.

What is to stop the community from putting on their own webinar and putting together really slick, online presentation. You get your prospects to call in at a certain time. You can do it live. Then you can take that and record it. Then you also can do a resident panel. Maybe you have three, four, or five residents that are your superstars that you have people interview; they can talk to them. Then also, just kind of have this conversation.

For a lot of people, this might be that sweet spot that we’ve always had between having one-on-one marketing and having to talk to a salesperson versus an event. There are a lot of people who are shy that maybe don’t want to come to an event. This might be an opportunity for them to just put their toe in the water and learn about your community without a huge commitment and feeling that they’re going to get pressured.

Go in having this option of a webinar and then we can record that. We can also add video, a walkthrough video as well, so people can experience what it’s like to be in the community. Then once it’s recorded, it can be there forever. If it’s a really great webinar and everybody is on their game, you can go ahead and host that on your website. Then when people come in, they can watch it as a video and they get something that is either downloadable or you can put it up on YouTube with, like, special permission – something like that.

The other option we have maybe topic-specific webinars. We have a whole list of really great speakers that we can bring in that can talk on how to sell your home, what it’s like to live at a CCRC, or how to downsize. These people are very polished and they can do a very polished presentation for you. Then again, that can live on your website, something that you can use forever and pull out whatever you want. Then, of course, supplement that with some sort of video tour or photos that you can show online. Yeah, those are a couple of ideas that we’ve been kicking around.

The other idea is also offsite events. The idea of maybe doing a mom and me photoshoot where we get a photographer who is going to maybe let us use their studio for a half a day. We go ahead and have maybe 15-, 20-minute slots where people come in with maybe their parent and a couple of other family members. They get these really nice, professional photos.

We have offset that. They can walk away with one of those photos. If they want more, they get a photographer for it. It’s a win/win situation for both for the photographer and for the community. Then while they’re in there getting their photos, you have a presentation available, boards up, and that type of thing to get them to engage with the community.

The other idea is, I know that there are some cafés and probably some restaurants that are hurting right now that want customers. Maybe you do a very small, intimate gathering of five to six, eight people. Keep it small. It’s great food, so it’s maybe even more and then you do a small presentation. It’s not like bringing people into the community. It’s people who are coming to a third place like a café or a restaurant for a small one-hour presentation and also getting a free lunch.

Then those salespeople that are out in the community doing things, perhaps they don’t come to the community. They spend their time out in the community. Maybe they do in-person sales as well. That way you kind of put aside that reverse contamination that could happen as far as them coming in and bringing something in. They’re out there. They’re talking to people and making those connections.

Cynthia: That’s a great idea. I love — I mean what a great time to do outreach for salespeople. They are not working in their community may be doing tours, but they can out buzzing around and just doing some PR on behalf of their community.

Now, something that is absolutely in the DNA here at 3rdThird is, we all participate in each other’s roles here.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Cynthia: As such, we have not only culinarian Chef Shawn Boling, but he’s also a marketing person extraordinaire. You’ve been having some ideas around this too.

Shawn: I have. I have. I’ve got a bag of tricks too, okay. They’re not Cocoa Puffs. They’re tricks. I’m telling you.

I had this idea because we do such a great job with video and production of commercials and things like that. Right now, I don’t think a lot of people want to go for tours. Marketing, obviously, their pipeline they sell and the 100 to 200 folks waiting to come in, those are going to dwindle. People are going to start falling off. They’re going to get second thoughts.

All of a sudden, that great big pipeline you had and celebrated, rock and roll, that’s going to go away real, real quick. How do we get people in for a tour, but they can’t come in for a tour? Well, I’m thinking we do a marketing virtual tour. We come in a production crew, a small production crew of two or three.

It takes a few days. We go through the whole community and we talk to the culinary department and say, “Hey, Chef Mike. What are you doing today? What’s on the menu? This is a wonderful kitchen.” Then you walk out of the kitchen and you’d be into the dining room. Here’s our beautiful dining room. Then you can go to maybe assisted living. They’d see all the different departments and have a quick, little elevator speech for each director like, “Oh, well, this is our memory support or assisted living and here’s our dining room,” and things like that. You just weave yourself through there. It’s about a half-hour presentation but, at the end, they get to see the whole community. We’ve got drones that pop up in the air so they can see it from 500 feet what the place looks like. They film all the outside so, literally, you can sit in the comfort of your own home, sit back, and get this tour.

On top of that, with technology, of course, you know where you get online and you start to order something from Macy’s or Nordstrom’s, a little window pops up. “Hi, this is Jackie. Can I help you? Any questions?” We would have that support to where if a potential resident was watching this, we pop and then maybe they go, “Oh, well, yeah. What’s the price structure?” or, “How many people you have?” or, “What’s your menu like?”

They can have instant communication with somebody from their community in marketing that can answer it right there. How awesome is that? That’s ahead of the curve because I don’t think a lot of people are going to do that. But the ones that do that, it’s going to be awesome.

Cynthia: No, you’re absolutely right. Some communities do use chat, but we’ve had so much resistance for many clients who just say they don’t feel like they can handle the chat program.

Shawn: They need it, probably.

Cynthia: I think they can. It’s so easy.

Shawn: Yeah.

Cynthia: You can turn it on and off.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Cynthia: If you’re not available, chat is not on. But going back to the salesperson who is not able to give a lot of tours and doesn’t have a ton to do, they could be chatting all day long.

Mike: Yeah. Derek, you were wanting to chime in on that too.

Derek: Yeah. I was going to say I love all that. I think that’s perfect. I wanted to also think about the future for, let’s say, some of these ideas are working but maybe not at 100% of what you would like. There’s not a reason why you can’t look at your brand at this point and say, “Okay, this is a quiet time. This might be the time for us. We’ve been thinking about doing a rebrand for the last couple of years.”

It’s going to take two, three, six months to do that rebranding. That’s the time to invest that time and energy into doing that so, when times are good again, you can launch, relaunch when everybody had this pent up demand and they’re looking to move in with your new brand. That’s where the rubber hits the road and you can really make some big impact that way.

Also — go ahead.

Cynthia: No, I was just going to say I love that too. Keep going. Keep going.

Derek: Well, it really is like, you can get a lot of different promotions and event planning done and a lot of things happening that then, when times are good, it’s just a flip of a switch and turnkey. Then you can send everything out. But if you wait until, “Okay, times are good and now I want to start marketing,” oh, you’ve got to wait six weeks before you get a direct mail piece done. But if you’ve got that direct mail piece pretty much finished other than the date of the event and maybe the offer, everything else could be ready to go in the folder. Then when you’re ready to send it to the printer, we could have it in the mail in ten days.

Cynthia: Now, I love what you’re saying because the other thing along those lines, it’s an excellent time to pivot. Maybe instead of spending your budget for a couple of months on some heavier hitting offline communications, move it to branding.

Then the other thing too is, if you think about it, your website is your receptionist. It’s the very first thing that people see. The minute they hit your URL; they show up at your website. That’s essentially the face of your company. Is your website performing well? Is it beautiful? Does it say what you want it to say?

This is an excellent time to upgrade your website, but also for collateral materials because, if you can’t go visit a community, the natural thing to do is to say, “Could you please send me some information?” Then your collateral package is your second line of, “Here’s who we are. We’re a quality organization,” and so this is a really good time to make sure your collateral package is working for you and it really helps people to move down that sales path.

Derek: Excellent, and I want to add one more thing. What we’re doing right now is a podcast. We can put together a podcast for a community or we can do a series of podcasts. I’m sure there are people either who live at your community that have a great story to tell or there’re directors that have a point of view about the community and what they present to the residents. We could do a series of short podcasts–10, 15 minutes–on each of those people and then drop those online over and over again. Again, we can create transcripts that will help your SEO and get you higher up in the rankings as well.

Mike: Yeah.

Cynthia: Yeah.

Mike: I love the idea of podcasts, as it’s what I do. But the cool thing about it is the online media you can get anywhere. Even if you don’t like to visit websites or whatever, you can go on whatever platform you like to listen to things on. There’s a chance that you can make it happen there.

It’s just such an easy way to communicate. Not only does it pass the time, but it lets people who really want to dig in, isolate, you know, put their headphones on. They just absorb the whole thing and I just absolutely love that concept.

Cynthia: Yeah. It seems like Cecil may have had an emergency today, which I’m not surprised because he is also, in addition to being a consultant here at 3rdThird, he owns a placement company. I know that things are really mixed up out there right now, so I don’t know if we’re going to hear from Cecil. Maybe we do a little special with him.

He has a history of making pandemic plans for large brands. We wanted him to talk about that today, but here we go. Everything is a little bit upside down right now, so we’re not going to have Cecil today.

Shawn: The last I checked, we’re in a pandemic, so I’m sure he’s a busy boy.

Cynthia: Exactly.

Shawn: Yeah, Corona, it’s not just a beer.

Cynthia: Exactly.


Cynthia: Does anybody have anything else to wrap this up with?

Mike: I just wanted to kind of point out something really quick, which is what we’re doing right now. A lot of companies have implemented it. Just keep in mind that a lot of things can be done remotely. A lot of places are set up to be able to work from home or to work from wherever you’re comfortable.

As Cynthia was saying earlier, the work doesn’t have to stop. You just have to kind of morph it into something that is workable for your time and for whatever environment you’re in.

There are a lot of things that can still happen and, by all means, planning never has to stop. You just have to learn to kind of be flexible and adapt to whatever situation you’re in. If you have the ability to work remotely then, by all means, you’re a step ahead of the game.

Shawn: I’d like to just throw it out there, too, real quick. If there’s anybody out there listening in the community and they really want to get ahead of this, you know, serving the residents all room service. They think it might be hitting their community hard. Maybe they’re in an area that’s high risk. Get on our website and get ahold of me. Text me, call me, whatever. I’d love to help you out.

This is a time, like Mike said, we’re family. We stick together. Call me in the middle in the night if you’ve got some real concerns.

It doesn’t take that much to get prepared and I want to help as many people as I can, so I’m here for you.

Cynthia: Yeah, thank you.

Shawn: Yeah.

Cynthia: I think that speaks to everything. We’re helping. Our clients have to make a lot of changes right now with their marketing plans and we’re certainly their partner. In fact, we’re not even charging them for a lot of these changes.

Shawn: No.

Cynthia: Because nobody saw this one coming.

Shawn: No. No, I’m not charging to help somebody to just send out an email if somebody wants to talk to me. They’re concerned. They’re not sure how to get it set up to feed the residents. Free of charge. This is the time we need to just come together and worry about finances later.

Cynthia: Yep.

Shawn: But I do like microbeer, so if you want to send me a couple packs. I’m just going to throw it out there.


Shawn: If you’ve got an extra gallon of Manny’s, not mayonnaise, Manny’s beer, I can be bought that way, I guess. Sorry.

Derek: I’m afraid of drinking my Corona, so you can have my six-pack I have.

Shawn: Yeah. No, that’s okay.

Derek: All right.

Cynthia: Well, thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. I love working with everybody here.

Shawn: Yeah, it’s quite a family in our little Cosmic Soup bowl.

Cynthia: We’re in our soup. I know.

Shawn: I say, “Soup, there it is. Soup, there it is.”

Cynthia: This is the emergency soup.

Shawn: Yep.


Derek: Yeah, right, the chicken soup.

Shawn: The chicken soup.

Cynthia: Yeah, this is the chicken soup.

Shawn: Oh, my god. That’s kind of fowl, but whatever.

Mike: Oh!

Shawn: Sorry. Mike is cutting me off. I can tell.

Mike: I want to thank each of you–Cheri, Derek, Cynthia, Shawn–for hanging out wherever you are. We’ll catch up with you later. Thanks to everybody out there in podcast land for staying calm, for doing your thing, for hanging out with us, and we will do our best to kind of keep you updated on what’s going on. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow the show and 3rdThird Marketing on all the social media platforms at Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @3rdThirdMarketing. We’ll keep up as up to date as humanly possible. Subscribe to the show. That way you get everything as soon as we release it. Thanks for hanging out and we’ll talk to you again real soon on Cosmic Soup. Thank you.

Cynthia: Bye-bye.

Shawn: Bye, guys.


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