HOME / KNOWLEDGE / Social Distancing with… Katrina Kutchinsky, founder of AKA Communications
Social Distancing with… Katrina Kutchinsky, founder of AKA Communications
The second of a series of quick-fire client interviews held during lockdown, Jeffreys Henry LLP speaks to Katrina Kutchinsky, founder of AKA Communications, an independent Communications and PR agency.
Katrina touches on the many ways in which her hospitality clients have pivoted their businesses and gives us an insight into the Soho Summer Street Festival.
Hosted by Jeffreys Henry LLP and interviewed by Nikhita Sagar. Published June 2020.
HOW HAS YOUR PR AND COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY BEEN AFFECTED BY COVID-19?
It’s been affected quite significantly.
In mid-March, because we deal mainly within the hospitality sector, we saw a huge amount of our clients just suddenly have no revenues at all so they had to freeze their contract with immediate affect, so it’s been quite a testing and frightening period for us.
HOW HAVE YOUR CLIENTS USED PR AND COMMUNICATIONS TO KEEP THEIR BRAND ALIVE DURING LOCKDOWN?
It has actually been a really interesting and crazy period.
Despite the initial period of fear and feeling of “wow, what are we going to do?”, I’d say the ones that have been really successful are the ones that have managed to pivot their businesses. A lot of our places didn’t offer delivery or really wield on it as a very secondary thing to what they did. They poured a huge amount of resources into coming up with not only really amazing menus but almost ‘how to create the perfect night in’ – some of them created playlists, some offered pre-bottled cocktails to enable you to have the full experience at home. Others have turned their now sadly emptied venues into grocery shops, our drinks brands have come up with amazing campaigns so that people can stock up on drinks, it’s been really fascinating. Also, a lot of them have done amazing efforts for NHS workers and a lot to help people, despite being one of the most badly affected sectors.
HOW DO YOU THINK RESTAURANT AND BAR OPERATORS SHOULD PLAN TO REOPEN/IMPLEMENT SOCIAL DISTANCING ON RESTAURANT SITES?
At the moment, the legislation is changing every week and it’s very difficult for me to give people an exact rule book as to what they should be doing, but what I would be doing and what I’ve been telling all my clients is to start planning.
Some are opening on July 4 but will adhere to social distancing measures, which means the small venues almost aren’t worth opening, but the ones that can will start to open. Others are pouring more resources into delivery, because I think people are going to be staying at home for a significant period of time and not just for the period before they can officially reopen. Also, see what other people are doing – talk to your neighbours! One of the wonderful things about this is that it’s really brought us closer together. My agency is running a campaign called the Soho Summer Street Festival where we’re working to save Soho by pedestrianising the main streets so that these businesses can actually serve food and drink outside so that is an amazing thing to get behind and we’re really proud to be doing it.
WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO HOSPITALITY OPERATORS ON HOW TO BEST HANDLE THE COMING MONTHS? WHAT SHOULD OPERATORS BE DOING NOW TO PREPARE THEMSELVES FOR REOPENING?
I think, as I said, start talking to your neighbours and seeing what your area is, what the council is saying and what people are doing.
Obviously a lot of staff are still on furlough, but where possible, if you can afford to, maybe take a couple off so that you can start plotting a really strong marketing and communications strategy. Start making your menus look good. Adapt to the crisis. Fortunately, summer is on its way so there is going to be eating and drinking outside, so hone your offering towards that. Yesterday, the news was that beer gardens will be opening on June 22 so I’d be thinking abut alfresco dining as a priority.
ONCE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT, SUCH AS THE JOB RETENTION SCHEME STOPS IN OCTOBER, DO YOU THINK RESTAURANT AND BAR OPERATORS WILL STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE?
I think there is widespread fear that once the furlough scheme stops, not only for restaurants but for all of us in the hospitality industry, it’s still a concern.
That’s why we’re all getting behind the ‘National Time Out’ campaign, which is a campaign for landlords to potentially freeze their rents for 9 months. I think that there is going to need to be renewed assistance from the government to the hospitality sector as it is one of the worst affected and as much as we’re all doing what we can, we definitely will need some more help, and if it’s not in the form of furlough it has to come from somewhere else.
WHAT NEW TRENDS DO YOU THINK WE’LL SEE COMING OUT OF THIS TIME?
Well, masks are all the rage (!).
I don’t know about trends but I think there is a real spirit of unity. One of the positive things that has come out of this crisis is that businesses and people who maybe didn’t know or speak to each other before are all talking, collaborating and helping each other, so I think we’re going to see a lot more partnerships, with restaurants and bars teaming up to do things together. That’s a wonderful community spirit and I hope that that continues way beyond this crisis.
One of our clients has also created an amazing DIY burger kit which everyone is loving! I would say the knowledge and quest for wonderful ingredients… all of us can’t create restaurant standard food but we can give it a good try and I’ve been very impressed by people’s efforts.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF THE HOSPITALITY SECTOR IN THE NEXT 2-3 YEARS?
So, I think that people are still obsessed with food and drink. At the heart of British culture is a warm sense of hospitality and that is always going to be there. It’s going to be a testing time, people have lost a huge amount of revenue and the future is uncertain, but what I’m completely sure about is that our hospitality scene in 3 years should be restored to all its former glory.