Last March, former President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 as a national emergency. Our state, our nation, and our entire world shut down for months as we all tried to figure out how to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
A year later, a lot of progress has been made to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and hopefully one day, we’ll be able to eliminate the threat of the virus altogether. One of the biggest developments in our fight against COVID-19 is the vaccine, which has been distributed across the country and administered to millions of Americans since December. According to Google News, close to 110 million doses have been administered in the United States, with just over 38 million Americans fully vaccinated. In Texas, just over 8.5 million doses have been given, with nearly 3 million Texans fully vaccinated. This statistic, combined with the fact that Texas is experiencing its lowest number of active COVID-19 cases since November, has many Texans reverting to life as they once knew it, a time before COVID-19.
“Everything’s Bigger in Texas” Reigns True Regarding State’s Reopening
Earlier this month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order that lifted the statewide mask mandate that had been in place in most counties since July 2020. While some Texans were eager to get back to normalcy, others weren’t as pleased with the governor’s decision to open the state to “100 percent.”
In the days that followed Governor Abbott’s executive order, Texas businesses felt pressured to communicate their expectations to stakeholders about plans moving forward. However, due to the quick turnaround, businesses didn’t have much time to prepare their messaging to stakeholders regarding the governor’s decision. How well businesses understood their stakeholders had major implications on their success following the executive order.
Eatzi’s, a local eatery located near TCU’s campus, received a lot of criticism when it put a sign on its doors that read, “America was founded on freedom of choice. Mask wearing is your choice. God Bless America.” Many took to social media to discuss their thoughts on the sign, and some went as far as to inform people about other places where shoppers could go to purchase the items that they used to get at Eatzi’s. Ultimately, a lack of understanding of its stakeholders’ expectations turned many away from Eatzi’s.
Parts Unknown, a store in Fort Worth, also decided not to require its customers to wear masks and left that choice up to each individual customer following the governor’s executive order. Unlike Eatzi’s, Parts Unknown actually experienced a lot of positive feedback for its actions. Manager Lisa Dickson said that whether customers were wearing a mask or not, “everyone in the store minded their own business and had a good time.”
Other businesses weren’t as fortunate. Noodle Tree, a restaurant in San Antonio, was vandalized with racist messages after its owner spoke out against the lifted mask mandate and confirmed his expectation that customers continue to wear masks in his restaurant.
Picos, a Mexican restaurant in Houston, also announced that it would continue requiring its customers to wear masks. While the decision was met with hateful messages from people on social media, its primary stakeholders and customers all expressed appreciation for the restaurant’s policy and effort to keep people safe.
Strategic Communication and Public Relations Takeaways
Eatzi’s insensitivity and lack of understanding toward many of its customers resulted in a loss of business and a lot of bad press. It wasn’t Eatzi’s policy to let customers choose whether or not to wear a mask that hurt it, it was the way in which its policy was framed and communicated. Parts Unknown implemented the same policy but had success because it didn’t isolate half of its customers by making their decision to wear or not wear a mask patriotic or unpatriotic.
As young strategic communicators and aspiring PR professionals in Roxo, the responses by businesses like Eatzi’s, Parts Unknown, Noodle Tree, Picos, and many others to Governor Abbott’s executive order demonstrate the important role that research and understanding your stakeholders play when it comes to the success of a business. While the decision to not to wear a mask has become the cause of much social tension and division over the last year, a solid understanding of stakeholders’ expectations, followed by clear communication, affects a business’s success more than a business owner’s personal beliefs.
Clear communication and understanding your stakeholders have both been important in helping a business succeed before the pandemic, and they will still continue to be important long after the pandemic is over.
Owen Ramsey- I am a copywriter at Roxo Agency and love competition, which can largely be attributed to growing up with a twin brother and a younger sister. I love sports, but 21 years as an Ohio sports fan has really tested that love at times. In my free time, I love to draw, work out, and listen to Justin Bieber.