Mask on and hand sanitizer nearby, we are ready to open the gym. Wait, what? No, that is not how it works and for those of you who have already opened your recreation facility, you know that to be true. For others who are in the process of developing a reopening plan, like me, there are a lot of elements and moving pieces. As marketers, what is our role and how can we effectively communicate with our campus?
Much like a traditional communications strategy, figuring out what the goals are and building the rest of the communications plan from there is a great place to start. Are your goals determined internally from your rec department or externally from the university? These are important questions to ask before the reopening plan is even developed so you’re in line with the appropriate expectations. What are the key elements that will make reopening successful? We decided to go with three pillars set forth by our university – safety, access and flexibility. These pillars guide our whole reopening plan, and in turn, our communications strategy.
Before message development can begin, we have to figure out what the “hot topics” for members are. A great tool for this is social listening. What questions are your members asking on your social media posts? What frequently asked questions are you receiving via direct messages? What recent news articles have come out in your area that might affect members’ perspectives? Any new regulations set forth by the county, state, etc.? By making a list of what these topics are, you can more readily develop messaging that touches on member concerns. A few of our hot topics include how we are enforcing social distancing and how student-employees are being treated and kept safe.
While our students are extremely eager to get back to the rec center, it is important to remember that reaching our goals is a two-way street. We can keep our members 99% safe by putting guidelines in place, upping our cleaning routine, spacing equipment, adding more sanitizing stations, touchless entry and the list goes on. But for that 1%, students need to be reminded they are responsible too. They need to follow those guidelines, wipe down their equipment, wear their masks when appropriate and respect each other’s space. This is where reminders around the facility are important. Whether you use digital or printed signage, the constant reminder to be mindful and help protect yourself and others needs to be present.
We got our hot topics and messaging down, now what? This is the time in a traditional communications plan where we figure out the strategies and tactics, determining which outlets are best for our audiences. Prior to opening, we are focusing on social media and email newsletters. This allows us to interact directly with our members as well as provide up-to-date information. When we establish a reopening date, we plan to utilize video to show members what they can expect when they enter our facility. It will showcase everything from our social distancing protocol to our contactless entry. We also plan to utilize our digital signage around the facility to remind students of the new rules as well as floor decals and printed signage to help with social distancing.
Communication isn’t only external, it’s internal, too. That is why it’s important to communicate to our staff the expected guidelines and new required training. Thankfully, we have a rockstar internal team figuring out the specific training that needs to take place, but it also goes beyond the safety and cleaning aspects. We will need to help our staff better understand how to communicate with patrons including conflict resolution and resource guidance to answer questions. We are taking the first steps to do this by creating a designated page on our website about the COVID precautions we are taking.
A few other ideas to help our student staff communicate with patrons include a FAQ sheet, looped informational video on our digital screens and a designated area in the facility to handle conflicts between patrons, just in case issues come up. As we continue to evolve with our reopening plan though, we have to remember this is a very fluid situation. As of the week of July 13, the California governor rolled back the opening of fitness centers and ordered them to close in our area. Right now, this affects any short-term opening plans, and in the future, could affect how we communicate with our patrons based on new rules and regulations.
Campus recreation is at a delicate point in time where we cannot predict the future for our facilities. As marketing professionals, we plan the best we can to communicate clearly and effectively with our members, but we also have to recognize that midway through, we might have to change our messaging. Starting with a solid set of goals will help guide you through your reopening no matter what is thrown your way.