Dr Norman Swan, producer and presenter of ABC Health Report and Tonic, was quoted today (22 March 2020) in the Sydney Morning Herald as citing the government’s approach to communicating about the escalating health crisis as ‘we can’t panic people, we can’t frighten the horses, we’ve got to project this calm leadership’ and likening it to ‘public relations Valium’.
Is this a fair call?
Let’s face it. We are all in unchartered territory. This reminds us of the GFC on steroids – with the added complexity of self-isolation, hammering our economy. We read hourly updates as COVID-19 positive diagnoses accelerate, albeit at a far slower rate than in Italy for example, with an even lower death rate, noting each life is valuable and even one life lost is devastating; hospitals under increasing pressure; pharmacies dealing with anxious customers and reports of business closures mounting, starting a trail of significant economic (and emotional) pain for millions.
The question is, how do our brands navigate these times, be it in government, as business owners and as brands? What should our PR and Marketing efforts look like?
We all have a responsibility to keep a calm, yet realistic and completely transparent approach, whilst leading our people, our audiences through this uncertain time – with a clear plan, vision and relevant messaging, that supports and aims to ease nerves and provide hope and even some joy, rather than create panic. And communication that is designed to keep our brands on the agenda for the long haul. Now is not the time to dial down on communications, but rather to ramp up, with a clear pivot.
To quote Simon Sinek, marketer extraordinaire, millennial maven and self-confessed optimist, “Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.” Never a more truer word said for the current crisis we face. Don’t panic. Stay calm. Be relevant.
As communications practitioners, specifically in health and wellbeing, we should remember, now more than ever, that ‘Healthcare is an Industry. Human care is a calling’. Now is the time to show up, with meaning and purpose, whilst still ensuring that the core need of getting product in the hands of the consumer and keeping healthcare practices open, remains top priority.
We should aim, very gently, to get extraordinarily close to our audiences through deep listening across social and other channels, to understand better their state of mind and how best to support them in this time of need – be it to provide counsel where we have authority to do so, to entertain in a time of disrupted daily living with self-isolation, or even to find some joy.
For human behaviour (and brand behaviour) has shown us time and time again, it is in times of crisis, when we stand together supporting others, helping them, motivating them, inspiring them through troubled times, that long term relationships are forged built on deep gratitude, appreciation and trust. These are the building blocks of long-term relationships, and should provide hope to brands that when we eventually reach the end of the dark tunnel and see the light at the other side, that real authentic bonds have been forged with audiences, and we come out even stronger on the other side.
3 COMMUNICATIONS THOUGHT-STARTERS TO HELP BRANDS NAVIGATE THIS TIME OF CRISIS
Remember, we are all in this together and are here to help each other along this road less travelled, but, with many learnings from crises gone by, to help inform our PR decision making.
Take care, stay safe and keep supporting those who are more vulnerable than us and those on the frontline, caring for all. We are all in this together.