The COVID 19 virus has created significant challenges for public sector bodies, which in turn has created the need for effective and sustained communication planning.
Governments and public authorities worldwide have been taking direct measures to tackle COVID-19 and mitigate its impact.
In the UAE, public bodies have taken swift action and decisive measures — from issuing travel bans and official circulars, to stimulus packages and relief for business owners and residents.
It is important to remember that in times of significant change or difficulty, visibility is key in instilling confidence, continuity and, most of all, reassurance
As crucial as the policies implemented, is the framework through which they are delivered. It is the responsibility of businesses and communities to remain controlled, measured and present a unified voice through clear and clinical communications.
With that in mind there is a crucial lesson to be learnt here, on the correct management and communications strategy to employ when faced with a global pandemic.
In this article we detail four pillars that can provide a solid foundation to handling such a crisis with CARE, namely:
• Activate spokespeople;
• Requirements and understanding;
We go into each of these key CARE tips below.
The appointment of a communications coordinator is a vital role in communicating with the public, often through a variety of different media platforms.
The role is to provide the necessary information for people to protect themselves and to offer wider advice on actions to curtail the spread of COVID-19, whilst also explaining how to access critical services as and when required, especially for those who are especially vulnerable.
This ensures that all messages to the public remain consistent, are delivered effectively and provides leadership to the core communications team — and at the same time making sure that all external and internal communications are aligned and agreed upon.
In order to do so, this person must have a key presence in every step of a pandemic response, spanning all layers of public service bodies, health and government authorities and community officials.
Experienced spokespeople are critical to convey to the public and the media the most important messages of a pandemic response.
Distilling the message through one voice allows public service authorities to provide people with a clear, reliable source of truth they can refer to, or call on, in their response to the situation at hand.
It is important to remember that in times of significant change or difficulty, visibility is key in instilling confidence, continuity and, most of all, reassurance.
Requirements and Understanding
The next steps are to map out the exact communication requirements for an effective public information strategy.
Broadly speaking, this will include:
• Identification of key audiences; from the likes of health care workers, education establishments, business owners, the self-employed, among many more.
• Tailoring of messaging; as such, it is paramount to shape specific messaging for each audience and their concerns, and create clear communication objectives.
• Refinement; first and foremost strong, succinct and clear statements on how the pandemic is being addressed at regular intervals will be required.
This is best achieved through employing a concise, focused communication plan which brings together all the resources that enables public officials to respond in a methodical and strategic manner with clear, concise and credible messaging.
Typically, a communications plan will work off the following principles, listed below.
• ALIGNMENT: Provide timely, fact checked and consistent information to the public, the media and aligned key stakeholder groups.
• ACCURACY: Immediately tackle rumours and inaccurate information and replace with facts.
• RESPONSE: Promptly deal with information requests from the public, staff, media, and aligned stakeholder groups.
• REASSURE: Manage and reduce public anxieties wherever possible with clear and factual information updates.
• ACTION: Inform the public regularly on the direct action that can be taken by every individual to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
As well as having the right plan in place, the approach taken to deliver that plan must be watertight. Below we include some further recommendations to ensure maximum effectiveness.
In a fast-moving pandemic environment, the public needs to receive regular clear guidance, facts and recommended actions.
It is key for communication teams within the public services to establish agreed protocols, to provide the public and media with tailored, targeted updates which are customised for each specific audience.
Review and Monitor
It is important to monitor all communications on a rolling basis to ensure it resonates with the public and addresses their concerns.
We must analyse the media and news output to ensure all proactive communications stay current, have the right context and speak to the most pressing issues on a daily basis.
This will enable all future communication to remain as effective as possible. Finally, it is worthwhile reviewing all communication assets to ensure optimal levels of support are in place to handle the forecast life-cycle of the current pandemic.
Through communicating a sense of order, and delivering a reassurance that things are not only being acted on, but acted on through the correct methods, we can affect great unity at a time when it’s needed most.
Shane Dolan is the Managing Director and Darius Alexander is the Director of FTI Consulting