When I sat down to consider my topic for this blog, two words sprung to mind. Both have been used widely in Government messaging during the past three months. The use of ‘unprecedented’ to describe everything from the impact of Covid-19 on our society, health service and economy and the use of ‘worldbeating’ to describe our Government’s response to all things unprecedented.
Pretty much since the outbreak of Covid-19, the government and many of its cabinet ministers appear to have either furloughed their Heads of Communications or decided that they don’t need their advice. Either way, the results are devastating. There has been a lack of clarity. Slogans have been used in place of messaging with roots in detailed and well-thought out policy. Overusing terms like ‘worldbeating’ and ‘unprecedented’ has seen the Government become the butt of media and online ridicule.
So, what’s at risk when your messaging goes awry? Well, your reputation for starters, then your credibility and also loss of trust.
It’s easy to be flippant about this, to suggest that the Government is an easy target, but that misses the bigger issue: we want our leaders to get it right, we want to be able to trust and respect them. After what feels like a litany of clumsy messaging errors, it’s hard to forgive the government and easy to ask the question – why aren’t you listening to and taking the advice of your comms professionals? The final example and perhaps the worst was when we saw the clear and strong Stay home; Protect the NHS; Save lives message morph into the confusing and unhelpful Stay alert; Control the virus; Save lives follow up. A poll at the time suggested that two thirds of people didn’t know what it meant. I’m surprised a third did.
Using slogans like ‘worldbeating’ to describe our Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, one that now smacks of rhetoric not based on detailed policy or certainty of the results it will deliver, has been seriously damaging. It is a response that we know has led to some of the lowest trust ratings in any Government worldwide. According to a recent YouGov poll for Reuters Institute for Journalism, less than half, 48%, said the Government was trustworthy in late May, down from 67% six weeks earlier.
Whilst it’s impossible to say that this steep decline can be attributed purely to poor messaging. I think it’s safe to say, the clumsy and muddled messaging can’t have helped. There can be no substitute for clarity. Likewise, consistency and humility wouldn’t go amiss.
Since March, when it was clear we were heading for turbulent times, we have worked closely with existing and new clients to ensure that all messaging, be it for internal or external stakeholders is fit for purpose, knowing that the intended audiences are all living in indefinite uncertainty. Critically, we’ve been making sure that it’s not tone deaf and that we aren’t simply jumping on the bandwagon.
A good example of this – and a good news story, which have been in short supply – lies in our work with the Patient Experience Platform (PEP), a client that came onboard during lockdown. PEP uses a sophisticated algorithm to track patient feedback of experience and we very clearly told the story that the data created and emphasised why it was highly relevant in the midst of the pandemic. This approach netted us dozens of pieces of coverage across the UK.
We have also worked with our Recruitment Process Outsourcing client Cielo to great success during this period. We undertook a survey of business leaders to produce our own data about what the future of work looked like. The resulting genuine and interesting communications material chimed with what the media were interested in, while staying well clear of any bandwagons or fact-fudging. The moral of the story is maintaining clarity of communications is absolutely key – now and always.