Essential ‘CARE’ Communication Tips for the Current Pandemic

Strategic Communications | Public Sector

April 7, 2020

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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.

As crucial as the policies implemented, is the framework through which they are delivered. It is the responsibility of public authorities, 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:

Coordination;

Activate spokespeople;

Requirements and understanding;

Engagement.

We go into each of these key CARE tips below.

Coordination

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.

The coordinator 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.

Activate Spokespeople

Experienced spokespeople are critical to convey to the public and the media the most important messages of a pandemic response. These audiences often respond best to a familiar face who represents and understands their community needs, and in turn becomes the human face of a public body response at a national, regional and local level. Distilling the message of an administration 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

Once the coordination and spokespeople infrastructure are in place, 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 healthcare workers, education establishments, business owners, the self-employed, amongst 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. However, it is crucial to distinguish the subtle differences between each audience and, in turn, balance the tone and message accordingly.

Alongside the above, public authorities will need to have ready the appropriate communication tool kits, which will include; press statements; press briefing packs; media advisory notes; fact sheets, official reports; surveys and studies; key statistics; and visual materials such as infographics.

Engagement

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.

Public Outreach and Regular Updates

Ongoing public announcements must be frequent, transparent and act as a “go-to” source for the most up-to-date information available. In a fast-moving pandemic environment, the public need to receive regular clear guidance, trusted facts and recommended actions. Any conflicting messaging will only lead to concerns on expert credibility and, subsequently, will raise panic and anxiety.

It is also important 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. This can range from government-led public education initiatives, or select communications to vulnerable communities, through to nationwide government broadcasts and media briefings.

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. It is also important to 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.

The CARE tips we have highlighted will help provide structure and order to the process of managing and responding to a 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, public authorities can affect great unity at a time when it’s needed most.

© Copyright 2020. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FTI Consulting, Inc. or its other professionals.


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