Spreading the word

The COVID-19 shutdown has seen completely new businesses rise from the ashes of restaurants, cafés, pubs, and clubs decimated by the forced closure. But with so much change happening across the nation so quickly, getting your word out about your restaurant-now-takeaway or café-turned-general-store in such a crowded market can be hard.

We have been speaking to some people in the PR and marketing industry to find out what works to spread your word and what doesn’t.

Holly Formosa is a well-known industry marketing consultant now producing the much-followed blog Comms Class. We asked her for some advice on communicating in the age of Corona for foodservice businesses. “Do not go silent!” she says. “It’s basically ‘ghosting’ your customers!” She says it’s essential to communicate what you are doing and to engage and retain the audience you have already built. Holly adds that clear and transparent communication is the way to go. “If you are offering takeaway and you didn’t before, show and tell your customers,” explains Holly. “If you have launched a new eCommerce store for delivered goods, tell them! If you are continuing to operate as usual, then share the precautions your business has taken to work around COVID-19,” says Holly. “Let your customers know how you are implementing social distancing and sanitising, for example,” she explains. Holly adds that when going out with a message to the public, you need to use language that is positive about your offer but sensitive to the fact we are living through a pandemic. Always make sure the offer is clear and that the call to action is easy to follow.

Holly goes on to say that one tactic of engaging your audience working exceptionally well at present is the online educational video. “People are responding to chefs who are sharing their shopping tips, secrets on top suppliers, what’s in season now, cooking basics such as how to peel garlic or how to make the best roast potatoes,” she adds. Holly points to one great example, Coolangatta born chef Nick Stanton appearing on a series sponsored by the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. She suggests Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are popular and cheap ways of getting content online quickly and cheaply.

Mark Murphy is another industry professional, working in visual marketing and live venue ticketing and promotion. He co-founded shoutyourlocal.com.au, an initiative to support pubs in which customers pay for drinks vouchers now and enjoying them later when the pubs open once again. He says right now is a good time to appeal to people’s willingness to help others. “I think it’s a case of empathy and alignment,” says Mark. “The problem we are trying to solve is the cashflow crisis caused by COVID-19,” he says. “We’ve been very clear to both the venues and voucher buyers that every voucher is not just a vote of confidence, but also directly translates to money in the bank to help these businesses right now.” He says that now is an excellent time to reach out to the public because people are presently wanting to do something to help other people. “This period is a time of massive, short, sharp disruption that is challenging everyone to question what’s important,” he says. “COVID-19 is a shared problem that demands many solutions compounded by a pretty urgent timeframe – it’s a fertile environment to appeal to our collective community spirit.”

Mark’s top five tips to help spread the word are: 

  1. Align with adjacent and respected brands for your audience.
  2. Be real – hospo has the most refined BS detectors of any industry!
  3. Look alive – social channels are your living, breathing digital counter-places
  4. Have a greater good – what’s your other ‘bottom line’?
  5. Live local – affiliate and showcase your street, suburb or region

The concept of local has driven Sarah Lang from Central Victorian design and marketing company Yellow Brick Road to create hyper-local business marketing websites loclasdeclare.com.au. She has teamed up with social media outfit Shine Communication to construct a website for local food businesses to spruik their new COVID-19 offers. From the local Italian trattoria pivoting to pizza to the top end butcher offering budget meat packs, almost 100 businesses in the region have signed on to Locals Declare.

“Local businesses say there has been a jump in business since they joined the collective,” says Sarah. “You see, locals really want to support local businesses. The (free) website is a way for people who live in the same community to support each other. Such is the will and a desire for people to help each other,” says Sarah. “For me it has been great seeing staff still being employed and lights still being turned on,” she says.  She laughs and says, “It means my favourite little places are still open!”

The good old food sections of newspapers and dedicated free press are really getting behind the hospitality industry. Nine Media’s Good Food section runs reviews each week on new restaurant take away dishes as well as supporting the actions taken hospo businesses with a story to tell. If you have a story, you can email the editor at [email protected]. Dedicated lifestyle paper and website Broadsheet is also supporting businesses from bakers to gin makers with positive stories backed with great imagery. Contact for Broadsheet differs from city to city, but go to the website broadsheet.com.au for the appropriate editor for where your business is. The Urban List covers lifestyle in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast and includes stories from ‘The Best Fried Chicken to Your Door’ or how to enter a competition promoting drinks home delivery. Editors at these publications appreciate clearly written press releases with the Who, What, Where, When, Why clearly outlined with correct prices, addresses and ordering instructions. Good photos of your product, provided by you, are absolutely essential and can determine if an editor will run a piece or not. A good review in one of these publications can see a massive ramp-up in sales.

Finally – the elephant in the room. How do we talk about the virus to our customers? Holly Formosa says, “My general advice is to pull back on hard sales messages until we’re on the other side of the crises. Be sensitive, positive, light-hearted and offer a bit of tasteful humour. Should you mention the Coronavirus? Of course, you need to acknowledge it, but don’t get melancholy. Customers are hearing enough negative news so brands should take the opportunity to help, inspire or entertain. Now’s the time to share feel-good stories and make people happy.”

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Written by Richard Cornish

3 May 2020

Food writer and author, senior contributor of Bidfood’s appetiser. magazine