The one thing business owners must consider when they re-open: Public Perception

The government has given the "okay".

Cash-strapped employees have sighed with relief.

But while business owners weigh the financial, legal, and safety implications of their decisions to re-open, there's one thing they've failed to consider: public perception.

As a publicist, I immediately noticed that there's little discussion about the public's mixed feelings surrounding reopenings. Does your particular client base think it's irresponsible? Or are they eager to return, just uneasy about how you'll protect them once they do?

In our haste to get back to business as usual, we have to put measures in place that not only cater to the financial and safety aspects reopening, but also cater to the public's opinion about how and when we do.

And while there's no real right or wrong answer here, the most important thing is that business owners not forget to apply a PR lens to their situation. To help them make the best decision for their businesses, here are 4 things they should consider.

1."What are my employees' general feelings about being called back to work?"

While business owners don't typically make decisions based on their employees' opinions, they'd be remiss to ignore them now. With the rising power of social media, all it takes is for one frustrated employee to share his or her views on your company's policies (or lack thereof) and for the public to begin forming opinions. And whether it's true or not, public opinion is a mighty machine, and it often takes a life of its own. It pays to have two-way conversations with your employees about their concerns around reopening because 1. as the people "on the ground", they may spot gaps you're not aware of and 2. it demonstrates your genuine concern for their perspectives. And that's where true PR starts: getting people inside the business on board as your biggest advocates. 2. "What is my building doing about common areas?" If your business is located in a building shared with others, you have to ask what 's being done about the common spaces. Consider whether or not clients/ employees have to take an elevator to get to the office. What precautions are being taken in the lobby? The parking garage? The mail room? Speak to whoever manages these spaces to inquire about how they're working to protect visitors. While these areas are not necessarily your responsibility, they're a part of the overall conditions that your employees (and customers) will encounter. And it will heavily contribute to their overall experience with your business upon reopening. 3. "How (and where) am I communicating with stakeholders?" How are you communicating with everyone who has a stake in your business reopening? Consider employees, board members, customers and vendors. There are several people who are checking-in for the latest updates. One mistake I've seen with clients at our agency is how they manage multiple platforms but only update a few. As you craft your messages for these audiences, think about how they will receive them. Are you using an automated text? Internal email servers? Social media? Make sure that the medium matches the level of formality and thoroughness and respect expected for that group. For every medium you use to communicate, make sure there are meaningful and timely updates to answer your audience's most pressing questions. If you're worried about repeating yourself, then use update one main location (like your website), but use the other platforms to point them there. When your ultimate goal is to make people feel safe and confident, leaving questions unanswered can make them feel uneasy, which can turn into reluctance about visiting your business again. 4. "What are my customers'/ clients' biggest concerns?" Both on your public-facing forums and at your physical location, there is an expectation that you will cater to the public's concerns. The worst thing you can do is fail to acknowledge them or, worse, be defensive. Are people worried that the tables aren't far enough apart? Show them how you're keeping the distance. Are people worried about other customers' behaviors jeopardizing their experience? Show them what you're doing to provide peace of mind. Among the many challenges businesses are facing as they determine when and how to reopen, it's important that they don't overlook the public's perception of how they handle this big choice. And whether they choose to open their doors or keep them closed, business owners must take the time to carefully examine their customers' concerns,. If they don't, the reopening may, ironically enough, be to their detriment as the public disapproves. But if they do take the time to genuinely listen (and cater) to their customers' concerns, they may come out stronger than ever before.

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