Communicating Effectively About Closings, Cancellations, and Challenging Times:
Since 2015 Graffito has worked with Harvard University to provide strategy services on retail, urban design, and placemaking/activation strategy along Western Ave in Allston. A major part of this has been the development, management, and execution of “Zone 3,” an initiative to activate and energize Western Ave with creative program, events, retail pop-ups, and public art activations. In 2019, Zone 3 hosted over 130 public events and programs at it’s storefront hub of activity in Allston. Zone 3 events attract folks from all over the Boston area, young and old, for fun, collaborative community gatherings. Often time we serve food and drink.
So, as the realities of COVID-19’s spread throughout the Boston area became clear, Graffito made the call to cancel/postpone all Zone 3 events through the end of March. This decision was made on Wednesday morning, March 11. The following email was sent out to the Zone 3 email list, and this message was added to the Zone 3 homepage. Graffito chose to cancel these public events relatively early in the week based on Harvard’s own university-wide actions and policies implemented in the preceding 24 hours, as well as the Governor’s State of Emergency declaration. The loss of a handful of events in March – as fun and meaningful as they are – was not as important to us as protecting the Zone 3 community’s health and safety, and playing our part in promoting smart public health practices (social isolation).
The message we sent out via email communicated four primary messages:
1. Articulated very clearly what actions we were taking and how we arrived at that decision (cancelling all events through March based on guidance of public health officials).
2. Acknowledged the reality that people rely on Zone 3 for a positive source of community and that cancelling these events is unfortunate
3. Offered a few light-hearted suggestions for coping with the stresses of this challenging time – all in a tone that is consistent with the Zone 3 “brand voice”
4. Provided links to trusted sources of public health information at, what feels now like, an early point this this crisis
The COVID-19 crisis is likely just at it’s beginning stages in the United States. The message we sent out on Wednesday already feels outdated; there is no doubt the cancellations will need to be extended well into April, if not longer. When we decide to extend those cancellations and need to communicate with the community again we will certainly be keeping the communications principles outlined above in mind in order to maintain a consistent style of crisis communications: be clear about our actions and why we’re taking them; acknowledge the realities of the events and offer an appropriate amount of levity and/or support in a manner that our customers/community expect of the brand; and provide trusted resources for key information on the actual health crisis at hand.
Clear, direct, and consistent communication with your customers, clients, partners, or community is critical in challenging times when things are changing fast. Finding a style that is both effective and true to your business will ensure the message is trusted and appreciated.