The community of Minneapolis has been profoundly impacted in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Killed by an on-duty police officer, Floyd’s death sparked outrage and sorrow, culminating in demonstrations that converged to create an outpouring of emotion that we saw across the country and around the world.
I recently had the opportunity to connect with Melvin Tennant, CEO of Meet Minneapolis, and Courtney Ries, Senior Vice President of Destination Branding and Strategy, to discuss how their organization responded to the needs of their community.
“We will need to continue to be nimble and flexible as we move through the rest of the crisis and through the rest of the year.”
Melvin Tennant, CEO
Meet Minneapolis works with a philosophy of a concentric circle, according to Tennant. He explained crisis communication strategies for the organization starts with the team before extending to the board, followed by partners, and the wider community as a whole.
Meet Minneapolis quickly decided to share a direct and clear statement of community support on its website. “It’s our job to put our best foot forward for people considering us as a destination for convention or leisure purposes, but at the same time those very same customers are looking to us for very real information,” Tennant said. “It would do us no good to try and sugarcoat things. From a real practical and business perspective, we wanted to lead the conversation versus having a visitor try and sort it out themselves.” Tennant also pointed out this positioned Meet Minneapolis to start the process of managing the message as the situation developed.
Flexibility is key during a crisis event. After sharing the initial statement on the homepage of Minneapolis.org, Meet Minneapolis decided it was time to evolve the messaging. The team utilized the hero area of the homepage to promote that message, linking to a longer, more comprehensive statement from Tennant.
“For the continuity of the organization, to help people feel like they were part of this shared experience, it was important for us to give them that opportunity.”
Courtney Ries, Senior Vice President of Destination Branding and Strategy
Meet Minneapolis has 70 people on staff, 15 percent of which were on furlough. Ries said Meet Minneapolis Invited - but did not require - furloughed employees to participate in staff town hall meetings and connect with the organization. “This is a crisis that is changing everybody,” Ries said.
Tennant explained it was critical to engage with the team from the very beginning to make sure team members were on board with the messaging the organization planned to share. Meet Minneapolis started with a two-hour meeting, allowing everyone to speak and ask questions. After that initial conversation, the organization was able to fan out to the wider community and clients, following the concentric circle plan.
Ries explained it was critical to have ongoing conversations with the team, and to keep staff informed as the situation changed. It was critical for leadership to empathize with the fact that people were processing the situation very differently, and Meet Minneapolis had to acknowledge and respect that while ensuring the organization crafted messaging that was accurate and factual.
Over the years, Meet Minneapolis has fostered close relationships with city government entities. Six city council members and the mayor of Minneapolis sit on the Meet Minneapolis board. Tennant explained it has become vitally important to have these relationships built in, so the organization can reach anyone in city government at any time.
Tennant also discussed the importance of relationships with the local business community, including all of the entities in the orbit of tourism such as attractions and major venues. Several representatives of these organizations also sit on the Meet Minneapolis board, providing a direct line of communication to critical stakeholders in the community.
Another critical thing to consider as you build relationships with the community is to secure after-hours contact information for your contacts. “Who can I call at 11:00 at night and who will answer?” Ries said. “Whose cell numbers do I have?” This gives you the tools to reach integral community members and quickly mobilize a response.
In addition to helping the community work through the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, Meet Minneapolis is working to be a catalyst for real change in the community.
“We have a caring, empathetic team that is engaged with the community,” Tennant said. At the end of the day, there was consensus that everybody at Meet Minneapolis wanted to be part of the solution.
This led Tennant and the Meet Minneapolis leadership team to create a staff-led task force. This task force connects with partners, the board, and is working to engage with customers to help them be part of the solution and continue to support the community.